Finding Controversy by Accident with Kurt Metzger
After 15 years of performing standup, New York comic Kurt Metzger’s career is gaining momentum, all without the help of business cards and t-shirts. But hey, it’s never too late to try something new. “My income’s been getting kind of better, so it’s just a matter of if I have the extra money to spend on something like that.”
His new one hour special, White Precious, premieres tonight on Comedy Central at 11pm. I talked to Metzger about leaving behind the religion of his youth, his family, his love/hate relationship with social media, and his penchant for controversy.
From what I’ve read you’re not much of a marketer or a self promoter-type, so thanks for doing the interview.
Oh I’ll do interviews and shit, that’s not hard. I just don’t make t-shirts and all that shit.
Are you opposed to it, or are you just not interested in general?
Well, I guess I should do more shit like that. But I’m opposed to new guys who have a nicer website than their actual act. I probably should do a lot more than I do now at this point because I’m like 15 years in. I like doing the comedy part. I don’t like doing all the other shit. I’m not opposed to it. Whatever gets asses in seats, really.
Do you have people in your management that are pushing you to do that stuff? Have you ever considered hiring somebody to handle that aspect of your business?
I think about it. My income’s been getting kind of better, so it’s just a matter of if I have the extra money to spend on something like that. Every year gets a little bit better.
That’s good to hear. I was scrolling through your Twitter. A common theme is, “Don’t follow me on Twitter,” and also, “I’m not even that good on Facebook.” Do you not value social media?
[Laughs] Well, I go on Facebook. Twitter I don’t like because it just seems like a snitch network to me. Somebody tweeted something they shouldn’t have and it becomes a thing and that whole like, Gawker universe, I despise. Also, I’m long-winded, so that whole 140 character limit doesn’t work for me. So what I use social media for is to work out jokes. Sometimes they’re not even jokes. I have rants, like half-thoughts that aren’t even funny but it helps me to — if I’m on my way to a joke — to put it up and see how many thumbs up I get to keep working on it. It’s a kind of laziness. I can’t write unless someone thumbs ups me halfway through the job. So, that’s where it is. I don’t need too many people for that. I need a few hundred people on my Facebook and I’m good with that. I’m way over what I need. I’m at my limit all the time. But I lose people every day. I encourage people to friend me, by all means. I have like 900 people waiting to be friends with me, so people are being selfish by not unfriending me.
I think that if you were ever to bring anybody on for promotion, marketing, to handle your social media, you’re almost like a problem client for them. You’re gonna make it really hard on that person to do their job.
I don’t feel like I’m at the point that I have to worry about that so much. And I don’t have a problem not dominating that sphere. I see a lot of these Twitter phenoms and I’m not impressed with them as standups. You know?
Sure, because a lot of times it doesn’t translate. The same things work for a lot of standup. Brilliant standups are sometimes terrible on Twitter. They still have a ton of followers because they’re popular.
I’m not trashing Rob Delaney, by the way. I like Rob Delaney, I don’t mean to seem like that. There’s this thing that someone’s kind of good on Twitter — like that Ronan Farrow show on MSNBC that’s fucking horrible — because the guy is supposedly great on Twitter. Oh, well, he’s got millions of followers. I don’t get how that translates into someone’s ability to do a job you need to be seasoned to do.
You can’t beat just being onstage, but do you have any other methods of testing material other than social media? Are there any other mediums or techniques you use to test material? Are you part of a writer’s group? Do you sit your family down and make them listen?
Podcasting kind of helps, I think. But some things you’ve just got to do onstage. That’s where you dimensionalize it from just being a flat thing, so that is the best. My podcast helps me come up with jokes a lot of times also, the way that Facebook does.
For the readers, that podcast is Race Wars with Sherrod Small. How long have you been doing that podcast?
Not so long. I don’t even know how many episodes we’ve got…maybe like 20. We don’t have a crazy amount of episodes out yet but I really enjoy it. We have a few good ones. My favorite one I think was Artie Lang’s. When we had Artie Lang on.
Do you see podcasting being a really key component to your career moving forward?
Well, I don’t know if there’s any one key component. You just got to do a lot of shit, you know? I don’t know what the big “sitting on the couch with Johnny Carson” thing is now. I don’t really see there as being one, so it’s kind of like you’ve got to do everything.
That makes sense.
So, I’m a big whore is my strategy.
Compared to last year, in terms of controversy, I think 2014 has been kind of a relatively quiet year for you. What’s up? Have you got something big cooking?
[Laughs] Well, I mean the 2013 stuff, that UCB thing, some of these things I don’t expect to be a thing. Like that UCB thing was just me ranting about something that pissed me off in the moment and then it became a thing because of Tumblr or something. It’s amazing to me that there’s that level of *whines*. It’s all that shit of being in school and the girls that go, “Ooooh,” that make it a fight more than it maybe had to be. The other thing was that one chick tried to get me fired off of Amy’s show, which was bullshit. That was the most of that I’ve ever had. I mean, I’m not famous. I don’t see why you’d waste your bones taking me down because there’s not really anything to take me down from.
I was looking at that article when I was preparing for this interview and I think that you writing on a show with such a strong female voice was one of the key things that kind of ticked that blogger off. It was kind of like, “Hey-”
Well that particular blogger, who shall remain unnamed, I’ll call her Voldemort, that chick has a fucking mental problem. She’s got borderline personality disorder. She had to be committed and I know this because she wrote about it. I didn’t know she had a mental fucking illness. I had no idea. I wouldn’t have made fun of her. The prank that I did was saying that she wasn’t real and that I invented her to make a point about censorship. I put it on Facebook and it spread. People thought it was true for a little bit. Then all these people started making fake profiles of her and shit, so that really upset her. But I didn’t know she was mentally not ready. That’s probably more intense to you if you have A Beautiful Mind problems. So I wouldn’t pick on somebody with mental illness. I didn’t know. I feel bad about that. But honestly, the level of stupid, “What’s gonna be done?” Like, fuck you. Who the fuck — first of all, I didn’t make any fake profiles but even if I had, so fucking what? What, are you so good no one can do that? She’s basically like, “Now people are taking my picture and drawing penises on it and that is one step toward-” Is it really? That’s a real fucking issue to you? That someone drew a pee-pee on your picture? It was like going to the principal’s office kind of thing, it felt like.
Now you said that there’s nothing to take you down from and then there’s also the common cliche that any publicity is good publicity, whether it’s bad or not. Do you really subscribe to that?
I don’t think that there’s no bad publicity. I’m not like Casey Anthony. [Laughs] The article that makes me laugh is the “Disturbing Online Trail” of me article.
The Daily Dot.
Yeah. That’s a smear job. But then I read it and I’m like, “Oh, I’m kind of funny.” That made me laugh reading it. Even them trying to do a smear job, there’s not enough there for them to do something to me. You know what I mean? I got an email from the girl who wrote that article but after she already printed it. She wrote a thing like, “Would you like to respond? I’d like to hear your side of the story,” which clearly you don’t or you would have waited to make your shitty article. But I actually wrote responses to all these questions that she had but I ended up sending them to Comedy Central and Comedy Central was like, “Just don’t antagonize.” And I’m not antagonizing or anything. I had no idea someone would try to bring it into Amy’s show, some shit from the internet. I really had no idea that would be a thing. You know? But Amy wasn’t gonna fire me for this idiot.
I talk to a lot of “controversial” comics — and you might put yourself in that category because of the subjects you talk about and some of these dust ups that have arisen-
I don’t even think that they’re controversies. I don’t think I’ve done anything controversial. I really don’t consider my act to be edgy, it’s just whatever makes me laugh. I get that those are boxes people have to put stuff in to sell their shit, you know? And the things that I do say that I think might be crossing the line, that’s never what someone’s mad at me about. It’s always some shit that I had no idea someone would be upset about.
When I’m talking about controversy, I’m talking about things that create hot discussion.
Oh yeah. I’m never trying to get a dialogue going. It just happens. A lot of things take me by surprise. And all I do is try to never put anything out that I don’t think I can defend if I have to. Like I won’t write anything and be like, “Oh, I don’t know how to defend this.” That’s my main policy with it. So I think I can defend pretty much anything I have out. I’ve gone back and looked at a lot of stuff I’ve put out and it’s just angry. The thing is I’m kind of manic. I go through binges where I’m like posting and posting and it’s almost crazy then I just get kind of down and I don’t feel any kind of fire to do anything or yell about something. Right now I’ve got two different jobs writing simultaneously and I’m worn out from it. I’ll be on an upswing again and I know I’ll be manically posting. But it comes in waves.
You and I have something in common, we were both raised as Jehovah’s Witnesses.
Wow. Where’d you grow up?
I grew up outside of Pittsburgh.
Oh, no kidding. And you’re not in [the religion] now, or are you?
When did you leave?
I was in for a really long time and kind of worked my way up. I ended up being a Ministerial Servant, so you’re familiar with that level, where that’s at.
I never achieved that. I got to hold the microphones at the Kingdom Hall. That’s a privilege, getting to hold the big fucking boom mics. How old were you when you left?
I started getting kind of suspicious in my mid-twenties. And then it was a really long slope.
Oh, you went for a while?
Yeah, I went for a really long while.
What pulled you out? Were you fucking pussy? What happened to you?
I started reading about religion and then, like a miracle, I no longer believed. That’s how it worked.
That’s what it was for me, for sure man. I started reading a magazine called Skeptic, not because it was about religious shit but I remember being younger and being into UFO stuff. I bought a book by accident that I thought was about UFOs but it was actually kind of a debunking book and I didn’t realize — like in the Roswell crash they found material that couldn’t be broken by conventional means and I remember in the book they had this point where they were like, “Well why didn’t it just break apart into a million pieces from lightning,” or like, “Why was it all broken up if you can’t destroy it?” So little things like that got my mind working like, “What’s up with this?” And then that got applied to other things, like my religion.
You get a couple chinks in the armor and then it’s hard to go back. It’s Plato’s Cave. You can’t go back the same.
That’s why you have to go to three meetings a week, because they know it takes constant movement. When you’re in the position of not being a searcher, at that point, you’re like, “I’m settled.” Then it’s constant maintenance to not let new shit into your head. That’s what that whole community’s reinforcing constantly. And if you don’t have that, you’re like, “I’m not doing this shit.” They know that. They tell you that’s what’s going to happen.
It’s like going to the gym or being on a diet. You feel like you can’t cheat it or else you’ll lose everything you’ve worked for. Then everybody else around you believes the same thing, so you’ve got the social pressure as well.
And I guess I’ve always kind of been a fucking jerk-off. I was probably like 20 when I left. I even tried to go back to get reproved. But I was just out man. I couldn’t do it. I used to sit in some fucking stadium for 8 hours, like a job, listening to “The most wonderful spiritual food!” I just can’t even imagine that now.
Do you still have family and friends that are in?
My mother. And then I have friends that were in it with me when I was a kid who aren’t now. I mean, my one friend’s brother was my best buddy and I haven’t seen him since I left and that’s like 17 years now. I haven’t talked to the guy and he was my best friend. I’ve never been able to do anything that I wasn’t going to do anyway, so that’s just how it worked out.
How does your mother take your career?
My mom is very supportive of me, actually.
She has her beliefs. But my mother loves her kids. I give her credit. People who choose their religion over their kids, I don’t really respect that at all.
Well that’s good that you still have a relationship with her. That’s one of the hardest things, that fear of losing your family, which is what keeps a lot of people doing things that they don’t really want to do in their heart.
I joke about it, like, “Is that all I had to do to get you fuckers not to talk to me? Fuck some pussy? That’s the dilemma you’re facing me with? So I get to never see you again AND fuck pussy?” If your parents cut you off, that’s the thing. That’s bullshit, cutting you off. That hurts your parents more than you. I don’t think people understand that. It would kill my mother way before me, not to talk to each other. I came out of her. That’s more of a punishment for the people doing it than it is for you.
Did you really make little religious brochures to promote your new special?
Yeah, man. They did a good job with the graphics and shit. It made me laugh. I did a photo shoot. I have a bunch of them that they sent out.
So let’s talk about the special. Your one hour standup special premieres this Friday night at 11 on Comedy Central. The title is “White Precious.” You want to shed a little bit of light on the title?
It’s related to a joke in there. I chose White Precious a while ago and since then there’s been that movie Grown Ups 2 and Kathy Griffin called somebody it. I wouldn’t even have picked that title if I knew anybody else had ever uttered it, not that it’s the most tremendous, clever thing to come up with. But it relates to a story in the show and I kind of like the idea of doing Precious in white. That makes me laugh.
Where was it recorded?
At the Gramercy Theater in Manhattan.
Would you consider yourself a die-hard New York comic?
Well, if you’re going to do standup, this is the probably the best place to do it. Only because — I don’t think the comics are remarkably more talented than in other places, it’s just there’s a lot of comedy here and you can get onstage. A lot of the best are here. So, the people you’re rubbing elbows with at clubs are really good comics, so it ups your game. Working The Cellar really helped my game because I’m going on with really good comics. It’s who you surround yourself with, you know? There’s great comics everywhere. It’s just the amount of easy access to stage time. Just compared to L.A. it’s a lot easier to get on and work on your standup. If you decide to do TV, or whatever, they always say L.A., which is true. There’s a lot more work for that over there.
What else do you have coming up that we can keep an eye out for?
Jim Norton’s show on VICE, I co-wrote that with Jim. It’s a talk show with some sketch and stuff on it that should be out in August on VICE.com. I really enjoyed that job. Then Neal Brennan’s hosting a show called The Approval Matrix on Sundance that I also wrote for and I’m on one of the episodes. I sold a script to Comedy Central with Dan Powell, the producer of Amy Schumer’s show, and Nikki Glaser, and this comic Monroe Martin. We sold a script, I don’t know how far that will go but hopefully it will be something. We start that pretty soon. And I’ve got my podcast Race Wars with Sherrod Small. And I think that’s it. Oh and Amy Schumer’s coming back. We’re gonna start back up in September on that.