Late this year, we’ll see an all-new hour special from comedian Gary Gulman. But you need not wait for freshly-released material from the man. His new album No Can Defend is out now, and it’s an excellent display of funny. Gulman mesmerizes as he’s able to take the smallest of concepts — Netflix, bottled water, punctuation — and create extended, beautifully-crafted jokes around them. We caught up with Gulman recently to chat about the new release, ’80s nostalgia and much more. Check it out!
I’ve been listening to your new album, No Can Defend, and it’s great. I was listening to the first track while I was working out and I almost dropped the bench press on myself because I laughed so hard.
Wow. That’s a great compliment. I often decide on what I’ll listen to at the gym based on whether it’ll make me drop something. You could really hurt yourself. I can’t listen to the Todd Glass podcast or some other ones if I’m working out because I’ll injure myself.
There’s the Discman bit and the stuff about Vanilla Ice– you never let people forget that you’re a product of the 80s.
Yea, you know, that’s interesting because I didn’t think about it until people started asking me about it. The album’s very nostalgic. If I had known that it was going to come across that way, I probably would have been reluctant to put some of the stuff on there. I’m always a little disappointed in jokes that I could have written 15 years ago, or however long ago. It makes me feel bad that it took me so long to find it. I don’t mind being nostalgic. I just hate it when an album has too much of one thing.
I feel like it’s almost funnier having it 20 years later. That’s what’s so funny: that it’s nostalgic. It gets everyone on board from that age range.
Yea, maybe that’s true. I just always wonder if I’m too obsessive about subjects. I try to avoid that. But then again, I love Jim Gaffigan and he always talks about food.
What was your favorite part about the 80s? The movies? The music?
The music is kind of a mixed bag. Music has this amazing ability to put a pin in certain periods of a life. I can hear a song and think, “Oh, that was that summer.” ’80s songs, they really put a pin in the summer or the winter for you. There was also a thing growing up where you didn’t want to jump on a bandwagon and just liking the band that everybody else likes. It wasn’t until everyone stopped liking the Beastie Boys that I started really getting into them. I was sort of a closet fan because they were just the flavor of the month at first. Then as they got more alternative and innovative, I think I started to appreciate them more.
The movies were great but they were sandwiched between the 70s, which were the Golden Age of really gritty, realistic-type movies, and the ’90s, which were the Quentin Tarantino types where you see this type of realism and almost cartoonish violence. The ’80s all seemed so quaint and mild. It was all pretty insightful, like Fast Times at Ridgemont High. And some of the Scorcese stuff was just amazing. It’s difficult to really either condemn or raise up the ’80s as a beacon of artistic expression. I’d label it a mixed bag.
What is your favorite movie from the ’80s?
Maybe Color of Money with Tom Cruise and Paul Newman. I watch that pretty frequently. And The Pope of Greenwich Village. I guess it would be Diner and Broadway Danny Rose from that period that I watch most frequently. The thing is that those movies aren’t about the ’80s. Color of Money is about the ’80s and Pope of Greenwich Village has an ’80s feel. But those guys in POGV are in a weird time capsule of behavior and philosophy. Even those guys are throwbacks. They live in the ’80s but they’re heavily influenced by ’50s values and old school family issues. So those are my favorite movies. But, to me, Broadway Danny Rose, is the quintessential movie about show business, and comedy in particular.
If I didn’t know better, I would have thought you were a film major in college [Gulman was a CPA before pursuing comedy full-time]. You really seem to have quite the insight into a movie instead of saying, “Yea, Die Hard was really cool.” [It was, though.]
Haha. Yeah, that is probably one of my favorite things to read about and talk about, movies. I always get down on myself and people our age for not knowing anything about Shakespeare or classic plays. But we really know our movies from the ’80s and ’90s. We really are experts on that. There are people who can quote Goodfellas and Diner and Die Hard the same way a great Shakespearean scholar could quote Romeo & Juliet. I guess it’s a lot lower-brow, but it’s still interesting.
It’s interesting to think that they once quoted Shakepeare and now we’re quoting Goodfellas. But I don’t know if it’s necessarily our fault. It’s just kind of where we are. I don’t know if it’s good or bad. So long as we’re not only quoting The Hangover and High School Musical, so long as we can quote some things that were artistic and good, then all’s not lost.
Right. I guess the language has evolved that we don’t use the metaphors and terminology like back then where now we’re more comfortable with vulgarity and short humorous commentary. It’s just amazing how many comedians just know their movies. They all just obsess over memorizing these things. So what’s next for you right now?
I’m in this weird position of treading water and waiting for the next bit of inspiration. I’m thinking that I need to be more personal in my next hour. I need to try to be a little more confessional. I feel like that could be a really fun road to pursue. I was completely outside of myself in certain jokes in my first album. The second one was a little more biographical. Hopefully, in the next one, I can improve as a storyteller and a social commentator. I wind up doing the jokes that I look forward to telling on stage. The ones that are convoluted or risky, as far as the audience being not as enthusiastic, I kind of edit them down or drop them.
I think for the next one I would like to talk a little bit more about certain idiosyncrasies that are unique to me. Though, you usually figure out that your idiosyncrasies aren’t so unique once you reveal them. Then you realize that everybody has them but they didn’t have the self-awareness or the courage to share them with a group of people. That’s always fun, when you reveal something about yourself, that you had an inkling was unique, that other people relate to. I was talking the other night about if there was another Holocaust, who would hide me. And other Jews in the audience said, “Yeah, we play that game too: ‘Who Would Hide Us?'” Thankfully I’m not the only paranoid person here.
The use of “I” over “We” or “You,” using “I” is a lot more courageous on stage. I think when you start off you’re like, “You ever take this? You ever notice that?” Then you get a little more courage and you go, “I do this. And I don’t really care if anybody else does this.” By using the term “I,” you’re not trying to create some sort of connection. You’re just standing out there on your own. I guess that just comes with confidence and experience and not being so fearful that people won’t relate or laugh.
Once you get into the “I,” it’s like saying “we” without saying “we.” When you say “I,” the whole idea is that people are going to relate to either the action or the feeling.
That’s a really good point. You’re saying “we” without saying “we.” If you say it right, they’ll understand and assume “we.” You won’t have to pander as much. The old-fashioned observational comedian was about, “Ever notice this?” It’s the more personal guys saying “I.” Other guys, like Louis C.K., Doug Stanhope and Chris Rock, use “I” and they’re confessing to something that you’re less reluctant to admit once they admit it. Some of these thoughts and things that he’s done are so primal that you’re like, “Yeah, I think that, too. But I’m glad this guy is saying it for me so that I don’t have to admit it.” You’re even reluctant to laugh because you don’t want someone else to think that you’re a pervert or a horrific person. But the stuff is so on-point that you don’t even have a chance to not laugh. You just laugh. We’re witnessing some really extraordinary work in comedy today.
Besides working out in the city at the Comedy Cellar and Eastville Comedy Club, you’re just doing a lot of road, building up the new hour?
I made a special a couple of weeks ago in Boston at the Wilbur Theater, which has mostly material that is different from the album. So between now and when the special comes out, I can do the jokes that are on the special but not on the album. Then by the time the special comes out, I’ll have enough jokes so that the people aren’t seeing the special when they see me live. That would really irritate me, as a fan, if I paid to see somebody and they just did the special “live.” It’s just amazing because when I started it used to be that if you got five or 10 new minutes of material a year, that was good. [Louis] just smashed that.
So now you have to have an hour. As much as people get on Dane Cook, he’s prolific. I enjoy his comedy, so I’m not one of the haters. He really put out a lot of material in a short amount of time. I feel like Louis and Chris Rock and Gaffigan and Dave Attell and these other guys are so incredibly prolific that it’s inspiring and motivating. We’re not going to see many more guys just come out with one album and then nothing else. As much as I love Steven Wright, it always bothered me that he had that one album, then I didn’t see another album in the stores until recently. I really wish he had made more stuff. Carlin came out with something every couple of years. I guess Carlin did what Louis is doing now. It’s not easy, but it’s more than possible. It’s something to aspire to.