Ian Edwards on Releasing His Debut Standup Album Via Conan O’Brien’s Team Coco Records
Team Coco Records launched last week with the release of Ian Edwards’s debut standup album, 100% Half-Assed. On the album, Edwards skillfully mixes his candid, day-to-day observations with a sudden and surprising surrealism. He is a master of misdirection. Trying to keep ahead of Edwards’s creative mind is an exercise in futility: as soon as you think you know where one joke is heading, he yanks the sails. It’s not long before Edwards has capsized your expectations and left you floating in a sea of wit.
I recently had the opportunity to chat with Edwards about the pleasure of working with Team Coco and where we can expect to hear from him next.
So how did you get wind of Team Coco’s decision to start producing albums?
I told them to do that shit.
Nah, I’m kidding. I was just chilling in the green room last year after taping an episode [of Conan]. Someone brought it up like, “Hey man, we’re thinking about doing comedy albums around here. We have all the capabilities, and I was just wondering if you were interested.” Then we sent emails and had meetings, and we worked it out.
Did Team Coco’s experience help make it a smooth experience? Granted, this is a new venture for them so I can see how there may have been some new stuff to work through.
It was smooth; I remember a lot of things we discussed in the first meeting when my manager and I physically went to the office. I just had a meeting about a year later, since I was about to do the show again, and they just laid out all the promotional stuff right there, just everything that was going to happen between then and the release. I was blown away. They were amazing and professional.
Did you have any newer jokes on the album that you were uncertain of, or was this a set you’ve been honing for a while?
A lot of it was the set that I’ve been doing for a while and material that I had stopped doing. Some of it was new, but the new stuff was ready. You know when a joke is ready. Now that the album’s out, I’m ready to start over with new material.
You recorded at The Comedy Store in La Jolla. Your interactions with the audience sounded pretty great.
Yeah, we had four shows and we put them together to make the album. They were very enthusiastic audiences. That place, the acoustics, just everything, that place is a great place to record.
How did you get into comedy in the first place?
I was in my early 20s and trying to figure out what to do with my life; somebody suggested it. Then I just decided “This will be the thing I’m gonna do.” I had no idea what it would lead to or how it worked. I just started going to open mics, checking them out and trying to figure it out as I went.
Where was that happening?
In New York, Long Island. After a few years, you’ve really got to get to the city and become a New York City comic because all the comics in New York City are on TV. So I started hitting the city. Once I got comfortable there, I never really wanted to leave until I got a writing job in California.
You’ve done a lot of writing in your career, SNL being one of your bigger credits.
Yeah, that was when Will Ferrell was on the show… Tracy Morgan, Chris Kattan, Jimmy Fallon… Tina Fey was still a writer, before she was head writer. I got on that because I was doing Keenen Ivory Wayans’ talk show out here in California and it got canceled, but [talent manager] Barry Katz one time saw me writing on the show, and I knew him from New York. Barry used to handle me and Tracy, and he knew that Tracy needed a writer at SNL. So they got me to go over there for a little bit.
How do you think that affects writing for your standup?
It only helps it. I come up with anything that would be better as sketches. It’s just better if it’s being performed. You don’t waste anything. There’s stuff that belongs in standup, and there’s stuff that belongs on the screen. It’s a place to put things that can’t fit in your standup and vice versa.
So you can get the full gamut of whatever you’re trying to express.
It opens me up more. It doesn’t limit me.
And you’re in Funny: The Documentary, which is in post-production now, right?
I think I did an interview for that. A friend or someone at a comedy club just interviewed me for it. I don’t know what I said. Hopefully, I didn’t say the n-word like Justin Bieber.
People like you more than Justin Bieber, I imagine.
I hope so. But I like Justin Bieber, by the way. Now that everybody has turned against him, I love him.
You’re not just being contrary?
Yeah, I’m a contrarian. I didn’t like why they liked him, and I don’t like why they don’t like him. He’s doing anything a kid would do. I remember I did dumb shit at that age. So we’re gonna crucify him? They really made a big deal out of him pissing in a bucket. Do you know where half of my friends have pissed? Is that really such a Death Row crime?
You’re all about those fringe opinions. You also mention on your album that you’re a vegan. How long has that been?
I think I became a vegan just for that joke [Laughs]. No, I became a vegan eight years ago.
There’s always a weird level of conversational conflict that comes up when someone finds out you’re a vegan. Has that added to your material, beyond the joke on the album?
I’ll probably come up with more material beyond that. Not only do I say contrarian things, I guess I do contrarian things. Like, I grew up in Europe and Jamacia, so I’m a soccer fan. Being a soccer fan in America, that’s a contrarian thing. Being a vegan, especially eight years ago was harder; there are more now. But you know what it is? There are annoying vegans. And they make it bad for just, quiet, unassuming vegans, so then you get caught up in some of the backlash of the people who are annoyed with those vegans.
Do you kind of go through any particular process with jokes? Do you consciously say, “Here’s the expectation, now how can I turn it around?” Or is it just something that comes natural to you?
I think it’s something organic. I can still be pretty clueless to what I’m doing sometimes or what people think about what I’m doing. So I’ll ask a question just to get more info. I kind of know what I’m doing but I still don’t know completely because I don’t want to manipulate the process. I just know that I’ll start out with a one-liner, and I believe that there’s always more to a one-liner. Then I’ll start milking it and all the information that’s connected to it.
Do you literally sit down for like an hour a day and just work out a joke or is it whenever it pops up in your head?
I’ve written all kinds of different ways. I’ve done it staring in the mirror, I’ve sat down and wrote, I’ve driven home after sets and went through the set in my head, joke to joke, moment to moment, and came up with jokes and ideas that I could add and tag to it, I’ve listened to my sets, I’ve just mouthed it in the shower had new lines come to me. Any way you can write, I’ve tried it. Most of the time, like two hours before a set, I go to a coffee shop and go over what I’m doing to see if I could add or tag or cut some slack. Or try a new idea within the premise.
So what’s the process for this album’s release?
Well, first it’s just going to be available on Team Coco on the website, available there for download, and then maybe after a few months, it’ll go to iTunes and Spotify. I don’t even know how Spotify works, somebody has to school me on that.
It makes listening to comedy so much easier. Now you can just type any comic’s name in and immediately become familiar with their stuff. It’s a little strange.
Yeah, definitely. One time I was at The Improv, talking to this chick from Canada, and she’s telling me that she listens to a lot of podcasts. When she’s going for a walk or going for a jog or a hike, you know, she’d have it already downloaded, and then that just always stuck out in my mind.
Then I looked at Comedy Central doing all these specials, and it just feels like it’s so watered down; the specials aren’t specials any more. It made me want to take a step backwards and do an album. I almost have a crazy confidence that it would be better than doing a visual special.
It feels like everybody has a podcast or listens to a lot of podcasts these days. You did Marc Maron’s podcast a little while back, right?
Yeah, I did an episode, one of those panel episodes. I’m supposed to go back and do it again, this time as a guest. That should happen either this month or next month. I was just thinking about it ’cause I gotta look it up. It might be tomorrow. It would be a tragedy if it was tomorrow and I forgot.
Are you planning out what you’ll talk about with him?
Nah, I’m not nervous about talking to Marc because I’ve done other people’s podcasts and I’ve listened to his podcast. Like almost every episode Marc becomes a better person. Episode-by-episode, he sounds like he’s becoming a better person. I’ll just be meeting somebody who’s going to, you know, become a better person as I talk to him. Not because of me, but because he wants to. It becomes all about him. That’s actually – if you go through the podcast with Marc Maron, he’ll talk to you a little bit, and you’ll have to wonder how you’re going to respond, but at the same time he’s just going to talk for a while on his own.
Phil Stamato lives and writes in New York, where he may also be seen standing up and telling jokes.