Being a stand-up comedian used to mean living in smoky clubs, hustling for cable specials and trying to sell comedy records to a fickle public. OK, it still means all those things. But today, Twitter allows for the instantaneous distribution of snark to the masses. Comedians can test out new material, connect with fans — and, in the case of Los Angeles-based comic Rob Delaney, find work.
When Delaney started using Twitter in 2009, it was mostly out of social-media obligation. Prior to his rather inauspicious first tweet (“I’m about to go onstage in Minneapolis. After I finish my tuna melt and go pee”), Delaney spent a decade living the glamorous life of a comic in Hollywood: grinding it out at clubs, submitting writing packets to TV shows and “doing … [expletive] jobs like anyone else.”
He chose an avatar of his bearded self standing on a beach wearing only a Speedo and proceeded to deliver jokes — in a variety of voices — as if he were onstage. Three years later, @robdelaney has nearly 373,000 followers.
“I’ll say any type of bananas, ridiculous thing just to make people laugh,” he says. For instance: “You’ve really got to hand it to short people. Because they often can’t reach it.”
Eventually, Delaney’s tweets caught the eye of Graham Linehan, the Irish writer and director of the cult British TV series “The IT Crowd.” Linehan started retweeting Delaney on the regular and soon hired him as a consultant on the show. Things began to fall into place: In 2010, he landed a gig with MTV writing for “Ridiculousness,” a “Tosh.0”-style series featuring skateboarder Rob Dyrdek and clips of people eating pavement. “That signaled the phase of my life where I was making a living only through comedy,” says Delaney, who performs at the Black Cat on Friday.
To appreciate this break, it’s important to understand the darker places Delaney has been. Ten years ago, he drove a car into the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power while blacked-out drunk. Though, mercifully, no one else was involved, Delaney broke both his arms and badly mangled his knees.
The crash put things in perspective. Delaney got sober, and though he’d been acting on and off for years, he decided to commit himself to comedy. He still battles depression, which he’s discussed at length on his Tumblr and in his Vice magazine column. But he says that striving to be professionally funny saved him, in a way.
The image most synonymous with Rob Delaney: his bearded, bare-bodied Twitter avatar.
“Even in my darkest times, when I would get onstage, tell a joke and hear a laugh, there was a massive serotonin blast in my brain that would feel very good,” he says. “Comedy has made me happier by leaps and bounds.”
It was a long haul. Friends questioned his plan, and even his wife started asking what the backup was if comedy didn’t work out. “I looked around at my life,” Delaney says, “and my bank accounts in dire negativity, my lack of health insurance, my depression, my willful ignorance of basic facts like the inability to afford pants. My underwear, which would be like a rubber band around my waist with just hanging fabric because there were so many holes in it. I’d look at all that and be like, ‘You probably should quit.’ But I didn’t.”
It’s taken a decade, but Delaney is officially getting buzz in Hollywood — in part by threatening to sue reality TV star Kim Kardashian for duping the public with her 72-day marriage to NBA player Kris Humphries. He’s also selling out shows across the country, working on his first stand-up album, writing a memoir and appearing on TV shows such as Comedy Central’s “Key & Peele.”
“It was nothing until it was something,” Delaney says of his career. “I do something that only I can do, which is to tell creative jokes about farts and saggy boobs. I knew that the world needed to hear what I thought about saggy boobs, so I responded to my calling.”
A sampling of the best tweets @robdelaney has to offer:
— “When I read a tweet, I either think ‘I wish I wrote that’ or ‘I no longer believe in freedom of speech.’”
— “Every morning when my alarm goes off I think ‘This is the worst thing that has EVER happened.’”
— “Guns don’t kill people, people who say ‘Guns don’t kill people…’ kill people. With guns.”
— “Now that Facebook bought Instagram, ‘The Social Network 2’ will have to be directed by Wes Anderson.”
— “I love gay people. Or as I sometimes call them, ‘people.’”