With over 30 years in stand up comedy, Greg Fitzsimmons graciously took some time out of his hectic schedule to talk stand up and the business of being funny with me.
Ronn Vigh: You're so busy... A stand up comedian, Emmy award winning writer, television host as well as hosting the very popular FitzDog Radio Podcast. Hey, do you actually go by FitzDog?
Greg Fitzsimmons: Yes, it’s actually a nickname from back in college. It just stuck. But, now people are starting to call me “Grapefruit Simmons.”
GF: A woman called the club I was playing that weekend asking who would be on the show. They gave her a few names, including mine and then she asked, “Is Grapefruit Simmons the headliner?”
RV: Does it ever get hard to balance doing your own stand up act and writing for shows?
GF: It is hard to do both. I was writing on the show Crashing for the last few seasons where we had 14 hour days. Writing for yourself is really hard and even harder going out and doing shows while in production.
RV: For a comic, it's important to keep up with social media but a strong tweet doesn't always translate to a strong joke on stage.Are you able to integrate the two?
GF: I think you tweet jokes and then that thought is something you talk about on your podcast. If it’s funny there then you try it on stage and maybe it all flows. It’s all one brain and you just got to pull it out and put it in different places. It’s like when you sit down and write and then go blank. Having these other mediums allow you to take a premise and fuck around with it. Turn it into something good and organic.
RV: I think a lot of comics try a bit roughly three times. If it doesn't work, they throw it out. Do you chip away at them and find the diamond in the rough?
GF: I stick with bits for a long time. It is amazing how it can change. Even if it bombs, if I feel like there is something in there, I’ll keep going for it. I have a bit about how millennials think technology is God. I like the premise and a couple of the jokes but it wasn’t really working. I slotted it in the middle, kept trying, things got changed, it eventually clicked and now it’s one of my strongest bits.
RV: So that's common for you or did you feel really passionate about that one bit in particular?
GF: If you have no strong feeling behind it, you have to ask yourself if it is really something you want to be saying on stage?
RV: Have you ever done a bit or joke that you regretted telling?
GF: I don’t know if I ever regret it. You have to accept failures that come with trying new jokes. The victory is in trying. You can write all you want but you have to have the balls to go try it.
RV: You headline clubs all over. Going from city to city could be its own challenge?
GF: It’s part of the job. It’s why it is good to do it for a long time. You always want to be yourself but at the same time you have to pull from different bags of material and maybe adjust your attitude for a bit. Someone from New York City can’t be as aggressive in the deep South and Midwest.
RV: I mentioned earlier that you have the FitzDog Radio Podcast. Besides yours, what are some of your favorite podcasts to listen to?
GF: Obviously Joe Rogan. I listen to that a lot. Also, My Favorite Murder with Karen Kilgariff. Oh and a podcast called Sleep with Me. You go to bed listening to it. The guy is the most boring guy in the world and he knows it.
RV: You have done over 700 episodes of your podcast, it's surprising you have time for others.
GF: I love podcasts because they are really organic. It gives you the chance to sit down with comics who are friends but you wouldn’t normally sit down for a hour in deep conversation with them. You laugh the whole time, it’s almost social. I also enjoy being a broadcaster. I like being in front of the mike, it feels like doing stand up and I just put it out there and it’s great to get the feedback.
RV: On your website, you have older clips of something you used to do called "Talk your way out of it" where you would give stand up comics some unusual scenarios to navigate.
GF: I want to bring that back. It’s a great way to break the ice. I just felt like you don’t want a guest to come on and give you the same stories they told a million times. It’s my way of saying that you’re going to have to fly by the seat of your pants on this one.
RV: Do you have any advice for newer stand up comedians?
GF: Make yourself uncomfortable. What would you be embarrassed to tell the audience? That’s the comedy I enjoy watching. Everybody is different. That’s your golden rule.
RV: It's really a whole process. You might be good at writing a joke or telling one but there are so many other factors that go into being a successful headliner too.
GF: Right. You have to really log your hours. The old saying is that you have to do something for about 10,000 hours before you’re really good at it. That 10,000 hours includes writing, driving to the gig, talking to comics, emailing agents. You got to look at it like it’s all going to add up to something. You got to think that this is who you are and what you do and don’t hesitate. Just commit. Things work themselves out in the long run and don’t keep score on what others are doing.
RV: Is there anything else you would like to add before I let you go?
GF: Yea, I was asked three times to make a video for the Punch Line’s 40 birthday and I haven’t done it yet.
RV: It was last month.
GF: I'm going to do it now. Happy birthday to the Punch Line. It’s a huge part of my world and my favorite club in the country. I love that it still has the same spirit that it had 22 years ago when I first started coming through.
Greg Fitzsimmons at Punch Line San Francisco, November 8, 9, 10. Showtimes and ticket prices vary.