INTERVIEW: Sam Tripoli
Notorious comedian Sam Tripoli has come along way since his days as a young comic on the Vegas strip. Born and raised in upstate New York, Tripoli soon relocated to Las Vegas and attended UNLV, where films like Basic Instinct and Silence of The Lambs, would inspire him to earn a degree in psychology. After years of honing his chops in the casinos of Sin City, Tripoli moved to Los Angeles and began to make a name for himself, eventually becoming a regular at The Comedy Store and Hollywood Improv. He currently hosts “The Naughty Show,” a mixed media variety show combining the funniest names in comedy with the biggest names in adult entertainment. SanDiego.com recently caught up with Tripoli as he was watching the NCAA tournament and discussed his early years in Las Vegas and how the 2004 Presidential election transformed his career.
Do you watch a lot of college basketball?
Sam Tripoli: Yeah I love this time of year. My favorite times of year are October and March.
Did you see that SDSU made the Sweet 16 for the first time?
I’m very excited about that, I’m a Mountain West guy myself, I’m from UNLV, so since UNLV can’t do it I want the Mountain West to do it.
Do you remember the first time you did stand-up?
Yeah, it was in a coffee shop. I had an awesome set. Then the next week I did it again and I ate it, and I’ve been addicted ever since.
When and where was this?
This was in Las Vegas in the late nineties. I grew up in upstate New York; Cortland, just outside of Syracuse. I went to UNLV and wanted to do stand-up and I didn’t know a lot about it, and I thought Vegas was full of entertainment, what a great place to start. And it was good in some aspects and it wasn’t in others, but I was really happy I went there. That’s basically where my style comes from, and I did all I could over there so I decided to move to L.A.
What year did you move to Los Angeles?
Did you get your degree from UNLV?
Yeah, I got a degree in psychology. I always wanted to be in stand-up, but I pretty much just got my degree to make my parents happy. And I liked the movies Silence of The Lambs and Basic Instinct, so I’m like, ‘Oh I’ll get a psychology degree.’
Is there anything specific from your adolescence that inspired you to be a stand-up comedian?
I wanted to be a stand-up comic since the moment of consciousness; it’s just something I’ve always wanted to do. I was class clown in sixth grade and class clown my senior year. I think I’m the only one who went to high school where their whole goal was to win class clown.
How was your experience arriving in L.A. as a comedian from Las Vegas?
It’s very humbling man, it was a very humbling experience. Because usually what happens when you decide to move to L.A. is you’re kind of the best of your local scene. So you’re the best and you’re killing it, you get the best spots, you’re crushing the hardest, and you’re like, ‘It’s time to go to L.A.!’ And then you go there and everything you did in your hometown doesn’t mean anything, and now you got to start paying your dues out here. It’s like there are huge names running around. I remember when I first started to work at The Comedy Store, Andrew Dice Clay and Joe Rogan and Eddie Griffin were hanging out, and I was just some young kid just trying to make my mark. I had to work the door at The Comedy Store, which was both fun and again, humbling. It’s just a process; you’ve got to learn how to navigate the waters. It can be rough man. It can be rough and exciting all at the same time. I remember being really young when I moved here and Paul Mooney telling me that the best part of your comedy career was when you’re really young and you’re just doing it because you love it. Now I realize what he was talking about. You were just so excited to get onstage, getting paid, not getting paid, it didn’t matter you just wanted to rock. Then people start blowing up and everybody’s careers are going different, and you don’t see your friends like you used to.
What was your process from being an employee at The Comedy Store to becoming a passed regular?
I had a weird experience because I was blessed that Mitzi was trying to put together a Middle Eastern show, and there wasn’t enough Middle Eastern comedians, and because I was Armenian she said that was close enough. So she’s like, ‘Okay, you’re in it, but you got to work the door.’ So I became a paid regular and had to work the door all at the same time. I’m one of only two people whose first ever paid regular spot was in The Main Room. It was me and Roseanne Barr. I got really lucky when I was doing my showcase that Paul Mooney had sat down right next to Mitzi and was like, “Oh Mitzi, you’ve got to make him a regular.’ And I got really lucky and she picked me up right there. It’s a process, there’s no rhyme or reason in terms of what goes down in Hollywood. You’ve just got to stick with it and keep working.
How would you describe The Hollywood Comedy Store to someone who’s never been there?
The Comedy Store is like a Fight Club, it’s like a Dojo; you go and work it out. It’s got its own kind of rules. I’ve seen people go in there and just eat it, I’ve seen huge names go in the O.R. (Original Room) and just eat it! Because it’s got its own voodoo, it’s an amazing thing and if you’re blessed to get in there you could learn a lot, because you have to follow huge names and there’s no host either. There’s no host going on in between you and the guy who just killed, so you have to go into that and find a way to get the crowd to listen. For the first year I did comedy there, I pretty much got bumped by Andrew Dice Clay almost every night, and then I’d have to follow Joe Rogan who was just crushing. It was like a baptism by fire. The Comedy Store I consider like a Dojo, you practice your Kung Fu there and then you go out into the world and whip a little ass.
When would you say you found your voice as a comedian?
I would say it was after the 2004 election, because I had a really strong Bill Hicks influence and I was really into politics. Then the 2004 election happened and I was like, ‘What am I doing? Nobody cares.’ So I started just doing jokes about my life and that’s kind of what I try to do now. More jokes about my life and that’s when stuff started going really well.
So you had a lot of political stuff in your act?
Yeah I liked to rally against the machine back then; calling out the B.S. Then I realized that at the end of the day, no matter what you do onstage there has to be a level of entertainment. People are there to get entertained, you have to entertain or else it does nothing. You can have the greatest points ever, but if you’re not entertaining people it’s useless. To a degree that’s why I love stand-up but it’s also a very limited art, in that you’re kind of limited by the crowd's willingness to go along with you or be able to digest what you’re saying. And if they’re not going with it, it could be the greatest joke ever written; you’re in trouble. For me it’s not about the laughs really, for me it’s about how you get the laughs. There are some people out there doing some really basic comedy thinking they’re some bad ass dudes. And in my opinion they’re doing lowest common denominator stuff. They think that since people are going crazy that means they’re great. It’s like trying to compare Shrek to Reservoir Dogs. Which one's a better movie? One’s grossed a gazillion dollars but the other one has this artistic credibility. And it’s not for everybody, but the people who get it, really get it, and that to me is what really matters.
Are you going to record a follow-up to your first album Crimefighter any time soon?
I want to, I’m just looking for the right place to do it. I’ve got more than enough material.
Aside from the location, what in your opinion are the defining differences between The Hollywood Comedy Store and The La Jolla Comedy Store?
The La Jolla Store is a little more relaxing. It’s a place where you can go and kind of stretch your arms, spread your wings and have some fun. In Hollywood it’s more about power sets, fifteen minutes of fury, just packing as many punchlines in to 15 minutes. When you go down to La Jolla it’s more about the experience and not so much about having to kill every two seconds. You can take people on your own journey and your own story. That’s the way comedy is supposed to be; 15 minutes of fury where you just pack as much punch is just the way it is up here.
How would you describe The Naughty Show to someone that’s not familiar with it?
The Naughty Show is all about trying to get the rock and roll back into comedy. It’s an adult variety show and a beautiful ballet of chaos. I love it so much. People go there and it’s like nothing they’ve ever seen. Its A.D.D. theatre, every 5 minutes there’s something new going onstage and you never get bored. It’s the one show pretty much where people stay the whole show, nobody ever leaves. It’s like “Pee Wee’s Playhouse” on a bottle of Jager. I call it the dirty show you can bring your girlfriend to.
When’s the next Naughty Show going to take place?
The next show will be at The Hollywood Improv, probably sometime in June. But we’ve got The Naughty Show podcast now which is one of my favorite things I’ve ever done.
How often does the podcast air?
Depending on scheduling we’ll either do it Sunday and Mondays but this week we’re only doing it Monday. This weekend I’ll be bringing down a really funny guy who’s the co-host of The Naughty Show podcast named, Jayson Thibault. It’ll be his first weekend down in La Jolla. He’s a very good friend of mine and I’m really excited about bringing him down and getting him in front of a La Jolla crowd. I just love the club, I use to think that’s how every comedy club was on the road and it’s really not. The La Jolla Comedy Store is one of the best comedy clubs in the county.
Does Sam Tripoli have a message for the children?
Believe in yourself, don’t take no crap, and if someone’s bullying you run out and kick them in the head. And everything for the ladies. Take care of the ladies, ladies will take care of you. I’m putting that on a t-shirt.
Sam Tripoli headlines The La Jolla Comedy Store March 25-26.