Wednesday, March 13, 2013

An EXCLUSIVE Interview With CRAIG SHOEMAKER!



By Stephen SPAZ Schnee

(An edited version of this interview appears in Discussions Magazine)

     Sometimes, reality is the best form of comedy.   A comedian can take numerous different routes in order to make an audience laugh, but the monologues and sketches that tends to stand up to the test of time are either those that offers up completely over-the-top absurdist humor or deals with the simple things in life we can all relate to.  Steve Martin, Steven Wright and Mitch Hedberg were great at making people laugh by reveling in the ridiculous. They all took different approaches to their humor, but made us laugh just the same.  On the other hand, we could relate to guys like George Carlin because he seemed to be one of us: he said what we felt.  Sometimes, it took days for a joke to sink in, but when it finally made sense, it was a delayed laugh that stuck with us for years.  We understood it because it mirrored our reality.
     Craig Shoemaker is one of those comedians that takes real-life situations and is able to see the humor in all of it.  Shoemaker sidesteps politics and deals with personal issues that everyone has experienced at some point in their lives, directly or indirectly.  From growing up without a father to playing video games with his kids, from his mother belly-dancing at his high school graduation to his non-so-pleasant ex-wife, nothing from his personal life is off limits. And while we laugh at the many situations that have shaped his life, in essence, we learn to laugh at ourselves.
On his latest DVD, Daditude, Shoemaker starts on a high and keeps the laughs flowing through his entire set.  From the moment he hits the stage, Shoemaker is comfortable, confident and funny as hell.  He offers up hilarious true stories that are so funny, you tend to forget that they are true and that this man actually lived through them!  In his tale about trying to set his mom up with Paul Lynde, there’s a poignancy  that you overlook because you’re laughing too hard.  And for you long-time Craig Shoemaker fans, The Lovemaster makes an appearance and drives the audience wild.
On Daditude, Shoemaker is at the top of his game.  In fact, his 25 year rise to fame just keeps getting better: he has a popular podcast (visit www.craigshoemakershow.com to subscribe), he just landed a recurring role on the television sitcom Parks And Recreations and his stand-up shows are sell-outs.  It may have taken a while for things to fall into place, but Craig is more deserving of your love and adoration.
Stephen SPAZ Schnee was able to catch up with Shoemaker to discuss Daditude and life in general.  They were joined by SPAZ’s cohort Lauren Watt, who just happens to be a personal friend of Craig’s…


SPAZ:   How are you feeling about this release, and your career leading up to this?
CRAIG SHOEMAKER:  If I were an athlete, I’d say I’ve never been more in the pocket.  I feel like… I remember Michael Jordan was sinking threes in, at a playoff game many years ago and he just looked at the opposing players and shrugged his shoulders like – “This is just natural for me.  I can’t help it!”  Right now, that’s how I feel on stage.  Every show is a standing ovation and a connection with the crowd as I’ve never had before, and I have several theories on why it’s happening, but it’s a 25 year overnight success, I guess. Well, I took the stage that night - l have never felt that way in any television performance previous to this.  I was that much in the zone, centered.  I approached it in a different way than I ever have before.   I even greeted the people.  It was a sold out 900 seat theater, and I greeted the people.  And I’m so Caucasian and ordinary looking that most of them didn’t know it was me.   I was their host, and I would say, “Here’s your seats over here,” and they didn’t know it was me.  (Laughs)  A few of them would go, “Wait a minute,  aren’t you the guy who we’re here to see, and we just paid money?” and I’d say, “Yeah, sure.” They got a kick out of it, and I did too because I was connecting with them, you know?  I’m not performing for them or talking at them, it’s like we’re in this together, and that’s the way I feel for all the performances now.  This is another reason why I ask people to stop texting during the show.  It’s like, let’s just take this time for ourselves, and let’s just be here and be present and whatever you’re texting…  It’s not that important.  And if it is, you can leave, and go do that, and go be present for whatever that is.  But, that’s what’s been happening lately, just this transformation took place and it’s all on the stage now.  It’s truth, and it’s very much in the now, and people are vibing with it, which makes me very happy.


SPAZ:   Well, at the beginning of the show, you do this “mock” introduction of yourself that at first comes off sounding like a joke, but it becomes pretty clear as the show goes on that these were real instances in your life.  Being a comedian, do you find it hard to sort of reveal that to the audience?
CRAIG:  I don’t find anything hard to reveal.   My family does.  (Laughs)  This is why I hear from lawyers now and then (chuckles) but my mom still cannot get over that I bring up the fact that she belly danced at my high school graduation party.  And I try to tell her… First of all, most people don’t believe it and second of all, if they do know that it was true, how great does that make you look?  If she is all concerned with her image, I said, that makes you look like a fun loving person. But she has the opposite opinion. She has come from that image-conscious world of what things look like, and when I go on stage, I say here’s what it feels like and it’s not based on appearances, it’s based on reality. And some people don’t like reality.    They want you to believe this illusion. I have zero problem with it. My friends have been telling me this for years….they say, “You know Shoe, we can never make fun of you ‘cause you already cleaned the carcass off.”  In regards to the beginning of my show, I thought to myself, I’ve been doing comedy for years, and I always find the first few minutes to be the most difficult because I don’t look like a standard comedian.   I’m not bleeding from the word go.  I mean, some people are even looking at me going, “Ya know, I don’t feel for this guy,” but if I’m like overweight or a minority or something like that, some people immediately have compassion or empathy and there’s an understanding from the second someone walks onstage.  With even a handicap, there is an immediate response from the audience going, “Oh we like you already.  We understand your pain.”  So that summation in the very beginning kind of levels the playing field where people are now saying, “Oh, he’s one of us.”  Failed.  Lots of failure…you know we’re all capable of being a loser.   We’ve all been picked on.  We’ve all had difficulties.   Oh here, it’s all wrapped up in his 15 second opening here.
SPAZ:   Oh yeah, yeah…
CRAIG:  He’s one of us.  And that’s all comedy is…what it’s boiled down to.   It’s telling the truth and people identifying with it on some level, either “Oh I felt that before, I never want to feel that again.”  That’s usually the case with me.  Or there’s something that happens with people when they resonate with what you’re saying on stage that adds to a deeper laugh.  And that’s why I really try to be very candid and honest in my act.  I just made that transition years ago of saying that’s what I’m gonna do.   You know, I’m not just gonna tell jokes.  It’s just gonna be something that people can relate to, one hopes.  And not everyone will either.

SPAZ:  Well, do you find that real life offers more laughs than people will realize?
CRAIG:   Oh yeah.  I mean, I’m writing a book right now called Find The Funny.  You can find the funny in everything.  In my podcast, we talk about it all the time.   We do a guided laughidation.  Instead of meditating, we laughidate.  Really, laughter is just so great for you, and you literally, as you’re laughing, cannot be depressed or feel bad during a laugh.  In that very moment you cannot think “Oh my God, I’m depressed right now” or “I’m really down.”  It transcends everything when you’re in that laughter moment.  I don’t know why more people don’t find more humor in their lives, so I’m trying to encourage them to do that on the podcast.  It’s called “Laugh it Off” and that comes from when I was brought up in Philadelphia, you know you get hurt and they go, “Walk it off, walk it off.”  We take that a different direction.   We have “Laugh it Off with Craig Shoemaker.”    It’s a fun show.  We’ve had really cool guests like Tom Bergeron and Chris Harrison from the reality world.  We’ve had Kevin Cronin from REO Speedwagon,  he’s a friend of mine.  We have a lot of friends of mine on the show. We always try to talk about the obstacles in our life and how we manage them.  We hope that it’s an inspirational show, as well as being silly.

SPAZ:    I realized I can go back to a Craig Shoemaker show and laugh at it again… maybe it is because I can relate to it.   Like your segment on The Love Master DVD, the machine gun thing.  That’s probably one of my favorite comedy bits of all time.  I laugh harder at that than Monty Python.  I laugh harder at that than Steve Martin, you know, all these people I grew up loving.
CRAIG:  That’s my favorite part too because it’s really a way where we can identify with what those guys are going through in the front row.  I mean, but yet done in a very, very silly way.  You know, you’re not talking about the way they look.  You’re not talking about their financial status, their political beliefs.  It’s nothing but just their stupid gun sound. (Laughs)  The pressure is the best part.  You see their faces, I’m laughing – having the best time.

SPAZ:   Yeah, for the rest of my life I’ll always sit in the back row at a Craig Shoemaker show.
CRAIG:  You don’t have to sit in the back.  All you have to do is be two rows back and you’re good to go. I’m not going to come back two rows.  But the front row, they know what they’re in for, and what’s funny is they’ll rehearse it.  For a year.  Their wives tell me this.  “Oh my God, he tried for a year, he sounded great.  Do it now honey.”   This is after the show.   And they freak out under pressure.  It’s like, “Oh my God.”



SPAZ:   Now, do you remember, sort of going back to your childhood, do you remember the exact moment in your life when you decided yeah, that’s what I want to be.  I want to be a comedian or was it sort of a series of events?
CRAIG:  Well, I do have definitive times that I remember, many epiphanies and decisions that were made that all led to the comedy stage.  I mean, certainly, the getting picked on…I was very, very small.  I won the shortest in the school award. You know, it’s funny, I won the shortest in the school and this other guy, Paul, he won the funniest.  And now I’m 6 foot 2 and he was in the audience one night.  He is a teacher in LA.  And I said, “Who’s the funniest now?”  All these years later, I mean, I grew.  I was 5’1” in high school.    And I used to get really picked on, and the only defense I ever had was to make them laugh and staying in my house. We weren’t real happy in the house, and yet laughter was the greatest thing for us.  To sit around and watch sitcoms together, and that was the one time that we bonded as a family.  Either that or we’d laugh at one another and just sort of goof on each other.  So, I mean, that was definitely the formation.  Those are the seeds that were planted to be a comedian.  And then I was actually going to go to law school.  I was in college and we didn’t have any money.  I was also poor.  That was the other thing, I used to think the word “evict” meant move, like it was the same word.  And we would get evicted again, and so I didn’t have any money.  I had to put myself through college, and I worked at a law firm.  I used to do impressions of lawyers and celebrities in the lunchroom, and all that kind of thing, and a guy with a band said, “Would you like to go between sets of the band, to keep the people entertained?”  And I said, “Sure.”  And I went up, and I didn’t even study standup comedians necessarily.   We didn’t have, obviously, DVD/VCR capability or whatever back then and so I was basically on my own.   And I went up and did things that I was doing in the lunchroom and I got a couple laughs and like a crack addict, I was done.  I still haven’t found rehab for it.  (Laughs)  I’m still putting that stuff in my veins.  It’s a good hit.

SPAZ:   I think your Don Knotts impression is probably the second thing that people remember, apart from The Love Master, because it is pretty dead on.
CRAIG:  Well, I actually looped him in the movie Pleasantville, too.  He was sick and if you watched the movie Pleasantville, if you listen carefully, it is my voice doing him as an old guy.   He played the TV repairman.  It’s my voice… And he got a big kick out of me too.  We met several times.  One time he was signing autographs and he looks up and he goes, (imitating Don Knotts) “Oh, it’s Craig Shoemaker.  Can you do my signature too?  I gotta go pee.”   (Laughs)  He wanted me to sign autographs for him so he could take a rest and go pee.   He actually used to say to me, (imitating) “Now that I’m old, you do me better than me.”  And then, I imitate all the characters in Mayberry.   My first comedy act ever was celebrities smoking pot in Mayberry.    I mean, I do all the characters… that was part of my roots in comedy.  I mean, I didn’t see the first run shows, but it was re-run a lot when I was a kid.  I’d come home from school and there it was on channel 17, Philadelphia.  And so my first act ever was celebrities smoking pot in Mayberry and Floyd was the dealer.

SPAZ:  Do you know anyone who prefers Goober over Gomer?
CRAIG:  I think both of them are a wash.  I don’t think there is any true Gomer or Goober fans.  I used to do a thing in my act, cause I imitate Jim Nabors….of how it was so funny, the writers, they would write in songs so that he could sell Jim Nabors albums.  And he came out as this goofball and all of a sudden, (imitating) “Oh my papa…..”  Where in the hell did that come from?  (Laughs)  All these episodes of singing with Gomer.   And you know, making some money on the side selling the Jim Nabors albums.

SPAZ:   It’s funny because the night before I actually got a copy of Daditude to watch, I was on YouTube watching Paul Lynde clips, and then within five minutes of your set, you’re talking about Paul Lynde!
CRAIG:  I was really into Hollywood Squares.   One of my dreams was that Paul Lynde would be my father, and we’d be the first father and son team.  That was my literal dream.  I pictured, “I’d like Craig and Paul Lynde for the win please.”  (Laughs)


SPAZ:   Is there a comedian or somebody in your life that influenced you the most?
CRAIG:  Well, this is hard to believe, but there are two answers to that.  It’s not a comedian, it never was.  I mean, if anybody, in the beginning it was Rich Little when I did a lot of impressions, and I don’t do them anymore.  I used to do like literally 100 impressions.  And I cut that down to two or three now, four, whatever it is, and it is only if it is organic to the piece.  But the biggest influence was Bruce Springsteen.  I’m a young guy and someone turns me on to Bruce Springsteen, and I see him in 1984, Born in the USA tour, at the Spectrum in Philadelphia.  And I sat there and was moved as I’ve never been, sent to another stratosphere before by the man and his music and what he did.  I was just starting in comedy, and I said, “That’s what I want to do on stage. I wanna tell the truth.  I want people to identify with me, and I want them to walk out exhausted knowing that I gave them everything that I have.  And that’s what I do to this day.  Springsteen remains my strongest influence and the greatest artist out there to me, and he also, like me, had a very sustainable long career where people come back time and time again.  So that manifested.  Even though I was a young guy, that came true, and the Paul Lynde thing came true….I ended up on Hollywood Squares on 75 episodes. So, some of these little dreams do come true.   I have another really funny story about that.  You know, I do believe in this law of attraction, even though I want to write a book called God’s a Slow Motherfucker….. I always wanted a dad when I was a kid, and I wanted a husband for my mom so she wouldn’t be so miserable, so that’s why Paul Lynde – I wrote to him… But there is another guy that I saw.  I used to look at baseball cards of the Phillies.  I could care less what they hit.  All I cared about was if it said “S,” that they were single.  There was “S” and “M,” single/married.  If they were single, I would put the card aside, and I’d go, “Mom, look at this guy.”  And I picked this guy, Tim McCarver.   He was a catcher.  I said, “You gotta meet this guy.”   And I tried to get through to the Phillies to get the letter through to meet my mother, and I’d never hear back from them.  Well, cut to a couple years ago.  I get to know Joe Buck, who is his broadcasting partner on FOX.   They do all the World Series and everything.  Tim McCarver became a huge broadcaster.  And I tell Joe Buck the story.   Joe Buck is this fan of mine, and I got to know him.   And the next time,  I get a ball, Joe Buck made this happen, and it says, “Dear Son, time to grow up. Dad AKA Tim McCarver.”   Isn’t that great?   So all these years later….the only thing that hasn’t happened is I haven’t met Bruce Springsteen yet.  It will happen someday.   I hope he sees my stuff.  I only want to meet him on that level, of him, I know he loves comedy, and Nils is actually a fan of mine, Nils Lofgren.  I mean he has come to shows in Arizona.  But still, I’ve come so close.  I got tickets from Nils to shows, and sat on the drum case once, and I never met Springsteen.  That’s the one guy though that I would love to have like a one-on-one, just hang with the guy, cause I so respect what he does as a person and an artist, and you, so that’s my biggest influence.

LAUREN:  When you put out a DVD like this, is there any pressure that you have to retire parts of your act because now it’s been recorded?
CRAIG:  That’s a good question. There are several answers to it.   One is that people like Bruce Springsteen – they have to hear “Born To Run.”  But unlike Bruce Springsteen or any musician, I can change my Love Master.  I can change the lines.  You can’t change “Tramps like us” to “Bitches like us.”  I mean, you have to stick with the lyrics and I can change a lot of Love Master lines.  So that is one advantage.  The other thing is, I do continue to keep writing new material and throw in the best ofs that they are still yelling it out, actually.    They bring their friends and say hey, check this guy out and when they say check this guy out, they’re not going, hey come see his new material.  They’re saying you gotta see this machine gun bit.  You know what I mean?


SPAZ:  When you are putting together the show, how much of your material actually continues in the show compared to what you have to cut because maybe it doesn’t go over that well?   Maybe it goes over people’s heads.
CRAIG:  Um, well first of all, I tend not to write material that goes over anyone’s head.  Not that I’m dumb, but… I don’t really come from that space, I really try to connect with them.  Usually, if it doesn’t go over, it’s just a matter of something else.  There’s another ingredient that needs to go in it to make it go over or drop it. That wouldn’t be the reason: it was over their heads. It would be it just wasn’t what I thought it was when I initially wrote it.  Didn’t deliver it properly… I mean, some things just start off as an idea and then it becomes a line then it becomes a bit then it becomes a piece then it becomes a hunk.  Every single bit in my act was just one line that started that ends up as a hunk now.  The  Love Master was one line.  The Chris Rock was one line of observation that I had about when I got oohed.  You know, it spawned from that.

SPAZ:   What’s next for Craig Shoemaker?
CRAIG:  Well, I have a book coming out that is more of a self-help book.   It’s the journey that I’ve gone through and it helps people manage some of the difficulties in their lives.  So there’s the book and then I happen to be getting some TV appearances now, I guess because of Daditude special.   I got a (recurring) role on Parks And Recreation and The Bold And The Beautiful, a soap opera.
SPAZ:   Wow, that’s a weird…are you playing yourself in The Bold And The Beautiful?
CRAIG:  Ah, no…I play a porn producer (laughter)

SPAZ:   So it seems to be growing and growing and growing. By the time you’re 70, you’ll have your own sitcom…
CRAIG:  Yeah, right, exactly.  Everyone’s been asking about my sitcom for my entire career I think.  “How come you don’t have a sitcom?”   And you know, I can’t manage that.  I can just go do what I do.  The results are not in my hands.  I don’t know what my destiny is or what’s in store.  You have different managers and agents that promise you this and that, and it’s all an illusion anyway.  So, I just keep showing up and whoever sees it, whoever connects with it or it resonates with them, if it’s somebody in show business, maybe that’s what will happen.   But, I will not live in a box of  “Oh, he’s a comedian.”   This book is really my greatest work and it’s very serious too.  It’s dealing with an ex who has, she has run us down a rough road and it’s dealing with that, but finding that inner Shangri-la…  That’s the end of the book - is that there’s hope at the end of it, and it continues if we maintain it.  But it’s a true story.  The book is entirely autobiographical and it’s a story, but my hope is it also becomes a self-help book for people.  It’s not telling them how to do it, but it’s showing how I did it or how I do it.
SPAZ:   When is that scheduled to come out?
CRAIG:  I just finished it, and now it’s a matter of which publisher is going to step up and get behind it so we’ll see.  Again, I don’t know.  I can’t predict what will happen.  Just like even the special.  I knew that it was good work when I did it, and I was really into that crowd that night, and I said now it’s up to editors and it’s up to distributors, and things like that and who sees it.


SPAZ:   What is currently spinning on your CD, DVD, or record player?
CRAIG:  Wow, that’s a tough one because again, like my life, it’s extremely varied.  I’m really active with all three children - so my oldest teen turned me on to some of his music and most of it I’m not really into (chuckles) nor am I into The Wiggles for the youngest one or some pop thing for the middle child.  I’m not really into it, but I will check it out because they are into it and I get to experience it with them.  So, because they’re all varied ages, I find that it’s real diverse and eclectic, what I listen to and watch. And then there is my wife!  She is my eco-organic wife and she listens to Indigo Girls.  But, my number one is Les Miserables.   I looked forward to this Christmas more than my anticipation of getting a Hot Wheels set.  Because Les Miserable opened on Christmas morning and I had my tickets way ahead of time and brought a drop cloth for my crying.  Even during the Oscars, I watched with my family, and they were cracking up.  I was crying – the Les Miserables songs….. I’m just a softy when it comes to that.
SPAZ:   Well, what did you think of it?
CRAIG:  Well, certainly it was not the play, which I’ve seen a dozen times with a number of different actors.  I’d say most of it was great.  I thought that Russell Crowe was miscast.  He’s great as a character – couldn’t sing.   And that was when I was actually saying, “Come on, I wish was more famous so I would be that part because I could definitely nail it.”  I talk about it in my act now.  He sings like he’s got narcolepsy.  Falls asleep in the middle of the song.  (Laughs)  I mean, that was a little disappointment.  I wasn’t crazy about Sacha Baron Cohen.  I didn’t think he had the chops, because I really do love musical theater.  I love it.  I always have, ever since I was a kid, and that’s the one play that stands out as the greatest of all time for me.  Going in with the high expectations is never a good thing, but I thought that they met it mostly.   It was really well done, and I thought, this Samantha Banks, I think her name is, oh my God, she is amazing.  She just blew me away.  She could sing the phonebook for me.  Is there such a thing as a phonebook anymore?
SPAZ:   That’s why I was sort of wondering what you thought because most everyone – the first thing they say is Russell Crowe can’t sing. And he had a Rock band named 30 Odd Foot of Grunts
CRAIG:  I couldn’t sing that style, but I can sing Broadway style.  You know, even in comedy, It’s like knowing your race.  I’m a marathoner and not a sprinter.  I can run a very long race and keep people listening on stage… but I’m not a Tonight Show 4 ½ minute guy.  I know that now, and I’m not going to try to force it.  They forced this guy (Crowe)… it’s not his genre.  And the same with Sacha Baron Cohen.  I mean, they are really great.  They are at the top of their field in what they do well.    But this isn’t it.

Thanks to Craig Shoemaker
Special thanks to Dana House, Lauren Watt and Laura Riforgiato






CRAIG SHOEMAKER


DADITUDE


 4.9.13



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