Not a lot of comedians are able to take dark chapters in their lives and turn them around for golden material on the stage. --- It seems like the simplest of formulas when it comes to writing: Pain equals humor -- using what made you miserable to make you happier by way of a mic and a few minutes of time at a club. But some can't pull it off, and in return you find a lot of dead jokes on the floor and an unhappy crowd. Local comedian Andy Gold has managed to find the balance onstage, using prior addictions and experiences to mold his routine in a way that doesn't come off as bland and repetitive, often making the audience uncomfortable as quickly as he made them laugh. Today, we chat with Gold about his career and thoughts on local stand-up.
Gavin: Hey, Andy. First off, tell us a bit about yourself.
Andy: I was raised in Centerville, I came up in a well-to-do, upper-middle-class neighborhood, but my family was very blue-collar. My dad ran, and still does run, a retail garden center. He's 62 years old, but still rolls his sleeves up and gets dirty. He's very discipline-oriented but loves to laugh. My mom was a nurse, but eventually became a full-time mom. She's was, and is, the best person I know. Growing up, I was talkative. I was the funny kid and I loved that role. In junior high, I was awarded "most likely to be on Saturday Night Live." I didn't take school seriously and was constantly in trouble. Although I was a veracious reader and was very inquisitive, I was a poor student. Instead of doing my assignments, I would draw or write stories. Neither my parents nor teachers knew what to to about my selective attention span. By the time I got into high school, I was a regular drug user and unfortunately that would define my life over the next several years. At age 16, I was high every day and drunk many days. I graduated in 2003. By early 2004, I was a heroin addict. I was no longer a recreational drug user, I was a junkie; a dyed-in-the-wool addict. I was arrested many times. I tried outpatient counseling. Nothing got me sober. I lost several friends to addiction and even my older brother. I was never totally clean for more than a couple of days. By the summer of 2009, I was using every hour and waking up several times a night going through withdrawal. I was spending $2,000 a week to feed my addiction. I had stolen from everyone I knew. I had pawned everything I owned and was living day-to-day. I had ripped off several drug dealers, and getting the heroin had become very dangerous. I eventually accepted the fact that I was a junkie and I would die soon. I went to sleep every night not caring if I woke up the next morning. It was hell. I forgot what a normal life was like and had given up. Finally, on Oct. 21, 2009, I overdosed. It wasn't the first time, but this time it was bad. I woke up in the hospital and I felt awful because the doctors had given me a shot of something called Narcane, which sent me into instant withdrawal. The doctor told me I had actually died for a bit. A dealer I had ripped off had given me something called a "hot shot," which is either some heroin that's been cut with rat poison or some heroin that isn't cut with anything and is extremely potent. He had sold me some pure, uncut heroin and didn't tell me. The doctor said it looked like my dealer had tried to kill me ... but I still wanted to get some heroin to end the withdrawal. My family begged me to go to rehab and I agreed. I don't know why I agreed, but for some reason, I did. I have been sober since Oct. 21, 2009. It's a miracle, and I don't use that word often. Now, I am back in touch with my creative side and doing what I do best. I couldn't be happier. Sometimes I look back on my old life and it seems like a dream, like it never happened ...but it did happen. It was real, and I won't ever forgot that. I go to counseling once a week, almost just as a reminder.
Gavin: What first got you interested in standup comedy, and who were some of your favorite comedians growing up?
Andy: I've always enjoyed making people laugh, even when it gets me in trouble. I thought about being a comic ever since I was a kid. I never gave it any serious thought until I went to rehab. I had very little down-time and would usually spend it reading or watching TV. I watched a lot of stand-up and remember thinking -- like an idiot -- "Man, I could do that." I went to my first open mic in the summer of 2010. I loved it and remember feeling this incredible natural high. I knew it was for me. As a kid, I loved Bill Cosby. I always laughed at Eddie Murphy and Steve Martin. As an adult I, discovered Mitch Hedberg, who is now my all-time-favorite stand-up.
Gavin: What officially brought on the decision for you to attempt it as a career?
Andy: I love it, and right now I'm not interested in doing anything else. There's something very satisfying in knowing that I used to get sent to the principal's office for saying the kinds of things I'm saying, and now, I get a check. I love going out and doing something that I'm actually good at. Going out and telling a joke that I just wrote and having it kill is the best feeling for me. Nothing else does for me what the stage does. Nothing comes close. I also suck at literally everything else I've ever done.
Gavin: How was it for you breaking into the local lineups and getting gigs?
Andy: When I first started, I was the worst comic in the world. Everybody hated me and wanted me to kill myself. My parents were humiliated and thought I should should consider using heroin again. I would get off stage and the audience and other comics would look at me like I just stole three minutes of their lives and they wanted it back. However, I was determined and never missed an open mic at Wiseguys. I had no car and was taking the train. One week, there were too many comics and I was cut. The only way to get time was to bring friends who would buy tickets. When I got sober, I lost all my "friends," so that wasn't an option for me. So, I would pay a bum to come and watch me. I would buy his ticket and give him $5. I wanted to get stage time and I was going to get it. I worked and worked and worked. Eventually, by some miracle -- I really don't use that word often -- I became funny and started getting weekends. I did my first weekend in November of 2010 and have become a regular at Wiseguys in the last nine months or so. I'm at one of the clubs virtually very weekend now.
Gavin: When you first started out, what were some of the lessons you learned about performing?
Andy: Without a doubt, the biggest lesson I've learned so far is that you don't choose your voice, your voice chooses you. When I first started, I wanted to be like Bill Cosby. I wanted to be onstage, talking to the audience about family and things like that. I wanted to tell stories, be likable and fun. I tried that and I sucked. I couldn't figure it out, I didn't know why I was funny offstage but unfunny onstage. One day, something clicked and I decided to quit being like Cosby. I realized what made me funny was me. I made people laugh by joking about the things "you're not supposed to joke about." So, I hit the stage and changed everything. I wasn't trying to be conversational or friendly anymore. I adopted a more laid-back, almost cynical, delivery style and changed my material. I went up there one night and talked about my past heroin addiction. It was dark and a little warped but the audience loved it. I stopped trying to tell stories, and realized that my strength was, "Premise, setup, punchline"-type jokes. I wanted to be Bill Cosby but became the comic I am now, which is the furthest thing from Bill Cosby.
Gavin: What's it like for you personally coming up with material and deciding what works and doesn't?
Andy: I write constantly. I carry a small pad and pen in my back pocket all the time. I live my life and look for the joke in everything. I have a joke book in my car, next to the remote and on my nightstand. I don't write topical stuff. I don't have anything against that style, it's just not for me. I don't like to let the audience know how I feel on a particular issue in the news, in politics, etc. I talk about who I am, my own personal life. By doing that, my jokes don't have a shelf life and I don't have to worry about being too similar to another comic. As far as what works, the only thing I know is that I have no idea what's going to work. The joke that is consistently my hardest-hitting and "funniest" joke is a joke that I don't especially like. It's about a tree at our family garden center called "Weeping Pussy Willow." It's obvious there's a joke in that title. I wrote a joke about me being embarrassed by the name of the tree and not knowing what to do. We can't change the name of that tree -- it's too popular, it would be bad for business. So, I thought maybe we could change the name of all the other trees, giving them an equally embarrassing name. That way, I'll just get used to it. So, when people ask, "Excuse me, where are your Weeping Pussy Willows?" I can say, "Well, they're along the south fence ... right next to the Swinging Dick Maples." I wrote that joke and thought it was so stupid. It didn't matter what I thought, the audience loved it and that's become my signature joke. It's now got a tag and a call back I use later in my routine. It sometimes frustrates me when I have stuff that I think is smarter, better-written or more well-thought-out not go well, and then that stupid joke kills. So, I just continue to write what I think is funny, and most of the time the audience thinks so, too.
Gavin: How is it for you interacting with other local comedians, both as friends and competitors?
Andy: For me, personally, there's nothing I enjoy more than hanging out with comics, just getting together after a show and shooting the shit. We'll run new bits by each other or just sit and banter. There's a real camaraderie amongst comics. Nobody can identify with what we do except other comics. We can vent about hecklers, poor crowds, etc. Mostly it's fun to just get together, laugh and have a good time. I don't really look at most the other comics around here as competitors. What a fellow comic is doing has nothing to do with me. My success is determined by me.
Gavin: A lot of the set that you perform hits a lot of daring subject material for Utah crowds, and I've witnessed the mixed reactions. How do you decide what to keep in a set, and what do you do about crowds that just aren't into it?
Andy: It's never been my aim to offend people, and getting a mixed reaction is not my goal. If I do get a mixed reaction, then that's my fault, not the audience's fault. There's been many times where I've performed in front of very conservative audiences and done well. There also have been times where I haven't done well, It's just a matter of how well I did communicating my point of view to the crowd, letting them know that this is comedy. None of my material is especially sexual, and I don't use a lot of profanity. The dirtiest joke I have is that previously made mention, Weeping Pussy Willow bit. For the most part, I would be perfectly comfortable doing my material in front of my parents. However, ultimately, the fact is that I'm not for everybody. There are some audiences that simply won't buy into what I'm doing. What gets the audience to moan at me is my dark humor. I make a lot of jokes about the ugly side of life -- AIDS, death, drug addiction, eating disorders, prostitution, etc. There are some people who believe that some things are just not a laughing matter. For audiences like that, it's my job to try and make them laugh. I'll use some of my lighter material --very little -- and try to give them their money's worth. After all, they paid to have a good time. Sometimes I can be stubborn and I don't want to compromise. I refuse to compromise my material about my past with heroin. That's a huge part of who I am, and I'm not glorifying drug use. That's the one thing that if somebody CHOOSES to get offended, they can kiss my ass.
Gavin: Are there any plans down the road for you to tour, or are you sticking to home for now?
Andy: I dont' know if you can justifiably call what I do "touring," but I do hit the road on a fairly regular basis, doing comedy in such exotic locations as Butte, Montana, or Rock Springs, Wyoming or Idaho Falls and Cedar City. I am spending a week in Oregon in March. I also have plans to hit a few clubs in Seattle with a comic friend of mine who lives up there, and I'll be making my L.A. debut in the next little bit. Another comic friend who lives out there has hooked up some stage time. Mostly, I'm just sticking around here, writing, getting funnier and saving up money to go to New York. If something is going to happen in comedy, I have to make that leap. I'm extremely excited and scared to death.
Gavin: Going local for a bit, what's your take on the standup scene, both good and bad?
Andy: It's a lot better than most people realize. There's plenty of stage time to be gotten and lots of funny comics. There seems to be a lot of unity amongst comics, which is great. There's a growing alternative scene. It's not really the world I live in, but I know a lot of the comics who work those rooms. They're all funny comics who I really like and respect. I personally work almost exclusively at Wiseguys. The owner, Keith Stubbs, gave me a shot and a stage to become a comic. He gave me spots when, frankly, I wasn't ready. He saw potential in me before I did and that's not something I forget. If I had to say what's bad about the scene, it would probably be what's bad in every city, which is entitled people -- people who want to do comedy but don't want to work. They feel as though they should be given stage time just because they're funny with their friends. However, none of the comics I know or am friendly with have that attitude. It's mostly just guys who come to open mic once or twice and then call it quits and always blame the club and never blame themselves. They like to say things like "Man, they just don't get me." Well, that's a problem.
Gavin: Is there anything you think could be done to make it more prominent?
Andy: To be honest, I haven't given it a lot of thought. I just focus on me and what I'm doing. Considering the size of our city, I think we have a great market. There are three different Wiseguys clubs and various other rooms all over the place. However, it seems like people don't know how good the comedy scene around here really is. I know I never thought about going to the comedy club before I started doing comedy. I would just go see a movie. There needs to be more said about live entertainment in the media outlets; more ads, blogs, etc. The comedy scene here is awesome, it's just unknown or unconsidered compared to other things to do around town.
Gavin: Asidefrom yourself, who are some of your favorite comics you like to check out around town?
Andy: Well, I've never actually checked myself out. Typically, when I'm doing comedy, I'm onstage talking to the audience. I've never been in the audience watching myself. So, I wouldn't include myself. I'd say a couple of my favorites are Spencer King and Guy Seidel. Neither one of them are very decent human beings but they're both funny comics -- great points of view and unafraid to tell people who they are. Jerry Mabbott has been a great mentor; he's been doing comedy for 175 years. Marty Archibald is a good friend who is an enormous weirdo and douche bag but he really makes me laugh. Keith Stubbs is great to watch because he's as pro as they come. Josh Fonokalafi and Jay Whittaker are also two guys who make me chuckle. I also was able to see Kiley Cook's full hour set for the first time and he really made me laugh. It's inspiring to watch him do comedy because of his retardation.
Gavin: What are your thoughts on the clubs that provide comedians a forum to perform, and the work they do to help bring in audiences?
Andy: Well, the truth is that comics need clubs more than clubs need comics. If I decided to stop doing stand-up, Wiseguys would be just fine. I'm not lying when I think of it as a favor when I get stage time. Kevin Hart, Andrew Dice Clay, Sinbad, Louis C.K., Bill Burr, Lewis Black and the list goes on and on -- all of these comics have come through and done Wiseguys. I'm nowhere near that level yet, but, hopefully, one day I will be. In the meantime, I'm just keep cranking out new jokes, writing and building the act. I'm just lucky I get as much time as I do. Bringing in an audience is tricky. Obviously if you're a big name or a local guy who has a lot of friends, you'll bring people to the show. If not, there are ways, I'm on Facebook and Twitter and I try to plug shows and market myself by being funny. I think I've built up a fan base of around 12 people and I can sometimes get them to come. There's also Friday freebies and 2-for1 deals that clubs throw out on occasion.
Gavin: What's your opinion of national standup comedians coming through town and what that does for the local scene?
Andy: Wiseguys may have the best lineup of comics in the country right now. There are big names every week. What that does is, it legitimizes the scene. For me, personally, I love the chance to meet comics with experience who I can learn from. I have plans to move to New York. Meeting, getting to know and working with these touring comics is going to be incredibly helpful when I make the move. I won't go out there and have to start over. If a comic comes through town and he likes my act and we become buddies, then that's a key. Most comics out in the major markets break into the scene through comic-produced shows. Comedy is an art, but it's also a business, like anything, and you have to network and make those connections.
Gavin: What can we expect from you over the rest of the year and going into next?
Andy: Just building the product --the act -- hitting the road and working around town. Right now, my main focus is still on building the product, not selling it. I started only about 20 months ago and I've come up pretty fast. I can say I've come up not by rushing or getting ahead of myself, but by working and listening to those veterans who are willing to give me advice. If I can improve over the next year and a half as much as I have the past, I think good things are in the future for me. I know the chances of going out and becoming the next big name in comedy are extremely small, but I intend to go out and do just that.
Gavin: Is there anything you'd like to promote or plug?
Andy: A production company called Epic Genius is hooking up me and my comedian buddies Spencer King and Steve Soelberg with a studio for a podcast, so be on the lookout for that. Follow me on Twitter and find me on Facebook. I plug all my shows on there.
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