I was talking about this phenomenon a couple weeks ago with a comedy insider. The very next day I listened to WTF with Marc Maron, which itself is like a graduate study in comedy – any serious comedy fan needs to listen to every single one of his episodes, not just the ones with famous comedians or guests you like. The one that applies here is the Chris Rock episode. Early into the hour-long chat, Rock says essentially the same thing. And I quote (thus the quotation marks):
"I would get there early and watch all the comics. Kids today – because I'm that guy – I'm always telling guys, 'You guys don't watch.' When I go in the clubs, everybody's hanging out outside and shit. When I was coming up, whenever there was an empty seat... When the place got packed we got pissed because that meant some people had to wait outside. We watched every-fucking-body... Dude, I know so many people's acts. I know fucking every Dennis Wolfberg joke and every Joe Bolster joke and every Gary Lazer joke, and Mark Cohen and Jack Coen... I know all these guys' jokes, man. I know their acts inside and out. And I know Fred Stoller and Stu Trivax... I watched all these guys, just take it in, take it in, take it in."Would Chris Rock be the comic he is today if he didn't absorb all these comics when he was starting out? We'll never know, but I doubt it. As Woody Allen's mom lectures him in Wild Man Blues, "Don't think for a moment that you are what you are by yourself. You're not. You had help."
And speaking of the Woodman, how great was it to hear Rock talk about him. You wouldn't think he'd revere Allen, but he does. He says, "He's my favourite. He's the best. Woody Allen's the best... He's the greatest comic mind in the last 100 years, since Chaplin. And who the fuck's been that funny that long? Who?!"
I posted a couple of videos here a while back taken from my VHS collection. I used to record any stand-up comic I'd see on TV. The first is a very, very young Chris Rock on Arsenio Hall's show. It was the first I'd ever heard of the guy. Watch it here: http://wsf1027fm.blogspot.com/2010/05/early-chris-rock.html
The second is of Fred Stoller, who Rock mentioned on Maron's show a couple of times, also taken from Arsenio. Here's the link for that one: http://wsf1027fm.blogspot.com/2010/11/vhs-vault-fred-stoller.html