Bobby Slayton: The comedy pitbull never rests

By | March 4, 2010 at 9:20 am | One comment | Features | Tags: ,

Bobby Slayton

Long overdue, the legendary Bobby Slayton will premiere his first hour long cable comedy special and DVD. Born to be Bobby finds the pitbull sharper and more venomous than ever.

For nearly thirty years, Bobby Slayton’s X-rated fearlessness has made him the quintessential club comic. “The Pitbull of Comedy” doesn’t discriminate on the basis of race, gender, or sexual preference. Or, maybe it would be more accurate to say he discriminates against every race, gender, and sexual preference.

In any case, Slayton mercilessly and hilariously tears into people – including some in his audience – with equal opportunity abandon. Slayton has never had a one-hour comedy special to show off the attitude and wild, angry energy that he’s built a career on…until now. Bobby Slayton: Born to Be Bobby premieres tonight, Thursday, March 4, on Showtime at 9pm. The DVD goes on sale April 27th.

With his instantly recognizable rasp and non-stop spew of punch lines and venom, Bobby Slayton is one of the most identifiable comics of his generation, a feat even more impressive when you consider that he’s never had a sitcom or his own cable comedy special. But, in marrying his abrasive observational humor with barely-controlled rage, Slayton’s performances still keep alive the spirit of dangerous, filthy fun rarely seen in nightclub comedy since the days of Redd Foxx.

He’s not much different off-stage, so when I spoke to him over the phone, ahead of the Showtime premiere of his first one-hour special Born to Be Bobby, all I could do was ask a question and then stand back.

How are you?
I’m just so goddamned exhausted. 4 o’clock this morning, for the last three days, I’ve been doing, like, twenty radio shows a day. So, what is it, 3 o’clock here? I’m sitting in my Jacuzzi, I was just about to pass out, but you know what, I’m talking slowly, so you might be able to understand now. But, no, this is as good a time as any. If you get me in the morning, oh man, they just have me going and going. And, you know, I don’t just mail these in, I like to do a good job on them. With you, I don’t care so much. But, with radio, people are listening.

I think Born to be Bobby is interesting for a few reasons. First off, it’s rare to see crowd work of any kind in an hour-long comedy special.
Well, not only is it rare, but let me tell you something, here’s the thing, I’ve been doing this for so long, and you watch so many comics – good comics, bad comics, all kinds of comics – they do their act, which they should, but what’s a little dangerous, a little frightening for me, which kept it exciting for me, is that most of the time when you do an HBO or a Showtime special, you almost always do two shows. You use one as either a dress rehearsal or you pick one that’s better and you use that, or you wear the same outfit so you can intercut them and pick something from each show. I only had the opportunity to do one show, because that night, they were taping another show after me, so I had to get it right the first time. I did about an hour and ten minutes, they cut it down to an hour for Showtime. But, if there’d been nobody in the audience to make fun of, I have an act. I would’ve done my act.

I’ve been working on an act for two months in clubs. I have an hour for backup, if things aren’t working. But then there was that Asian guy up front, that blonde, the black guy, you never what it’s going to be, but sometimes, it backfires on you. People could’ve stood up or one woman could’ve been crying or one guy could’ve gotten pissed. But, maybe that would have made it even more exciting, I don’t know. It could really fuck up a show. It worked out really well; I was very happy about that.

How much of a plan do you usually have on stage? Do you always have that fallback if there’s nobody to play off of in the audience? Do you have pivot points from prepared material to crowd work?
Yeah, all the time, but I couldn’t do that for the special. I have three CDs now. Each of them is like an hour each. That’s three hours of material; now, out of those, an hour of that is probably dated. Talking about my baby daughter – who is 21 now – or politics or just material that is done to death. So, I had about two hours to pick from in those two CDs, plus I have forty-five minutes, maybe an hour that I’ve written since those CDs came out. I put together a set that I found kind of cohesive, that would go very smoothly.

But, when I’m in a club, I have an idea of what I’m going to do, and I just work around it. I don’t make a set list, like a rock and roll band, but I have a couple of lines I might open up with, a couple of lines I might close with, and in between it’s whatever I come up with out of all that material I have. But, for the last few months, I’ve been kind of doing all new stuff. This special was recorded in November, so up until then, I was doing this one-hour, but after that, I was trying to let go of that hour, to do all new stuff, because I’m going back on the road now.

Was it tough to settle on what hour you were going to do?
It was really hard to decide what to do. It’s almost like when the Rolling Stones go on tour, they have a couple of hundred songs to pick from. And, I’ve seen that band a hundred times. They don’t always do “Gimme Shelter” or “Sympathy for the Devil.” They can’t do all of their hits, they have to do something they like, something they haven’t performed very often. I didn’t want to do too much old material.

In my first CD, I have this great routine that people ask me about all the time, the Chinese waiter routine, but I did that on a “Young Comedians Special” on HBO, god, twenty years ago. I didn’t want to repeat that. There were a couple of nuggets that happened to fit in perfectly, but for the most part, I tried to stay away from most of the stuff off of the first two CDs.

Do you find that the things that get people all riled up and uncomfortable – have they changed? Is sexuality more of a danger zone now than race, for example?
I never know who’s going to get mad about what. A lot of times, you’ll find a white woman mad about Muslim jokes, you’ll find a black guy mad about something that has nothing to do with him. I don’t find people getting as offended by my act as they used to. Now, when they go to a comedy show, they know who they’re going to see. The clubs advertised “X-rated, not for the faint of heart” or whatever, so people kind of know what they’re in for. So, there are not that many people offended by me anymore. There are some, but there were people offended by the Janet Jackson breast malfunction thing, which is the most moronic thing I’ve ever heard in my life. “Oh my god, your kids will never be able to think. They saw her booby!”

People are so stupid. They get upset at the f-word, damn, hell, goddamn. I can’t worry about these people. You never know who’s going to get upset. It used to be lesbians, but they have a good sense of humor now. It might be because women have come into their own more in the last ten years in the White House, in Congress, on television. Ellen DeGeneres, Margaret Cho, Kathy Griffin, Hillary Clinton. It makes women feel a little bit more empowered, so I think they can laugh at themselves more. But, I have no problem with lesbians. Muslims, on the other hand, they can be trouble.

In doing some of the racial jokes, do you ever worry about what I’ll call “the bad laughs,” people laughing for the wrong reasons? I remember talking to Lisa Lampanelli a few years ago, and she said that she sometimes will donate money to the groups she makes fun of, just out of guilt. Would you do that?
No, that’s her stupid Italian guilt. That to me is moronic. If I do something, I don’t feel guilty. Everything I say is based on fact. And, I say that in my act. I talk about Asian drivers, black people talking in movie theaters, stupid blondes, annoying Jewish women…I talk about the fact that women don’t shut up, that my wife won’t give me head – there’s nothing I say that doesn’t have at least a kernel of truth to it. It might be a stereotype, but it’s based on fact.

It is comedy, but if people take it seriously – well, I’m kind of serious about some of this stuff, but it’s very, very funny. I like the Hispanic people, but there are too many goddamned Mexicans here. If you don’t speak English, I’m going to rip you a new asshole. I don’t mind these people – I’m don’t want them to get kicked out of the country, or put in prison, or have their rights taken away. But, goddamn it, if you want to be different, I’m going to make fun of you.

You’re telling me that you’re the rare Jewish person who doesn’t feel any guilt for anything?
I feel guilty that I’m not making more money for the genius talent I have. I feel guilty that I’m not buying my daughter a new car, and I can’t take my wife to Europe this summer because I’m not making enough money. I feel ashamed. But, no, I don’t feel any guilt about what I do whatsoever. I mean, there have been nights…I have done thousands and thousands of performances. If you racked up all my hours onstage, there are no more than five or ten comedians who’ve had more stage time than I’ve had. I’m not saying that in a good or a bad way. But, out of all the shows that I’ve done, there were a couple of times I’ve gone slightly overboard. I’m a little cranky, or I push somebody the wrong way or I give somebody too much crap.

Now, I’ll feel bad about it, because the people came there wanting to be entertained, but it’s almost like getting killed by friendly fire. It’s a strong analogy, but when you do what I do, and you take no prisoners, there’s going to be collateral damage. Once in a while, I’ll go overboard. But, you know what? Not very often. Sometimes, if people get upset, it’s because they are such assholes to begin with. My intention is not to go after and hurt people, my intention is to make people laugh. Every time Robert De Niro makes a movie, he doesn’t go, “I hope everyone in the world likes this. Should I shoot this guy in the head? What if somebody gets mad that I’m doing this?” You can’t be in show business and worry about crap like that. Well, you can, but you’re an idiot if you do.

Was that the philosophy from the get-go or did you figure that out as you went on?
There was no philosophy from the get-go. The philosophy from the get-go was “I’m 22 years old and I don’t know what the hell I’m doing.” This is not an easy profession. It can be very difficult, very stressful. But, part of the benefit of stand-up comedy is that you can turn the stress into a benefit, make it work for you. Does that make sense?

It does.
I’m not sure it makes sense to me, but as long as it makes sense to you. As long as I sound like I know what I’m talking about.

What did you think you would end up doing before you started doing comedy?
I had no idea, to be honest with you. I drove cross-country. I didn’t go to college. I didn’t have a clue. I wasn’t thinking about show biz. In the back of my mind, I thought of the advertising business, like Darren in Bewitched. I could come up with great slogans. That might’ve been in the back of my mind. But, I went to work in a record store, and I saw these guys had free t-shirts, free records, and free tickets to concerts, and I thought I’d go into the record business. Then, I just went into stand-up, it just kind of came to me. It was one of those things that just happened.

What do you think you’ll be doing when you’re in your mid 60s or mid 70s?
Well, I’m 54 now. I imagine I’ll still be doing it. This is what I do. It’s like the Stones or Eric Clapton or B.B. King. You don’t retire from this. Comedians keep going until they drop dead. Alan King, Henny Youngman, all of them. They go until they die. The only way I’d quit is if I made a ton of money…I might quit for three or four years and just do what I’m doing now. What I’m doing today, as soon as I can fucking get rid of you, is to open a bottle of wine and go cook some meatballs.

Check out where you can see Bobby Slayton on tour at bobbyslayton.com.

About the Author

Rob Turbovsky