INTERVIEW: Aaron Karo
Author and comedian Aaron Karo will be the first person to tell you he’s lived a semi charmed life. He stumbled upon success in 1997 while attending the University of Pennsylvania, with what was originally intended to be a group email between some of his close friends that contained Karo’s musings on life as a college freshman. His email would spawn into a regular email column called Ruminations On College Life, that would eventually be read by thousands of people across the globe. After graduating from Penn, Karo’s column helped secure him a book deal that would allow him to leave his brief stint on Wall Street and embrace his dreams of pursuing stand-up comedy. With several books and a Comedy Central special under his belt, Karo is embarking on a 2011 Spring tour that will have him crisscrossing the country at a dizzying pace. SanDiego.com recently had a chance to catch up with Karo from his home in Los Angeles and learned about his first time doing stand-up and why he doesn’t drink onstage anymore.
Do you remember the first time you did stand-up?
Aaron Karo: It was an open mic, but I didn’t invite my fans or anything, it was just kind of a family and friends type thing. It was an open mic but I knew ahead of time that I was going to be on the show and let people know.
What club was this at?
AK: Stand Up New York.
This must have been a huge moment for you, being that you were already and established writer and this was the very first time you were going to do stand-up.
AK: Well it’s funny because I was working on Wall Street at the time and that was about a year after I graduated from Penn, and I kind of had the inkling to try it and new someone who kind of produced shows. I kept saying, “I want to do it!” then I would panic and get out if it, and really the only reason that I did that particular show was that I couldn’t get out of it. I had already committed to it. So I wanted to do it but I was also apprehensive at the same time, then once I finally popped my cherry.
How much time did you do the first time up?
AK: I think I did like fifteen minutes, which you know is really long for an open mic. But it was more that fact that, you have no idea. Like now I know when my set is “X” long then you’ve got to add to the audience reaction; I know exactly how long it’s going to be. But that I was like, “I don’t know? I have a page of jokes, is it two minutes, seven minutes? I have no idea.” It was a rush; I remember I couldn’t wipe the smile off my face afterwards. A lot of my friends were there; that’s kind of the number one thing, when people email me and say they’re thinking about trying stand-up, and people are always saying, “I’m not going to tell anyone I’m doing it, because I don’t know how it’s going to go.” And I always say the definition of a friend is someone who comes to support you when you do stand-up comedy for the first time. Being there for your wedding, being there for your funeral and like watching you do open mic and possibly make a fool of yourself. That’s what friends are for. So I would say invite as many people as possible. And that kind of made it a little less nerve racking.
How long did you work on Wall Street for?
AK: I was gone within a month, I also had a book coming out. I had gotten a book deal towards the beginning of my stint on Wall Street, so I was working on it the whole time, in fact the book came out a couple of weeks after I started doing stand-up. So when I left Wall Street it was really more due to the book than, “Oh, now I’m going to be a full-time comedian!” but I also knew that I had another bullet in the chamber that I knew I could try.
Were your parents supportive of this?
AK: They were actually surprisingly cool. I think as long as they knew that I had put some thought into it, and you know I had the diploma to fall back on, and I still do. So even if it doesn’t work out I can still go back to Wall Street, but that will never fucking happen ever.
What was the process between the evolution of your career as an author and your career as a stand-up comedian?
AK: I sort of had a very unique progression in that, after that first open mic I started announcing my shows on my mailing list, which seems obvious in hindsight, but I never really thought about doing that, because the list was for the column and my stand-up was something else. The next show that I did, I sold the place out on my own, so I didn’t have to do my own open mic thing, I could just do whatever I wanted. And I remember like, within a couple of months I was doing forty five minute sets, which it takes other people a decade to come out with that material, but I just didn’t know any better. I was sort of aided by my naiveté I guess you could say. Like, “I sold the show out, so maybe I should do a lot of time.” Then I kind of just started doing my own shows around New York, and then it kind of went from there. I started headlining almost instantly because I could fill the room so I could do whatever I wanted. Then the act kind of came after that.
Are you a fan ofheavy metal?
AK: No, I have the musical taste of about a 12-year-old. I like Ke$ha and everything that’s like, on the hit stations.
I ask because Brick by Brick, the venue you're playing at in San Diego has been around a long time and quite a few metal bands perfrm there.
AK: I’ve definitely played some rock clubs. Usually when I play a rock club like that, the audience that’s there has never ever been there before. It’s like a bunch of 25-year-old chicks that are like, “Oh, what’s this place?”
Do you drink onstage?
AK: I don’t drink onstage anymore, I used to all the time. It really had nothing to do with drinking or being intoxicated onstage. All I had to do was I always had to break the seal. My show’s like an hour and twenty minutes long, and I had couple of shows where I was drinking and I was like, “Fuck! I need to piss.” So I had to stop the show, get off stage, go to the bathroom and come back. After that I was like, “Yeah I’m not going to do that anymore.” It’s a little unprofessional.
Does Aaron Karo have a message for the children?
AK: Well, first off the children should not be anywhere near this show. I would say, ‘Work hard, play harder and you’re never too young to get drunk.”
Aaron Karo headlines Brick by Brick Saturday, April 30.