The Kinks - The Anthology 1964-1971 Look, when it comes to classic bands, if you…
The Well Done Man – Ken Reid
The Well Done Man is a biographical interview with a Bostonian who is doing exceptional things. It is meant to give insight and knowledge regarding each interviewee’s vision of success and how, beyond their obvious talents, they have reached this point in their lives and careers.
Ken Reid is a stand-up comedian and creator of the popular podcast TV Guidance Counselor. He has performed with familiar acts such as Patton Oswalt, Bob Saget, John Oliver and this weekend he will take the stage at Boston Calling. We sat down with Ken to talk about what it takes to make it in stand up, his forthcoming album and of course, growing up around here.
So you’re from Melrose?
Yeah, I grew up in Melrose and have lived in Boston most of my life. I was in a punk rock band in the 90’s called 30 seconds over Tokyo and then started doing stand up in 2003. I started my podcast TV Guidance Counselor about two years ago and I have my first album coming out this month called The Vanity Project. My stuff is mostly storytelling including a lot of stuff about my hometown including a piece about our then superintendent of schools Doctor Richard “Dick” Incerto. I set up that segment like I have a repressed memory of my childhood but not of things I did rather of things I didn’t do. The biggest thing of course is having a superintendent named Dick Incerto and not saying anything about it.
How did you get your start in stand up?
I kind of always wanted to do it but early on, and really by chance, I got into the band. It was a lot of fun though. We played with bands like the Drop Kick Murphys, Suicide Machine and The Vale. We eventually broke up in 1999 and since I never really had any musical ability thought it was a good time to start getting into comedy. I went to college in London and starting going to an open mic at a place called Up The Creek in Greenwich and a place called Goldsmiths. John Oliver actually used to do the open mic at Goldsmiths too. I opened for him at the Wilbur Theater a couple years back and we were chatting before the show and suddenly remembered that’s where we had previously met.
The process of getting acclimated to stand up seems pretty frightening. What was it like for you?
I had experience on stage from singing in the band so I figured it would just be like what I did between songs but it really wasn’t. If you tell a joke between songs people laugh because they’re not expecting you say anything funny. Also, they probably like you already and they know you’re going to play a song next. So that was a little hard and also you don’t have a skill to fall back on. If you’re really good at stand up then that skill makes you look like you’re not really trying. If you see a bad band you might be like “their songs sucked but the guitarist was really good” so in that respect it was a little harder. The hardest part though was conveying stuff that’s funny to strangers because my comedy is very story driven and you definitely don’t want to be the guy that’s like “you kind of had to be there or you have to know this person.” So the challenge for me was how do you quickly get people up to speed on that stuff and that was just practice. I also started in a really blue collar room in London so you had to kind of sink or swim pretty quickly. With stand up, the only way you get good is by being terrible, that’s really the only way.
Any interesting stories from when you were starting out?
I did a show in Malden once and it was ambush show so they would kind of surprise people at the bar by saying they were going to have a comedy show, and ask them to pay $5. I don’t do those shows anymore because it’s kind of a ridiculous idea. We also shut off the Bruin’s game on this particular night. So some guy starts heckling me and then I start tearing into him and then he tried to fight me. It was just a bad scene. I really felt bad for those people but comics are crazy, we’ll really do a show for anyone because we’re pretty desperate for stage time. I did a show once at Occupy Boston because I thought it would be interesting. Right before we went on some guy announces that they were doing a solidarity march with Oakland and literally 99.9% of the people leave. The only people left were a guy in a wheelchair, a guy in a back brace and a women that was sleeping. I still had to convince the other comics that there was no point to doing that show.
When stand up is good there really is no better way to spend an hour. Who are some of your favorites?
Dana Gould is somebody I can watch do anything, also a Boston guy. Jonathan Katz, Eugene Mirman, John Glazer. I did a show with Glazer once where he came out to Van Halen’s Panama and the entire show was him just high-fiving everybody in the crowd for the duration of the song. It was probably the funniest thing I’ve ever seen. I used to host at The Comedy Studio in Harvard Square and Louie C.K. used to come by and work on material for a week at a time. One time he was in town doing The Invention of Lying with Ricky Gervais and he reached out to ask if he could come by because he had some friends who had never seen him do stand up. So he comes down and his friends are Jennifer Garner and Ben Affleck. There was only like 8 people there and he did 45 minutes.
For those who have never seen your act how would you describe your style?
I always try to do stuff that no one else is going to do which is probably why I tend to do storytelling. No one is going to steal a story about my dad’s pants ripping off at Canobie Lake. Style-wise I always think I’m ripping off Dana Gould and Bob Newhart. No one else probably thinks that but when I’m on stage and I say something in a certain way I’m always like “Oh man, that was so Dana Gould.”
Why does local stand up always seem to fly under the radar. What do you think it needs to become more popular?
Lots of times people don’t know a local scene exists and they have an assumption that if it’s local it must be bad, which is a misconception. Comedians also need to be doing more stuff because pure stand up doesn’t really exist anymore. Lots of times people will only see comedians if they know them from somewhere else like a TV show or a podcast. There are a few clubs like The Comedy Studio that do a good job of promoting local comedy but there really is no hub for local comedy.
These days there’s so much emphasis on what’s new or next so I love what you’re doing with your podcast and the idea of drawing on the past. How did you come up with that idea?
I’ve always been a TV nerd and literally used to worship TV guide. I actually paid for my own subscription when I was a kid. So I have all these old TV guides on this spinning rack in the corner of my living room and when people would come over we’d just kind of flip through them and talk about the shows we used to love. So I was sitting around doing that with Sean Sullivan, who I’m actually doing Boston Calling with, and he suggested I record these conversations as a podcast. So that was it basically. It’s everything I like because I get to talk about pop culture but it’s in a very personal way and it’s also premillennium. The joke I always make is that I don’t care about anything made after the year 2000, including people. That’s when everyone was in the shared pop culture experience and everyone experienced the same stuff. No matter how different people are you can always go back to that period of TV and anyone who is roughly the same age as me will be like “oh yeah, Mr. Belvedere.” It’s also not snarky. You can look at these shows and be like “look at this dumb show from the 80’s” but it you look at it in the context it really wasn’t.
What is the format of the show?
Typically the guest will pick an old edition of TV Guide from my collection, write down what they would watch on prime time (8-10pm) that week. Then they hand me the TV Guide, I hit record and we go. It can vary like if someone has done a lot of TV, it might just be a straight interview or sometimes they will just flip through and we talk, but that’s the basis of the show.
How do you find your guests?
Our guests are a mixture of friends, comics and people who have been on a lot of that stuff. So people from Just the Ten of Us or Laraine Newman from Saturday Night Live, which is really interesting because you get their stories from the other side. Then we’ll have people like Janeane Garofalo who talked about how she used to watch Family with her mother. I’m really trying to bring in people who don’t do podcasts or if they do then talk about stuff they’ve never talked about before. They are usually friends of friends. When I have to go through someone they almost never do it. Sometime people contact me because they listen to it. Like Dan Savage or one of my favorite bands The Damned. A lot of the time I can’t believe that I’m sitting down with these people, it’s like I’ve won a contest or something. A lot of these people get asked the same questions over and over again and I think my guests like the show because it’s different. Like Amy Sedaris, who actually did my first live podcast. It was so cool of her to do that for me. We talked about all this fun stuff that she’s never talked about in an interview before.
Where do you think it might lead?
Not sure. I’m amazed because it’s really just me nerding off with a bunch of people that I find interesting and it gets a shocking amount of downloads from all over the world. It would be cool to do it as a TV Show but I think I could do this forever. It’s very satisfying because with stand up you do it and it’s done so it’s kind of nice at the end of the day to have an item that is finished and you can share.
So you’re performing at Boston Calling this year and it’s the first time they’ve done Comedy. Are you excited?
It should be interesting. I love everyone else who’s on it like Lamont and Sean is a good friend. I love doing stand up in non traditional venues. This biggest club here probably holds like 400 people so I’m not sure how many thousands of people will be there but it’s a pretty good amount of people. Comedy is crowd control you also have to get them to pay attention.
What can you tell us about The Vanity Project?
It came out digitally last week and we are having a release show at the Middle East on Friday, May 27th. We’ll have copies there and Dr. Dick Incerto t-shirts. Most comedy albums are live and this one is actually a set that I did at the Nerdist in LA to give it a different vibe. So it’s a lot of stories about Boston but told in a way that’s explained to people who aren’t from Boston. It was really fun and the show went really well. I also wanted to do something unique so it’s sort a documentary and it actually has an original theme song by a guy named Nick Chambers. The podcast is free so I figured the album would be a good way for someone who likes the show to support it.
Do you have any advice for aspiring Comedians?
Realize you will be bad for at least a year or two and that’s good because if you’re aware of it then you are probably getting better. If it’s not fun you shouldn’t do it. Some people try to have a goal like I’ll do stand up so that I can get on a show or have some weird endgame. You can’t do that. Once you start having your eye on prize you stop enjoying what you’re doing and you’ll never going to get it. With stand up especially, your fate is not in your hands. All you can do is be good at it, not be a jerk and enjoy yourself. I’ve seen people get eaten up by what they think they deserve. You also have to make stuff that you enjoy and want to listen to. Never pay to play. Bringers are huge in comedy and a lot of comics will pay for stage time. I’ve never done it and you shouldn’t either. You can find free stage time.