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Q&A: Twitter Star Rob Delaney on 'Conan,' Shakespeare and 'Slappa-Dappa-Doodle'

'I'm a disgusting person, and comedy is a disgusting profession'

September 7, 2012 5:30 PM ET
rob delaney
Rob Delaney
Courtesy of Rob Delaney

You know Rob Delaney, or at least you're familiar with his beefy, hairy midsection: He's the outrageous, wildly popular Twitter presence (584,000 followers and counting) with the ridiculous avatar in the green Speedo. He's got sex on the brain, and sometimes Mitt Romney. 

Named the "Funniest Person on Twitter" at Comedy Central's Comedy Awards in May, the Los Angeles-based Boston native recently signed a book deal with Random House. This week, Delaney joined the growing ranks of comedians – Louis C.K., Jim Gaffigan, Aziz Ansari – making their stand-up specials available as $5 downloads. The release of his Live at the Bowery Ballroom landed him on a memorable Conan appearance this week, followed by a 24-hour takeover of Team Coco's Twitter account. 

I realize I'm interrupting your @teamcoco takeover.
Oh, no sweat!

Is the pressure on, to step outside of your own Twitter feed? 
No – in fact, I enjoy the challenge. For example, they asked me to not say the seven words George Carlin spoke about. Sure, I swear a lot because I'm a scumbag, but I'm also a hired gun comedy writer, so I very much enjoy writing with parameters, because then you find new areas to be funny. I love rules, believe it or not.

Did they say lay off the hardcore sex material, too?
Honestly, I think I put more restrictions on myself than they did. I mean, Conan's pretty out there. They do some wacky stuff on that show. But certainly I don't wish to alienate his audience or annoy his social media team.

Have you had the equivalent of that kind of late-night appearance before?
Absolutely not. That was the greatest show-biz moment of my life, by a very wide margin.

Also apparently the greatest moment in the history of television.
A lot of people are saying that. You want an exclusive? [Laughs] I meant to tweet that from their account! But then so many people retweeted it, so I was like, oh well. I'm totally an asshole, but I like to be a specific type of asshole – not a totally fellate-yourself monster.

You mention being a hired gun. Are you doing rewrite stuff, uncredited stuff?
Yeah. I'll do punch-up stuff. I've written speeches, acceptance speeches for famous people, for, like, awards shows – not for people of consequence.

When Twitter started, I think a lot of comedians thought, "I'm not putting my material out there, A., in unfinished form, and B., for other comics to rip off." You helped show that it's a great medium for comedy.
You can't be precious about the work. You have to put your best foot forward and absolutely squeeze out arterial blood. Once you do that, it belongs to the world, and it's time for you to get right back to the work of writing more. I mean, I think about a Delta Force operator doing a high-altitude, low-opening-parachute thing, where they burst through the roof, kill everybody and disappear. That's how I try to think of comedy: Can you go in with nothing and leave a bunch of corpses?

How's the special doing? Can you look at the analytics and say, Oh, X number of people downloaded it after Conan last night?
Uh, yeah. I don't want to get too terribly specific, other than to say the return on my investment will be positive. I'd do it again, tomorrow, definitely. I'm going to make a bold statement [laughs] – it's a good idea to go on Conan and pimp your thing.

Can you talk about the download model? It seems obvious, especially for comedy. People don't necessarily need to own the disc, they just want to hear the stuff.
Particularly for somebody like me – I think it's fair to say that 90 percent of the people who know me didn't know me before the Internet – it makes sense. That said, all the traditional models are fantastic. Having an HBO special is amazing. Having a Comedy Central special is amazing. It's a wonderful thing to aspire to. But for me, like, I'm able to sell out shows just by tweeting links to tickets. If I can do that, it would seem I could do a special [download]. Yeah, what seemed bold and risky in the beginning is proving to be wise and calculated.

What's it like to watch your own shit and critique yourself? Scrutinizing all your mannerisms and your rawest emotions – I can't imagine it's easy.
You get desensitized, in a way. Remember when we were little kids, recording your voice, and you'd go, I sound like that? Now, of course, I hear my voice all the time, whereas a normal, healthy civilian would be like, "No, thanks. Why would you watch yourself in any type of recorded media? That's disgusting!" But I'm a disgusting person, and comedy is a disgusting profession. You are your own parchment, your  own ink, so you better get familiar with your own material. I try to be objective and say, hey, that worked, that didn't. It'll never all work, so you have to go back to the drawing board. And the drawing board for me is usually a stage and a microphone.

You've probably been asked to answer this 5,000 times, but why in the world does Boston develop so many awesome comedians?
There are few places in the world where you can go into a bar and see a total alcoholic – which is a thing that I am – reading a book in the bar. I think that combination of blue-collar upbringing coupled with all the universities that are there . . . so with any big, dirty Irish family, you're gonna have the one brother whose a janitor for the [MBTA] and the other brother who's, like, a senator, or the poet laureate. I think those things together draw out comedy. A Bill Burr and a Louis C.K., you'll watch them and go, Oh, rough-and-tumble guys! But the fact is, they'll try to hide it from you, but they're intellectuals, and they have powerful, sharp minds shaped by their own amazing, insatiable curiosity.

You like the sound of words, silly words, like on Conan, when you said "slappa-dappa-doodle." You seem to have a particular love for words as part of the craft.
I do. I'm crazy about Shakespeare, who was a notorious word inventor. And my wife is an English teacher, and she's hilarious. It's hard for me to get embarrassed, but the things that do embarrass me would be if anybody ever heard my wife and I talking in our robust, made-up language. Like, when I said "slappa-dappa-doodle," for us that's the equivalent of a normal person saying, like, "apple!" or "hammer!" I would go into immediate shock and have an embolism if anybody ever heard our secret communications.

Did that come from your family?
Definitely. My mom is a huge word creator, and she's very funny. And very weird – oh my God. She's wonderful, and I adore her endlessly, but weird is a fair adjective to use when you describe her. When you describe her sense of humor, I should say. She functions in society.

You do get serious sometimes. If people are paying attention, you definitely support women's issues, for instance, and you're issue-oriented in some of your tweets, and you looked good in a suit on Conan. It occurred to me that you could almost go the Al Franken route and run for office at some point.
The short answer is no – I would never want to go into politics. Because I can change my mind. It's OK to do one thing in a stand-up set and then say in the next one, "You know what? I was wrong." Politicians, it's in their job description to just lie, every day . . . A show like The Wire, its beating heart is the social-political issues the creators of the show are deeply passionate about. However, you're not beaten over the head with them – you're enraptured by the stories, and maybe a day or two later you realize you just got a civics lesson. It's entirely possible I'd be able to effect more change literally by telling jokes than by trying to explicitly change policy.    

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