The resurgence of road dog Jimmy Shubert: Last Comic Standing and Comedy Underground with Dave Attell
To one generation of comedy fans, he was a plucky kid from Philadelphia — a young gun of Sam Kinison’s “Outlaws of Comedy.” To another, he is a classic, high-energy road-dog headliner. On a recent podcast with his agent, Rich Super, Jimmy Shubert described himself as one of Super’s “very low-maintenance, high-performance act,” which Super quickly seconded.
Jimmy Shubert will reintroduce himself as a stand-up comedian once more to fans of all ages everywhere this week — Thursday night as one of 100 auditioning for NBC’s Last Comic Standing, then late Saturday night as the headlining act on Comedy Underground with Dave Attell on Comedy Central.
Shubert took a few minutes this week to speak with The Comic’s Comic, as much as he could speak about what’s already going on with his resurgent career — and how keep up with the times. “I’m super excited about this week!” he said.
But first, here’s a clip from Shubert’s set on Attell’s uncensored stand-up showcase, which will air at 1 a.m. Sunday:
Shubert said he felt comfortable throwing himself into the mix for Last Comic Standing, even 25 years after starting out in stand-up, knowing that “real comics” such as Wanda Sykes were taking charge of the televised competition. “I sent an email in, with like 5,000 other people who submitted to become part of the show,” Shubert told The Comic’s Comic. “They got it down to 100, and I was included in them. They got the semifinals coming up, and then 10 finalists and the reality show starts. I’m excited to be part of it!”
How much a part of it, he cannot quite say yet.
But he would say, “I’ve always been a fan of the show. I’ve known friends who were on the show.”
“It’s certainly been a launching pad for a lot of comedians’ careers — Tammy Pescatelli, Roy Wood Jr., Alonzo Bodden, John Heffron, Jon Reep,” Shubert said, to name a few.
That he has been around the block already a few times doesn’t give him much pause, although it does lead him right into a nice curmudgeonly crack like “We didn’t have set-ups and punchlines like these kids in comedy have these days.We had to run around the room and tickle people!” That said, he adds: “I think this show is great for them. It gives exposure to people who have six or eight years in. Here’s the thing. You can’t pretend like any Tom, Dick and Harry can come in off the street and compete with professional comedians. It’s not like that (other reality TV) – all this stuff is stupid. People competing to be on TV. Stand-up comedy is the hardest thing to do…there’s 20 dancing shows on, 20 singing shows on, stand-up comedy is the hardest thing to do, especially at a high level.”
While people who want to be famous have plenty of cable channels and opportunities to show themselves off to an audience, it doesn’t really compete with stand-up comedy.
“It’s an art form,” Shubert said. In this way, age and wisdom are beneficial to the art. “A comic doesn’t really start doing their great work until their 40s. You look at George Carlin and Richard Pryor. Even if you look at Bill Burr or Doug Stanhope.”
“What I love about stand-up comedy is it’s a great equalizer. Like that saying goes, ‘You can fool some of the people all of the time. You can fool all of the people some of the time. You can’t fool all the people all the time.”
He may be a fool to enter a comedy competition, but would he be more foolish not to? “There aren’t really a lot of opportunities for stand-up comedians to be on primetime television,” he said. “I love doing stand-up comedy. Here’s a competition that loves comedy. Why would I not take that opportunity? I’ve been doing stand-up comedy for so long, that I have to rationalize even doing this opportunity? Someone asked me, ‘Isn’t this like having Bruce Springsteen on American Idol?’ No. I think that was a funny way of putting it.”
Perhaps they were trying to picture Shubert’s high-energy growling humor alongside a young pop star of a comedian?
Regardless, Shubert said he sees how well stand-up ticket sales go for those comedians who succeed on television. “It’s good for comedians,” he said.
“But I’ve done television. I’ve done movies. I do have a career going. I really went in with a, ‘Who knows, let’s see’ attitude,” he said. “I could use the shot in the arm that this gives.”
Perhaps you’ve recognized Shubert in one of his many bit parts in hit movies and TV series. He landed recurring supporting roles over the years on shows such as The King of Queens, Entourage and E.R.; more recently, he popped up as a guest star on 2 Broke Girls. In between, he made a memorable turn in a street carnival scene with Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt in the movie that begat Brangelina, 2005’s Mr. and Mrs. Smith. Shubert, credited as “Ancient Barker,” talked the Smiths into taking aim at his shooting gallery game.
“The guy who did Go(which also featured a role for Shubert), Doug Liman, he asked me if I wanted to do it,” Shubert recalled now. “Fuck yeah, I want to do it! I’m one of those comics who, it’s not enough to be a great comedian. I try to keep my acting chops up. I just did a scene with Jimmy Caan for Back in the Game. I’ve done so much stuff, but people don’t know me as The Guy From That Thing.”
Perhaps Last Comic could be that Thing.
He certainly knows from a recent tour of Asia how the international market is opening up to stand-up comedy. Technology, social media, has helped. “It’s really made the world a little bit smaller,” Shubert said.
And so he’s on Twitter, Facebook — “it’s the most socially productive website for the most socially unsocial people,” he calls it. He notes how Patton Oswalt has expanded his audience through his online essays and correspondence, how Marc Maron found a new gear in his career through his WTF podcast. Shubert has a podcast now, too.
“If you’re a comedian and not doing a podcast, there’s something fucking wrong with you,” he said. “This job when I started it, there was none of this stuff. Nowadays, it’s all of that stuff. A great Tweet can make you a theater act! If you’re on the right side of the 24-hour news cycles. You always have these social media tornadoes, it’s crazy now. I don’t know if it’s making us better people, but it’s making the world a smaller place.”
Shubert said his podcast, The Jimmy Shubert Show, “started as one thing and morphed into another thing.” He recently brought it back from a two-month hiatus. “I interviewed a lot of the alumni from Last Comic Standing. There is a lot of cool stuff coming up on my podcast. As all is revealed, all is revealed!”
“When you podcast, you’re broadcasting, so I took that seriously,” he said. “Why would you not take full advantage of it? I’ve got an editing room in my house now.” His dad and six brothers would call in initially. “But now we’ve got it down to a half-hour,” he said. “It’s a great interview show. We talk. We riff. Most people can’t listen for more than 30 minutes. But it’s a great way for people to get to know you.”
People will get to know more about Shubert soon enough.
He said he hasn’t tried to watch much of the TV footage of him in advance. “I try not to get too emotionally involved,” Shubert said. “You do something, and you forget about it. I’m probably going to hate the way I look on fucking TV and shut it off.”
Here’s a link to a great article recently written about yours truly.