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Joe DeRosa Talks Comedy & Indie Rock

Return of the Son of Depression Auction is available now

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Growing up in the suburbs of Philadelphia, Joe DeRosa had aspirations of being in a successful indie rock band where he could travel the country and escape his dreary reality through the catharsis of music. However, after a chance encounter at an open mic, DeRosa discovered that his ability to make strangers laugh was definitely something worth pursuing. 10 years later DeRosa has made a name for himself as a stand-up comic with appearances on Comedy Central, Chelsea Lately, Bored To Death, and he was also handpicked to be the opening act for Dave Chappelle. His second album, Return Of The Son of Depression Auction was recently released by Comedy Central Records and has been receiving positive reviews from fans and critics alike.

SanDiego.com had a chance to talk with DeRosa while on tour in Alabama and discovered the genesis of his comedy career and talked about the worst heckle he’s ever received.

Do you remember the first time you did stand-up?
Joe DeRosa: The first set I ever did was at a bar in my hometown. I credit the Laugh House as where I started because that really was the first real comedy club stage I ever set a foot on or ever got up in front of a real audience; or ever got money for stand-up. The first time I ever literally went up onstage was in my hometown. I was a musician and I wanted to pursue music, and I was at a bar one night playing music with a friend of mine; we were going to play at the open mic and they put us on last. By the time we got on the crowd was drunk, we were drunk and nobody was listening to us so we started to antagonize them and make fun of them and made up songs about the audience, and when we got off stage the manager of the bar said, ‘You guys are funny, do you wanna do a comedy show here every week?’ And that was how it started. We started doing comedy every Monday night during halftime of Monday night football. After a few weeks my friend quit and he didn’t want to do it anymore with me, and that was the first time I did stand-up, was that night that he quit. I went up by myself, and I was such a George Carlin fan and I liked provocative comedy so much but I didn’t understand how it worked. I didn’t understand that there had to be more behind it than just intention, there had to be real thought behind it and there had to be punch lines. So I went onstage with all this material that was just hateful; ‘If you like this band you should be shot!’ it was really extreme opinionated stuff that didn’t really have much of a leg to stand on. That was it. I bombed horrifically and I’m sure I’d cringe if I saw the tape now of what happened that night. But I do know that I got enough laughter that I wanted to try it again. A year and a half later I was in New York and I was doing it full time; I moved very quickly.

Did you get a day job when you moved to New York?
JDR: When I went to New York I had a little bit of money saved, and I did have one job for four days and then I got fired. I was selling porn out of a warehouse. It was a porn warehouse and my job was to go in and call the porn shops around Manhattan and say, ‘Hey, do you need five more copies of insert ridiculous porn title,’ and I got fired from that because I called out two days in a row in my first week to do stand-up. That was really the last job I had.

Did you ever go to college and get a degree?
JDR: I went to a school called, Kutztown University, it’s a state school in Pennsylvania. I went there and got a degree in television production, the major was called telecommunications, which is a misleading name because you hear telecommunications you think of phone stuff and that’s not what it was, it was video production.

What sort of music were you playing with the bands you were in?
JDR: That night in the bar was acoustic stuff, but I was playing in indie rock bands and stuff like that; I’m trying to think of what was popular at the time that I can equate it to. Do you remember Pavement?

JDR: It was very Matador Records type stuff, that’s what we were trying to do, and I was always really into Mike Patton. My new band has stuff online right now. I’m in a band called Funeral in the Mirror, with one of my closest friends, a guy named James Pinkstone, I’m at his house right now and we’re working on some stuff this week.

Being that you’re based out of New York City and have an affinity for Matador Records, have you ever gotten to meet Yo La Tengo?
JDR: No. I’ve met so few of my musical influences and idols. I’ve barely met any musicians, and it always shocks me, I thought by now the comedy path would’ve crossed with these people in some way and it just doesn’t seem to. I’d love to meet Yo La Tengo or any of these people.

When you got to New York, what was the process you went through to become integrated into the various clubs?
JDR: When I went to New York the first place I ever performed was the Boston Comedy Club. A guy named Wayne Rada gave me my first stage time. I feel very privileged and lucky to have gotten to be a part of the Boston Comedy Club before it shut down. I started to get stage time there and hang out there, it was a workout room. The shows were really cheap admission prices and ran by comics. Everybody that had a show during the week you’d become friends with just from hanging out at the Boston. I would say the Boston was really where I learned to get kicked in the balls. You’re a new comic in New York and you sit there until 1 a.m. waiting to go on and you literally go on for three people. These are not the ideal circumstances as a young comic trying to figure out what to do onstage. Once you learn how to fight through all those things and you’re making people that English is their second or third language laugh at one o’clock in the morning, it makes it a hell of a lot easier when you get to go on at 8:30 in front of a packed house somewhere.

When a young comic first starts out, would you say that if they’re killing every night that they’re doing something wrong?
JDR: There’s two way to look at that, I don’t think that’s an absolute truth to that statement. I’ve heard people say, ‘If you kill every single night you’re doing something wrong.’ You’re not necessarily doing something wrong, you just might not be expanding yourself or growing. Obviously if you’re going up and know how to kill every night, there’s something to take away from that, there’s a stake that you have in that; there’s an ability there; you have a certain skill set that you know how to work. The problem is that probably means you’re not writing any new material, or you’re not writing much new material. The inverse of that is the guy that says, ‘I go up all the time and I don’t give a shit, I do whatever I want.’ Well, that’s not good either. There’s a grey area there between those two things where it’s like yeah, some nights you go up and work on new material and some nights you go up and have to kill, and you sort of pick your battles and you figure out where to do those things. 

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