Gary Gulman is tall, handsome, has a full head of luxurious hair, and played football at Boston College; his background is a bit different than your average comedian. But he is no average comedian. Most comedy fans met Gary on Season 2 of Last Comic Standing, when he made it to the final show with eventual winners John Heffron and Alonzo Bodden. Since then, he has appeared on Dane Cook’s Tourgasm, released four comedy albums, and performed on The Late Show with David Letterman, The Tonight Show with Jay Leno, The Late Late Show with Craig Ferguson, Jimmy Kimmel Live, and Conan. But Gary hasn’t let his success go to his head. He’s still the same big kid from Massachusetts who sees the absurdity in everyday life.
Gary’s latest album, No Can Defend, was released earlier this month and can be found on iTunes, Amazon, and wherever fine comedy albums are sold.
I recently spoke with him about, Boston, comedy, music, and more.
I listened to your new album a few days ago and it was very good. I liked it a lot and a lot of it had to do with the 80’s and 90’s, so I thought I’d start with a few questions about growing up.
You grew up in the Boston area. On a scale of 8 to 10, how much do you love Bruce Springsteen?
[Laughs] From 8 to 10? I would say… well, I’d have to reserve a 10 for Aerosmith because they’re from Boston and then I would say Springsteen would be… if I had to use a whole number, I would give him a 9, but if I could use a decimal, I’d say 9.9 because he’s just transcendent. I love that guy.
Yeah. I’ve found that for some reason, people from Boston seem to love Springsteen more than people from New Jersey.
I think that all the Boston people have a thing where they think they all discovered him. They saw him in a small club somewhere and actually resent the fact that other people know about him.
Were your parents funny, either intentionally or unintentionally?
My father was largely humorless growing up. My mother had a great sense of humor and you could really get great laughs out of her, even if it was off-color. She has a great laugh and its very contagious. I would say she was the one that most of the family looked to to lighten the mood.
Do you remember your first joke, or your first big laugh, or when you knew you were funny?
I don’t know. I used to do impressions of the various Mel Brooks-type movies and characters and I would memorize lines from movies. I was pretty limited until I started thinking about my own sense of humor and tried to develop something of my own on stage.
You mentioned Mel Brooks. Who were your other comedy guys and the ones you looked up to and watched growing up?
I used to watch Carson frequently and I loved David Brenner, Garry Shandling, Jerry Seinfeld, George Carlin and the usual people that guys my age mention, but the person I would say was the biggest influence on my comedy is Chris Elliott. He had a short-lived sitcom in the early 90’s called Get a Life.
I remember it.
I think its finally coming out on DVD now, but I really think that that sense of humor and his character was the most influential on what I thought was funny. I just think he is such an underappreciated performer and I think he’s really influential. I think a lot of the stuff that’s popular now in comedy, he was the originator of in a lot of ways. Or at least the guys he worked with on that show. I think the other two guys were Adam Resnick and David Mirkin, who have had pretty successful careers of their own. I just think Chris Elliott is such an unappreciated genius.
Yeah, I think that under the radar, early Fox was a big influence on a lot of people. With The Tracey Ullman Show, The Simpsons, In Living Color…
Yeah, even Married With Children, which sort of tailed off toward the end, was alarmingly different. I guess in All in the Family, the people were sort of unlikable in certain ways. But [in Married With Children] everyone was unlikable and there was no warmth. That was the thing with All in the Family. At some point you would notice there was some warmth, or Archie wasn’t all bad, but on Married With Children, they were cartoons of miserable, horrific human beings that didn’t respect or love each other at all. Its closer to what is real than, say, The Brady Bunch or Growing Pains or any of that crap.
When did you start going up on stage?
The end of 1993. I was convinced that I was going to be great right away and it took a long time for me to even be passable as a comic. It was a couple of years before I started to do things that I wouldn’t run out of the room screaming if I saw a videotape of. I was doing the most common impressions that anyone was doing at that time. I was doing Jack Nicholson and Robert DeNiro and Kramer from Seinfeld.
People are still doing that.
Yeah, I guess people are still doing that. It was just as pathetic then as it is now, but it was an easy road to a laugh when you just started off, but you eventually want to be respected by the other comedians and feel good about yourself and you have to drop it, but its hard to drop those laughs.
Was this in Boston?
It was in Boston. It was Nick’s Comedy Stop and The Comedy Vault and all these places.
Why do you think so many comedians come out of Boston? Are there a ton of clubs there, or the people?
It might be due to the lack of clubs. There weren’t that many when I started and you really had to hustle, so I guess it weeds out the people who would do it if it were much easier. And the comedians there were so strong that in order to get any work you would have to stand out and be strong yourself. Maybe that’s the thing. Maybe it weeds out a certain level of comedian, or rewards energy and enthusiasm. I don’t know. What do you think it is?
I think its a lot of smart people who perform in front of smart people. And then there are a lot of Irish and Jews, who are the typical comedian breeds.
Yes. There is a story telling gift amongst those people. The audiences can be very encouraging and supportive and on the other hand they can be very quick to dismiss you so I guess it’s a sink or swim thing. But it seems that there is a larger population of successful comedians out of Boston than its size would provide.
Did you record your latest album in Boston?
I actually recorded it in New York City last October.
Let’s talk about your new album. One of your bits is about the Discman. Did you ever have to do the trick that I did in my car, where you’d connect the Discman to the tape player and balance it on its side so it wouldn’t skip?
I think that I would either hold it in my hand or wedge it underneath the armrest or something. But yeah, it would skip all the time. But there came a time where if you had a fairly modern car, which if you had a Discman, you didn’t, so you wouldn’t have a cassette deck to plug it into. So you needed two pieces of obsolete technology to listen to a disc, which was quickly becoming obsolete. So it was a very short period when the Discman was a viable way to listen to your music [in the car.]
One of my first CD’s was MC Hammer’s “Please Hammer Don’t Hurt ‘Em.” What was your first and/or most embarrassing CD?
Really? I had that one. And I also had this awful album by Boogie Down Productions, which was called “Sex and Violence,” which I thought would be just incredible. It would have sex. It would have violence. And it was very experimental. Maybe if I listened to it now I would appreciate it, but back then I was into early Beastie Boys and Big Daddy Kane and Eric B and Rakim and EPMD and that was just too experimental and reggae-infused for me and I think I only listened to one track. There was just so little hip hop that I would buy anything that had hip hop on it. There was a group called Young Black Teenagers that had a song about a 40 ounce.
Tap the Bottle?
Yeah. That was great. But then I discovered some pretty good bands that way. I had 3
There are not a ton of guys in comedy that talk about hip hop. I feel like there are more metal heads. But I think the Beastie Boys are very influential because they had a lot of humor in their music.
They were really funny and really witty and there is a collage aspect of their songs where they bring in samples, beats, and little catch phrases and jingles and references. I knew there was something special about them when they had that first album where they rhymed “pagoda” with “Abe Vigoda.” Its like, these guys have the same sense of humor or the same reference base that I have, and that’s the magical part of comedy. You think you are the only one who notices something and then the comedian or the artist points it out and you feel less alone for a second.
Gary Gulman can be found making people laugh and feeling less alone across the country. Check out his touring schedule and download his new album, No Can Defend, via his website, www.garygulman.com.
Jay Kuperstein is a writer, founder of ComedyK.com, and attorney working in Washington, DC.