Since graduating from the University of Pennsylvania in 2001, Aaron Karo has been extremely busy. Within the year following graduation, he worked on Wall Street, gained a huge following with his online column – Ruminations – published two books based off that same column, and hasn’t stopped since. Karo’s latest album, Just Go Talk to Her, drops digitally on iTunes, eMusic, and other major download sites on Dec. 9.
Calling in from his from old childhood bedroom in New York, Karo talked to us about his experience in college, his stint on Wall Street*, life as a twenty-something year old, and how it all shapes his stand-up comedy and widely popular Ruminations.
You’re 29 years old – I just turned 29 myself – how are you handling it? Are you feeling like life is almost over?
There’s some days where its like I’m 29, I’m pretty happy, life’s good, and its a pretty day outside. And other days I just go, oh my God, I’m near death and I’ve done nothing with my life. Then I just clip coupons and drink beer out of cans.
What was it about college that got you writing Ruminations?
When I started in September of ‘97, I just partied like an animal. I partyied out all night and then sleeping all day. I remember we used to go to breakfast at like 4 pm. And then I couldn’t sleep on Sundays because when you’re out all weekend your body clock gets reversed and so I would try to go to bed at a normal hour on Sunday I could never fall asleep. I still have the same problem now – eleven years later. It was the insomnia that kept me up and the experiences about college that I wrote about.
You sent out your first Rumination email to about twenty friends – what is it about?
It was about living at the dorm, missing my mom, college being like Soviet Russia with everything served to you in one big building. It was a simpler time, but you can definitely see some of those ideas are still present in my column now. (Read the original e-mail here.)
Ruminations eventually gets published. How did you manage working on Wall Street and getting a book published all at once?
I graduated in the summer of 2001 and I got my first book deal in the fall of 2001 right after I started working. So I was basically working [on Wall Street], working on the book, and then also relaunching the column into a post college entity all at the same time. So left Wall Street after about 13 months right about the same time as the book came out.
Busy and it hasn’t stopped since.
At which point did stand-up enter in for you?
I did my open mic debut at this place called Stand Up New York in the upper west side about one month before I left Wall Street.
Was that something you were always sort of coveting or wanting to try?
I was never really the class clown, but I was the class comedian. For some reason “class clown” to me always has the connotation of being disruptive and I was more of a joker. You know, in a way I feel like I was always doing comedy just never on stage. In fact, I realized recently when I was looking back at pictures that my senior year in high school, the seniors put on a show and I performed the opening monologue which was basically just a stand-up routine that I had totally forgotten about. But I never really had done anything on stage before.
I asked somebody [who ran an open mic] about doing a spot and he said ‘Yeah no problem, just let me know when.’ But I never ended up doing it. It always just sort, well, one day maybe, you know? Then, he called me and said they had a spot for me and I couldn’t get out of it. It was like, I had no choice but to do it. So I went and e-mailed all my friends and just packed the place. I went long. I did like 12 or 15 minutes, but probably because I packed the place. It went great and that was sort of the beginning of a new career.
Had you prepared for that long of a set or were you scrambling up there?
I had no idea how long it was supposed to be. I remember practicing it and it was like, OK well this is about eight minutes but I didn’t how long it was going to be on the stage. I think that’s a skill that you eventually develop. Now when I write I can tell how long it will be onstage. I don’t think I necessarily went long that night so much as they just let it ride. It wasn’t the beginning of a career in going long. I didn’t think, ‘Hey, I can go long for the next 10 years!’
When you sit down to write, do you differentiate between writing for Ruminations and writing for stand-up?
It’s definitely different. They both come from the same place; I have a spreadsheet that I keep with all my material. It’s organized by topic and by date. I use it to write the column but I flag stuff for stand-up. There’s more stuff for the column then there is for stand-up. It’s just different. The stuff for the column can afford to be a little bit dryer and a little bit more observational.
The material for stand-up needs to have a very strong punch line and really elicit a strong reaction. It can also be longer. I have stories that are ten minutes long in my stand-up where the column posts only go a few sentences. A lot of times, people do mistakenly think the stand-up is a live performance of the column. It’s not. The topics are the same but the actual material is different. The stand-up is like the extended uncut directors version of the column.
Finally, what is your opinion on ETF’s?
You really want to ask me about Exchange Traded Funds or you just testing me to see if I really worked on Wall Street?
No, I really want to know what you think about them.
Well, my money is in ETFs. The fees are very reasonable which is what is so great about them. The market is in the toilet, that’s the real problem. But that’s where I have a lot of my money in unfortunately. If you don’t have any of your money invested right now, just leave it in your bank account. But I’m no longer certified so put an asterisk next to that in the write up.
For more info, check out aaronkaro.com.
*Any financial information contained in this interview is not intended to be taken as professional advice.