Many popular comedians are recognized from TV performances, movie work or perhaps a radio program like The Bob & Tom Show. Or maybe they have a popular podcast like Marc Maron or Jimmy Pardo.
Rob Delaney has become one of today’s hottest comedians without any of that. Most comedy fans know Delaney strictly from Twitter. (Follow him at @robdelaney, if you don’t already.)
A few years ago he opened an account on the popular social networking site, as millions did, and began tweeting.
“Like everybody, I thought it was really stupid in the beginning,” Delaney says. “It didn’t occur to me it could be a joke gem for stand-up, which is what I use it for.”
And the Twitterverse has responded: Delaney has 450,000 followers and his tweets have garnered several awards including “Funniest Person on Twitter” from Comedy Central’s Comedy Awards.
“I’m grateful to whatever nerd in Silicon Valley invented it, because it suits me very well,” Delaney says.
Here’s a mere sampling of some of Delaney’s recent work: “It’s unsettling the first time you see your dad cry, especially when it’s because you’re watching 27 Dresses”; “Guy just asked me to RT a song by his kid’s band. Sure, why don’t I draw a dick on the Mona Lisa while I’m at it?”; “When a guy calls a woman a ‘feminazi,’ it would be a funny joke for her to work him to death then cook him in an oven.”
While his 140 character musings are wildly popular, his stand-up set features more long-form material.
“I’ve been doing stand-up a lot longer than I’ve been on Twitter,” he says, “and, frankly, before Twitter I didn’t know I was good at short jokes.”
In the past, Delaney submitted such material to late night talk shows. While his packet would often make it to the host or producer, the response was always “Try again.” Twitter provided a home for these jokes, as well as a bit of validation.
Though short-form, Twitter often provides a leaping-off point for Delaney’s bigger bits.
“Because at the end of the day,” he says, “a super-mega retweeted tweet is still a tweet.”
If something resonates with his followers — or he comes up with more tweets on the same subject — it indicates to him that there might be room to further explore the topic on stage.
The short pieces he sends out can later be assembled into a larger bit or story, making Twitter an important part of his writing process.
A distinct difference between Delaney on Twitter and his stage act is the amount of politics in the material. On Twitter he will often make political jokes, albeit in his unique and slightly twisted style. He’ll also recommend the stylings of other more politically inclined humorists on the social network. On stage though, he does very little of that.
“I don’t think politics is the funniest thing to talk about,” he says, “and when I’m doing stand-up I want to be the funniest that I can be out of gratitude to the people who came out to see me. I’m so happy that anyone would do that, I want to ferociously assault them with the funniest stuff I have.”
While passionate about politics and current events, Delaney wants to connect with his audiences in a more basic way.
“You can hurt yourself laughing at something on a deeper level, like family or sex or shame or embarrassment or pain. I really try to get down to a more personal level,” he says. “I reserve the political stuff for essays and magazine articles.”
One theme that runs throughout Delaney’s humor, both on stage and on Twitter, is irony.
“There is a fair amount of irony,” he says. “It’s one dish at the banquet, but you don’t want to see 100 percent irony. But there’s irony, juxtaposition and unexpected contrasts. Irony is rich comedy territory and I do spend a lot of time there.”
His success has naturally led to people asking him for advice on how to succeed in comedy. He used to offer his thoughts on the subject to anyone that asked, but lately has been overwhelmed by requests. (“I have a family, and things I’ve got to get done,” he says.) A few months ago, Delaney posted a brief essay on his website about how to succeed in comedy, though he questions whether he can truly call himself successful.
“Just do comedy all the time,” he advises. “There’s your answer. It’s elbow grease, time and endurance, not who you know.”
Comedy wasn’t Delaney’s first career choice. At first, he thought he’d be an actor (“which is embarrassing and sad,” he says). A visit to the Upright Citizen’s Brigade in New York turned him toward comedy.
“I saw them every Sunday for a year and it totally blew my mind,” Delaney says of his admiration for the modern-day, edgier version of Second City or The Groundlings. “After a few times I was thinking, ‘I want to do this with my life. I want to do this for a living.’ Gradually I did try to do it, and now that’s what I do.”
It has been a meteoric rise for Delaney, to be sure, and he’s been performing in larger and larger venues as a result. He doesn’t feel, though, that performing in theaters is all that different from a comedy club.
“It’s all performing. I’ll perform anywhere — on a boat, in a tent — anywhere there are people who will watch me,” he says.
He sees only one difference between large and small halls.
“In a theater,” he says, “perhaps you have to gesticulate more clownishly, but funny is funny. And in a theatre it’s fun to hear a big wave of laughter coming at you. That’s titanic. It’s intoxicating.”
If you’re going, better wear a lifejacket.
ROB DELANEY performs Friday at Taft Theatre's Ballroom at the Taft.