Drew Hastings: Farming for laughs

By | May 12, 2008 at 2:38 am | No comments | Features | Tags: , , , ,

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What happens when a Midwesterner moves to LA, makes a name for himself as a comic and then moves back to the Midwest far from the bustling West Coast comedy scene? Something that we can’t wrap up in one witty word. But we can tell you it’s good and stuff. Read on.

Not long ago, Drew Hastings left the comedy Mecca that is Los Angeles and headed east for rural Ohio.

The veteran comic gave up his Hollywood apartment just a short drive from a cluster of comedy clubs. And now, he picks up a rake and shovel and gets his hands dirty on his farm 40 miles from the closest Starbucks.

On his Comedy Central special, Irked & Miffed, just released on DVD, Drew, clad in his trademark black suit, gets a huge laugh without telling a joke, simply saying, “So I’m a farmer.” True, he is. But lucky for the entertainment industry, he’s also a fine — if not, very underrated — comedian.

Drew recently took time away from farming — and from telling jokes — to speak with Punchline Magazine.

On your Web site you posted a message about the censorship of your special by Comedy Central, you seemed a little upset about that.
They were pretty heavy with the bleeping in the first airing of the special. It’s not necessarily Comedy Central’s fault. They just air the content. They need to cover their ass though. These days, everything is a legal issue. They are going to bleep anything and everything that is even close to being offensive.

Do I agree with everything they were bleeping? Probably not, but I understand. I mean, they were bleeping words like “going down.” Going down? Then they have commercials for the Girls Gone Wild DVDs during every single commercial break. I find Girls Gone Wild much more offensive than anything I was saying. As an artist you’d like to see it flow better but I also understand.

Do you think the censorship issues helped the special serve as a good advertisement for the DVD?
I don’t know. On one hand it could make people want to see it again including all of the racy things without the censors. On one hand all the bleeping may have made people just switch it off and think it was too much for them to handle. I do know that Comedy Central was happy with the ratings though, so that’s a good sign.

You got started doing stand-up comedy at 31, which is quite a bit later than when most comics get started. Do you wish you started sooner?
No. On the other hand, I wish comics would start later. The age I started was a very common age to get started just up until the recent past. When I started doing comedy in the ’80s it was pretty unusual for a guy to be on stage at 19. I think some of that may have to do with the immediate gratification culture we live in right now.

When you’re 19, you don’t have anything to say that anyone cares about. What are you going to talk about? You are two years out of getting detention. You haven’t experienced any pain; and I believe that all comedy comes from pain. Relationships? You’ve had what– two relationships? You can’t give any political insight. I’m not putting down a guy at 19 getting into stand-up by any means. I just think it’s a much tougher job.

Your life gets smaller as a stand-up comedian. You’re living in hotels and spending a few hours in a city and heading out of town and going to the next gig and living in the next hotel room. You’re not living a life that’s really allowing you to experience anything. You’re not going to be able to tell any stories living like that so young. I’m glad I waited. I wouldn’t go back and change a thing about the age I got started.

When you’re 19 you can’t say much but they are jumping right into it, anyways. I think part of that had to do with the networks. In the last few years the networks have been all about youth culture– the idea that younger is better. But I don’t think that’s necessarily true. Rodney Dangerfield was the biggest comic in the world when he was 50.

How many black suits do you own?
Two. Just two. I’m real finicky about my suits. They’re not cheap, they cost about 800 to 1,000 bucks. Once it looks like the suit is getting old I dump it.

When did you know it was time to leave LA?
A lot of little things came together. I was making pretty good money on the road. I was drawing a large following in the Midwest. Just about every weekend, I was flying from LA to the Midwest; it’s a long trip. So I thought, ‘wait a minute, why do I keep making this trip?’ Half the time when I’m in LA, I’m doing what I could do from anywhere. I’m playing a video game or sitting in a coffee shop. I could be in the Midwest and have shorter flights. So part of the move was for touring; the other part of it was just that LA became less and less appealing.

Sitcoms started paying a lot less, because of the way the networks were structured. I remember coming up in comedy, everyone thought, “Man, get to LA and get a sitcom deal and you’re set.” That’s not true anymore. My quote to do a sitcom back then was $50,000. It’s not like that anymore. They changed the format and are making TV much cheaper. It’s not like hitting the lottery anymore.

Sitcoms are all crap now anyways. So what’s the point? I don’t want to do TV that badly, so why not just leave? For about two minutes I was scared about the move. I thought people would forget about me. That hasn’t been the case at all.

There are a lot of frustrated comics out here in Los Angeles. Would you recommend that they do what you did and just leave?
It depends why you’re out there. There are a lot of guys out there that want to be famous. If you just want to be famous, go shoot up a school. You got a lot better chance of being famous that way. Or just light yourself on fire. If you just want to be famous, stay in LA.

LA is bad breeding ground for comics. Out there you just chase what you think is funny. Maybe I’ll grow a beard because Zach Galifianakis has a beard and he got a deal or I’ll do the whole guitar onstage thing because this guy does the guitar thing and people like him. Someone told me before I moved out there, the one thing you don’t want to do is go to LA too soon. That producer or agent or whoever can get you that deal that can change your life comes out to see you and says, ‘He’s not ready.’ Then you’re fucked.

That guy isn’t going to come see you again. LA will always be there. It’s a machine. I had been doing it for 10 years before I went out there. Everything is so hyper speed there. If you love doing stand-up comedy, go out on the road and keep doing it. See the country, go places, get in front of different people from different places. LA needs talent. They have a way of finding it, regardless of where it is.

You want to be very solid and certain as to who you are as a person and a character before you make that move. It’s easy to second guess yourself. You have to say ‘This is who I am and this is what has made me funny so this is what I am going to do.’ You can’t go to LA and think maybe I’ve been doing it the wrong way and start changing things up once you get there.

What is most rewarding about farming?
Farming is really therapy. I lived in Hollywood for 13 years and I would go to therapy or play Civilization 3 for hours on end to escape reality. There’s a reason why in the middle of the country there is less mental illness. Physical activity is very therapeutic. It grounds you. You may think I’m isolated out here, living 60 miles from the nearest city. But there’s nothing lonelier than going to the Improv and not getting spots.

You say your audience is very Midwestern. Do you think geography has a huge impact on comedy?
Geography definitely makes a difference. A lot of it is cultural. The South, they don’t particularly care for sarcasm as a tool for comedy. It hasn’t been done that much. It’s kind of an East Coast, Jewish thing. Sarcasm works very well on the East coast.

In the Midwest — and by Midwest you’re talking about 30 states — they are more civil or polite. They don’t like it if you’re in their faces for being in their faces’ sake. The West Coast is very chauvinistic towards the Midwest. They think we’re all pig farmers. They see me and think that I am some sort of freak of nature.

If you want to make it mainstream, you have to appeal to the Midwest because they are a large percentage of the people in this country. If you’re just doing comedy playing to Italians in New York you may have some trouble going mainstream. You need to get out there and experience the whole country. You shouldn’t homogenize yourself. I do a bit about erotic asphyxiation and I have had a grandmother come up to me after the show and tell me she loved that bit. I’ve also had a guy with a ring through his nose tell me he loved that bit.

What cities do you enjoy doing outside of the Midwest?
I like New York. Vegas is fun. I don’t necessarily have a big favorite. There are certain markets that I’ve never played that just might be my favorite but I wouldn’t know because I have never been there. I’ve never played Seattle or Portland. It’s funny, as much as I have been on the road there are still cities I haven’t done.

You can’t just do everything. This isn’t how it really is, this is just as an example, but they tell you ‘You can do Seattle for $1,800 where you’ve never been or $3,500 in Minneapolis where they love you.’ Then I’ll say “Ok, fuck Seattle.”

In an interview you did with the Comedy Central Insider you talk about having your audience find you instead of finding your audience. With the Internet and social networking do you think the young comedians are using these tools to do the latter?
Definitely. I have to be careful how I say this because a lot of comics have done a really good job of branding and marketing themselves through the Internet. But ultimately I don’t know if they can live up to their hype. I spent five hours with a guy who is pretty big; we did a show together. In those five hours he never said one thing about writing a joke. He didn’t mention content once. He knew so much about marketing; he said you have to do this and do that but had nothing to share in regards of content.

I think you can fool people into getting one comedy special. What are you going to do after that one though? You better have the content to back all that shit up. Lewis Black gets special after special. He’s been doing this for 27 years because he has a library of content to dip into.

For more info, check out drewhastings.com. Buy Drew’s DVD Irked & Miffed.

About the Author

Tim Hammill

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