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Conversations with Funny People: Andrew Rivers
Andrew Rivers, from North Bend, comes from a family of creatives as the son of a Seattle radio fixture and the brother of a filmmaker.
As a member of the Northwest comedy scene, Rivers is at a critical juncture in his career: Opening for popular headliners and making a living from any gig he can get, at home or on the road. He’ll headline Laughs Comedy Spot July 2 and 3.
Rivers called The Eastside Scene from a stop in North Carolina to chat about life as an up-and-comer and the advice he’s gotten along the way.
Hey Andrew, how’s Winston-Salem treating you?
I haven’t left the hotel room, to be honest.
I actually lived there for a few years as a kid.
Oh yeah? What do you recommend doing here?
Oh, boy, I hope you like period-correct Moravian historical attractions.
That’s perfect then, because that’s exactly what I look for whenever I travel. I haven’t been here before, but I’m performing at the Laughing Gas Comedy Club with Rich Vos. It’s a pretty new club, it just had its two year anniversary. But generally I don’t explore much when I’m on the road.
So how did this comedy thing start for you?
I gave a speech at my brother’s wedding about six or seven years ago and everyone thought it was funny. I had an interest in comedy but your high school guidance counselor doesn’t tell you that’s a job. Obviously, my dad (retired radio personality Bob Rivers -Ed.) was a huge influence. I grew up around other people who made fun of each other and themselves. Then I got laid off from a marketing job so I was just sitting around complaining about my life for a few months. Economy crashed, and I couldn’t get another job and I didn’t know what to do with myself. It was my dad who brought it up. He said ‘You were funny at the wedding, why don’t you do an open mic night?’ His thing was just, get up and go do something. So soon after that I did my first open mic at Giggles… you know, before it became a strip club.
That’s right! Did that place become a comedy club again? Or is it on Jiggles, Part Two at this point?
It does seem like it’s gone back and forth, doesn’t it? There were a lot of bad issues on that stage even before it was a strip club, so it’s funny that it’s gone in-between.
So, my dad, I told him I was going to do my first open mic. His first words were, ‘You have plenty of time to suck.’ Which was very true advice, for comedy or for anything else.
Now you’re opening for guys like Vos, or Christopher Titus, or Mike Birbiglia. When did things start taking off?
Well I got a pretty fast start because I was laid off and I didn’t have anything else to do. Comedy’s interesting. It’s, you know, the main ingredient is time. It’s something where you can’t really fake it. It’s just a skill that requires stage time, writing and performing, and because I didn’t have any other obligations I just did comedy for as many people as would let me. I did 300 shows my first year. A lot of those were open mics and Laughs was the first club to give me a weekend spot. I wound up moving up the road from Laughs and I told the owner I wanted to be on stage whenever he could fit me in. So he would call me and say, ‘I forgot to book anybody and I need a show. Do you have plans? Call them to cancel and I’ll give you free ice cream.’ And that’s all it took to convince me. Free ice cream? I’m there!
Looking back, I was still terrible. I’m sure years from now I’ll look back and say I’m terrible now. Birbiglia talks about, that delusion that’s needed to keep things going when you have no business doing it.
But as far as becoming an opener for Titus goes, he was doing a radio interview with my dad and I had done, oh, two or three open mics at this point. I happened to be at my dad’s show and the producers, during the break they said you should tell Titus one of your jokes. So I told them during the break and it got a laugh, and they asked me to tell it on the air. But when you tell a joke a second time they’re not really going to laugh at it, and they didn’t, so then Titus made fun of me for telling a bad joke. But then he gave me a lot of good advice.
You have a recent article on the Connected Comedy blog that consisted of pages from a book you keep in which you ask comics to write down their advice to beginners. How did that start?
It was my first weekend hosting at Laughs Comedy Spot and I was being paid in ice cream and the headliner was Tom Simmons who lives in Greensboro, I think. So I talked with him a lot — just as a new comedian, bright-eyed guy new to things — and we had talks and advice about different things and at the end of the weekend I thought, I should write this stuff down. Then I thought, they should write it down. That was the start of it and then, every weekend when I would work with a new comic, I’d have them write their advice, then sign it. It became more than it could be since when I started it.
What’s the strangest gig you’ve booked?
There’s a lot of strange gigs because when you make your living from shows, you’ll take anything. When I’m back in Seattle, I’ll be performing at a retirement party for a service dog (taking place June 27 at Seattle University's Campion Ballroom -Ed.). The dog knows 60 commands and I maybe know two. That dog is objectively more productive than me.
But the funniest gig, which actually wound up being canceled, was this one where I got booked at the prison in Walla-Walla, performing for prisoners. And it was this strange thing because at the time I’m still brand new and I don’t know how they’ll react. I just imagine getting heckled with shanks and shivs and I find myself wondering, what if there’s a riot? And then I don’t know what kind of people I’m performing for. Are they being let out soon? Is that good or bad for me, if my set goes badly? I had no idea how that was supposed to happen, but I think the moral of that story is that for a few hundred dollars I’m willing to do just about anything.