Monday, September 23, 2013

"I want the audience to feel like punching me but they can’t because they’re laughing too hard." My conversation with Chad Zumock.

Chad Zumock invited me to The Funnystop in Cuyahoga Falls to watch the show prior to our interview. Mike Polk and Chad always draw well at their old stomping ground and this night would be no different. The Funnystop is the perfect venue for live comedy even though it’s sandwiched inside a strip mall and near a strip joint. Part of the reason it’s such a fantastic place is because of Peter, the owner. Pete is of Lebanese descent and although he mangles his English with a twinkle in his eye, the twinkle in his tweets are even better. When the owner of the comedy club is tweeting this:


And this:


You know you’re in for a good time. Both Chad and Mike killed it and the laughter in the crowd was proof. Many people in Cleveland know Chad Zumock as one of the original members of The Alan Cox Show on 100.7 WMMS before he was publicly fired by Clear Channel after being charged (but acquitted) of a DUI. For the past nine months Zumock has been busy picking up the pieces and he’s coming back as strong as ever. Chad has his own podcast and has clearly moved on with his life. Zumock’s stand-up is raw, edgy, and unapologetic. Chad does not shy away from sensitive subjects, even his own. He does a bit on his mugshot (and his mother’s mugshot) that would disarm any would-be hecklers from taking advantage of his past misfortune. Zumock’s material is refined and road-tested and he has a rapport with the audience that is exceptional.

On top of a great night of laughter, I thoroughly enjoyed my talk with Chad. He is engaging and genuine. Our conversation felt more like one I’d have with old friends than one with someone I’d had just met. After stripping off his trademark sweater vest and snapping pictures with adoring fans, Chad and I sat down in the back office of The Funnystop to talk about comedy, mistakes, and even a bit of heavy metal.

You have a strong connection with the audience, and as a performer, that’s the tough part. You can have the greatest material in the world but if you don’t make that connection…

Sure. That was always tough for me, because my whole persona—what I’ve always wanted—was for my comedy to be challenging. I wanted the audience to feel like punching me but they can’t because they’re laughing too hard. That’s a fine balance.

But I’m sure that sometimes that approach doesn’t go over so well.

Yeah, like this past Wednesday I had a bad heckler. I did a dumb joke where I was like, “I’m really immature. My new thing is going to Chuck E. Cheese's and making a reservation under the name Sandusky and asking for a table for one.” This guy was like, “Not funny. That’s not funny, dude!”

So he was riding you all night because of that?

Yeah, and I’m just like, “Whatever?”

I guess you have to get used to dealing with those types of situations.

As a young guy you spent time in L.A., right? Didn’t you begin your stand-up career there?

Yes. Mike Polk and I were college roommates and we did a public access TV show that was really popular. This is before the internet blew up. Then we moved to Cleveland and we did public access here for a while and then we did a sketch group called Last Call Cleveland. It was at the old Second City. Mike would dabble in stand-up here and there. He never really did it. I tried it once in about 2002 or 2003, and I hated it. It sucked. Then I moved to L.A. for a girl. She broke up with me two weeks after I moved there and I was so depressed. I’d go to the Melrose Improv all the time and I’d just sit in the back drinking. I saw comics like Chris Rock, Chappelle—all those guys—and I was just like, “I wanna do that!” So I went to the open mic the next day and I never stopped. I just kept going. I was all over it.

I only had seven minutes of material but I was opening for Daniel Tosh and Sarah Silverman. They gave me gigs because I was in the mix. I had a good seven minutes but after seven I stunk. I had a real weird persona back then, too, and I was afraid I was going to get exposed so I moved home to work on my stand-up.

Did you learn from those comedians in L.A.? Were you analyzing their craft and taking mental notes on their delivery, material, etc.?

Absolutely. But I quit watching comedians and now I’m starting to watch them again. Comedians are sort of like magicians—you get to know their tricks and where they’re going. And some comics just don’t impress me but there are some really funny comedians like David Attell, and Sam Tripoli is a good friend of mine. I love him. Nick Swardson is awesome. I love Nick. So I’d watch those guys and take a little from them. It’s like you’re a sponge when you’re a comic. You constantly absorb. An exercise in trial and error.

It seems like the entire entertainment industry is changing in this day and age. You have Joe Rogan with his show on SciFi and Don Jamieson is on That Metal Show. Do you need multiple creative outlets these days or can you focus just on stand-up?

I was just in Dayton with Ryan Dalton and we were talking about it. We were on The Bob and Tom Show and we were talking about how radio used to be so powerful and now it doesn’t have the impact that it used to because there’s so many ways to get your entertainment. You can get podcasts on the Internet which I love. I listen to Rogan’s podcast the Nerdist, Mark Maron’s WTF and you get all kinds of music. There are no record labels well, there are, but they’re not as powerful as they used to be. So you almost have to have something to compliment what you’re doing with stand-up. Don Jamieson and Jim Florentine have That Metal Show which is great. It’s been on like ten seasons, twelve seasons, and what keeps it on is they go out on the road and keep constantly promoting. And another group—Sullivan and guys like Steve Burns on WTBS—they’re all comics and as soon as they’re done taping, they go on the road.  It’s grass roots promoting—shaking hands, kissing babies, kissing hands, shaking babies…[laughing]

I was talking with Jamieson last time he came through town and he said the same thing. He said most of his promotion is through social media. He’s going to every city and he’s shaking people’s hands, talking to them.

Grassroots, man.

At the bar over a beer.

They’re good friends of ours. Jim’s been like my comedy dad. He’s helped me out in so many ways. His podcast is blowing up and it’s just him at the grassroots level. He’s a road warrior. The guy has been very successful with stand-up and he still goes out and he does The Funnystop here in Cuyahoga Falls. You should come out in November when Florentine comes back through town.

I will.

And he loves this club, too. He likes that Midwest audience. It’s dirty. He can do what he does. It’s honest. That’s why I like Pete [owner of The Funnystop]. He lets you be honest.

What a character. [laughing]

He’s hilarious. [see aforementioned tweets at top of post]

How would you describe the impact Kent, Ohio had on you? You grew up in the area. So what’s that about for someone who’s not in Northeast Ohio?

I grew up there and I went to college there. In high school we had a group of guys and we called ourselves the Phat Phive. We were like a sketch group and we used to do videos. We were really bad but we thought we were funnier than we were. We did an independent film called APB. It was a seventies cop film, basically a Sabotage rip-off of the Beastie Boys. We had a big premier in downtown Kent and sold out the movie theater. Chuck Klosterman was writing for the Akron-Beacon Journal and he came and reviewed it. It was before he was THE Chuck Klosterman. We had a mutual friend, Mike Polk, and I. This was about ’98 and a girl named Lindsey says, “You’ve gotta meet my friend Mike. You guys are so much alike, you guys will love each other, blah, blah, blah.” I was like, “whatever.” He came to my show and I asked him to be in my movie. He had this public access show and he asked me to be on his show and we’ve been friends ever since. So if it wasn’t for Kent, I would never have met Mike. Ryan Dalton, who’s a comedian friend of mine, we went to high school together. Our group of friends from college still hangs out. Like Mike, Dalton, our immediate crew. So Kent’s everything. I wouldn’t be doing this if it wasn’t for Kent. I don’t know if that’s a good thing. If I didn’t come from Kent maybe I’d be more focused, more adjusted, and I’d be financially stable. So….

I think musicians and comics have a similar approach to their art.

What’s your band?

I’m the lead singer and guitarist for Threefold Law, a heavy original band.

Nice, dude. [making heavy metal face]

Our approach in the band is the same. You’ve gotta build those relationships from the start, create fans one person at a time. But inside the band, in the practice room, it’s all ball-bustin’. We love to take shots at each other. I’d imagine it’d be the same for a group of comedians hanging out together.

Absolutely! Mike and I have been fucking with each other the entire week. I got off stage and I went up to him and I’m like, “Good luck following that.” I’m just being a dick. Yesterday at the show, he said, “Yeah, how about a hand for Chad? Twenty minutes of that was my material.” We’re fucking with each other all the time.

Mike does a bit about dating a 21 year old girl. But guys like us—late thirties, early forties—we’re already performing for another generation coming up. How do you relate to the people that are hanging out in the bar that are 21, 22 years old?


I kind of live in Narnia, in my own world. I’m 38 but my age doesn’t represent my mind. My mind and my age are at war. I have the mind of a 12 year old. The other day I was walking and I thought, “Wouldn’t it be cool if I found, like, a thousand dollars?” And I’m looking all around for a thousand dollars that doesn’t exist. That’s how retarded I am. No offense.

None taken.

Then one day, it’s like 11:00 a.m. on a Tuesday and I’m just like, “Oh, man, I want some cookie dough.” So I went to Giant Eagle and I bought some cookie dough. Like a 12 year old.

I can relate.

I’m sitting there by myself, in my studio apartment, eating cookie dough. So depressing.

Let’s talk about your podcast. What are your doing with that? What are your plans for it?

My podcast idea came from Jim Florentine. When I got fired from the radio I was devastated because not only did I get fired, I got charged with a DUI, and I lost my license.

Not convicted. Charged but acquitted. I want to make sure I make that point.

Thanks. It’s been a weird couple of months. When I got fired it didn’t help the reputation much and the media was hesitant. I was seen as really wild and crazy. There’s a bit of an exaggeration when you’re on the air. It’s a performance. You’re not lying—there’s honesty to it—but you’re performing a little bit. I guess I was the “obnoxious heel” of the show [The Alan Cox Show on 100.7 WMMS] and I guess what you put out there, people kind of assume. The media was real cautious because of that and it wasn’t real professional. Then Clear Channel forced the non-compete, so I was in a bad spot. Jim would call me every day like he was trying to save my life. He’s the nicest guy.

A comic intervention?

It really was. He said, “Chad, you need to go, get out of here.” I was like, “I can’t. I have these pending things.” He gave me a ton of writing work. I wrote for the Dee Snider roast for him. He gave me a ton of stand-up work. He was a constant. He was like, “You’ve gotta start a podcast. I’m telling you, start a podcast. That’s where everything is going.”

You’ve got the Florentine voice down, man!

"It’s terrible. What are you doing? Stop. What’s wrong with you? Start a podcast." [Zumock doing his best Florentine impression] He said, “You gotta start that podcast. It builds your following. You’ve got a nice following from the radio. Keep it going. Keep your name out there.” And I did. And I’m glad I did because now I have close to 15,000 subscribers. After the show the other night I had a couple of guys come up to me and tell me that they listened to the podcast and that’s why they were there. I was like, “Sweet!” It was my way of connecting with the people that did like me from the show.


Do you do the podcast from your apartment or in a studio?

I’m working with a group called Frisson Media [Frissonmedia.com]. When I wanted to do the podcast I wanted to do it right. I didn’t want to do a shitty one. They’re a production company in a similar situation. They got fired from their job. We kind of gravitated to one another and we built it together. So they help me out and I’m promoting their business. It’s a good situation.

Do you have any plans for expanding to television or visual media?

There’s a video component to it.

Like an in-studio camera?

Yes. But unfortunately it’s not paying the bills right now because it is a new technology. A lot of the businesses I talk to want to meet with me. They’re all curious but they’re still stuck on radio, TV, newspaper. But Mark Maron is making a ton of money off his podcast now. Seems like the West Coast is embracing it more than the East Coast.

With an audience of 15,000, you would think somebody would jump on that.

I’ve got two sponsors. I do get some advertising revenue.

But you need to get listeners to generate ad revenue. Is it that sort of game?

Yes. I’m doing some stuff with Tweetaudio.com where there kind of pay me a little bit, enough to sustain it, keep it going, and maybe pay for the electric bill.

Anything else you’d like share with someone who might be discovering you? Any websites they should visit besides your main page?

What’s your website?

My website is jthorn.net.

Cool. They should check out that website.

Thanks, man. I appreciate that. I’m trying to promote the local talent. I think there is a lot of great stuff happening in Northeast Ohio.

That’s awesome, man. I mean there is a really good comedy scene here. You talk to out-of-town comics like Jim Florentine and they say that Cleveland has a solid scene. It’s really good. It’s starting to get a little recognition on the map and I mean these guys like Mike Polk—any headliner in the world would see that guy and say, “Why is he living in Cleveland? He’s so funny.” I think much like the music scene, it’s something that one should really embrace. Think outside the box a little bit. Go out to a show. Go see a metal band or whatever.

Do you think it’s hard to get people off the couch?

Oh, yeah.

It’s hard to compete with the handheld electronics, isn’t it?

It really is. That’s the thing in this economy—everybody’s trying to save a buck and I get it. I’m the same way. In the past month I haven’t gone anywhere just to save money. But when you do, you always have fun. You go out and have a good time. Like I’d want to see a band and I’ll say, “Ah, I don’t want to go.” Then I go and I’m glad I did.

Right on.

You’re a metal guy…we saw Queensrÿche the other night.

Yeah! Which one? The version with the original singer?

Yeah, Jeff Tate. The guy is awesome. When we were hanging with Jim I got to meet Rudy Sarzo, the bass player who was with Quiet Riot. I got to interview him for my podcast.

Ahhh! Sweet!


And he was the nicest dude ever. So cool. And I wasn’t gonna go and I did and I had the best time and became friends with Rudy. I didn’t really know who he was until that night. He was so fascinated with comedy and they put on a hell of a show. So, yeah, go out. Definitely embrace this stuff. It’s…

It’s the live element.

Exactly.

You can’t get it any other way, right?

Absolutely. We were talking about comedians the other day, and there’s this comedian named Sebastian Maniscalco. My buddy says, “I don’t like that guy,” and I said, “You gotta see him live.” When we saw him live, he got it.

That was Mitch Hedberg for me.

Mitch was the same way.

I saw him on a couple of TV specials and then I went to see him live before he died [duh] and I was like, “Wow.” It’s a whole different experience.

But then there are some comics who TV makes a lot better. And then when you see them live, you’re disappointed. I’m not gonna name names.

Maybe they have good writers.

I’ve burned enough bridges. [laughing]

I really appreciate you taking the time to talk with me.

No problem, man.

Contact:

Official - http://www.chadzumock.com/
Facebook - https://www.facebook.com/pages/Chad-Zumock/24316859013
Twitter - https://twitter.com/chadzumock
Podcast - http://sitdownzumock.com/

I'm trying out a few new tools on the blog. This week I'm using Grammarly's plagiarism checker because talk is cheap and stealing conversation is even cheaper. Don't be a cheap-ass.

This interview is the first of three consecutive ones I have lined up. As the holidays approach and folks get busy, I may not conduct as many so enjoy the shit out of these now.

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