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Rob Delaney, Twitter Comedy Star: Making You Laugh and Cry (Q&A)

Rob Delaney Stand Up - P 2012
Rob Delaney/Facebook

The king of the retweet and Mitt Romney's online antagonist speaks with THR about politics, depression, stand-up and the Tosh/Cook controversies.

Even if you don't follow Rob Delaney on Twitter, chances are your timeline is inundated with his jokes (and, speedo-clad avatar). A stand-up comic originally from Boston, Delaney has amassed over 500,000 followers with a mix of observational humor, political satire, scatalogical jokes and sheer nonsense, all in delicious 140-character bites.

He's also a hard-working, touring comedian, who has worked to hone his craft over the past 10 years in clubs across the nation. He even had a TV show in development with Comedy Central this spring; though it didn't get picked up, he doesn't regret it: it means he gets more time to tour. He currently has several dates on sale, including at the New York Comedy Festival.

Delaney spoke to The Hollywood Reporter on Monday, fresh off a vacation and the announcement that Mitt Romney had announced Paul Ryan as his vice presidential running mate.

THR: You have become the chief Mitt Romney Twitter antagonist; what about him makes it so easy and fun to poke fun of?

Delaney: Well all big money politicians have plenty that you can sink your teeth into, be they Republican or Democrat. Third party candidates don’t have any money so they’re more inclined to behave like human beings, with nuanced points of view. But Mitt Romney is such an irresistible target for me because the desire to be president, right? Something has to be pretty wrong with you to want to be the president, and his strain of that disease is the worst I’ve seen in my lifetime. I mean, even a George W. Bush, who I didn’t like, he had things that he thought and felt and believed, even if they were in my opinion wrong or disingenuous or destructive. Whereas Mitt Romney coordinates, triangulates, obfuscates, changes his mind. And again, all politicians do this, it’s just with him, it’s the most transparent and motivation for why we do things is important. 

As a comedian, it’s just a really good place to start, is to figure out people’s motives and then observe their MOs. He just wants to be president. It’s not like he wants to do anything. He created RomneyCare, now he disavows it; he was for abortion, now he’s against it; he was for gun control, now he’s against it. For him, he’s got the worst case of that desire/hubris, it’s a tragic flaw is what it is.

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THR: And now Paul Ryan is his VP choice. What’s the comedy plan of attack there?

Delaney: One thing that’s so funny about him is that he is a running mate, which is chosen frequently to balance the ticket. Obama, being a young, fresh-faced senator, he chose a grey-haired older guy with foreign relations experience. John McCain, an older guy, chose a younger, brash, brassy woman, and so you’d think "Mmm, is Romney going to kowtow, is he going to pick someone of a different race, a different gender?" And he suuuure didn’t. 

If anything, if he were seeking to balance the ticket, his just got so off-balance that it flipped off into the stratosphere with Paul Ryan. And they’re different individuals. Paul Ryan will be more fun to engage with as a comedic target. One thing that will be more fun about him is he ostensibly believes what he says. He’s a zealot and an ideologue, and so that’ll be a different kind of tussle with him, which I look forward to.

I don’t feel bad making fun of them brutally, because it’s literally in their job description. It is: be made fun of by snotnosed comedians. So they’re doing their job, I’m doing mine.

THR: You’re also very frank about struggles, with alcoholism and depression. How did you decide to make that initial decision to be so open? Were you afraid of doing that all?

Delaney: Sure, I had reservations about revealing stuff like that. Not with drinking, I don’t care, it’s not really interesting if a person doesn’t drink. Who cares? But with the depression stuff, it was like, an acquaintance in the comedy world committed suicide a few years ago, and having struggled with that urge myself, and having worked through it more than once, I wanted to do anything that I possibly could to prevent another person from a. feeling that way, and b. certainly ever acting on that. So basically somebody that I was acquainted with killed themselves. That happens to all of us unfortunately at one time or another. And I just thought, you know what? I have a toolkit that I have amassed, and it was difficult to put it together, but I’ve got it, and if I can share it with other people to prevent them from doing a horrible thing, then I must do it.

The first thing I ever wrote on depression, I wrote it out pretty quickly and then I actually sent it to my friend Dave Holmes, and I said, ‘Hey man, can I put this on the internet?’ I didn’t know if it was too raw or too upsetting or whatever. And he said, You have to. And I did, and thank goodness, it’s resonated with people, and people have written me very nice things about that. Anything I can do. Suicide is just, you can’t do it. So if I can help people take that off the table as an option, if that’s something they consider as an option, there’s nothing in the whole world I would rather do.

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THR: Your stand-up is different from your Twitter account; you actually reveal things about your life in stand up. Why the different personas?

Delaney: Well, Twitter doesn’t directly pay the bills. Stand-up does. And they function together: the more Twitter followers I have, the easier it is for me to sell tickets on the road, so I do pay attention to what I put on Twitter and put a little thought and effort and care into it. But you can’t throw up from laughing at a tweet. You can throw up from laughing at standup. So in stand-up, I’m trying to get to much more visceral, deeper stuff. On Twitter, you can squeeze in a quip or a quick observation, and there’s a limit to how funny that can be. Whereas in stand up, you’re really punching the gut, I mean you’re hitting the heavy bag. And so I talk about myself, I talk about family, I talk about bodies, I talk about sex, I talk about fear, because that’s where the real laughter is from. I mean, I want to make people laugh as hard as I possibly, possibly can. And in my experience, political humor is never going to be the thing that has you rolling on the floor. It’s going to be something about men and women or who knows what, something on a more basic level that everybody understands immediately.

THR: So do you have personal debates over going too far with what you share?

Delaney: Also, it has to be funny, that’s the thing. A Richard Pryor, he might be telling an incredibly personal story involving heartache and difficulty and loss and all that, but it’s still going through the mind of a guy who was a crack joke writer and the cheese of his experience is being pushed through the cheese grater of joke writing ability. So, those things are super important. That’s why somebody, like I’m 35, it’s not possible that I’m the funniest person, I can’t even get near comedy Mount Rushmore. I can maybe buy a ticket and stand on the perimeter and look at it, but I’m 35, I have a one-year-old. I’ve lived a few things, but not enough. The funniest thing in the world are well into their 40s. I mean, I just saw Bill Cosby, and he’s 72 I think, and you have to live life. You have to have your teeth kicked in, and then you have to go get new teeth, and then have those dentures torn out by wolves with pliers. To be the funniest, you have to have that stuff happen.

THR: Now comedy clubs have people coming in, recording things on iPhones. As someone who got famous thanks to the internet, what’s your take on that?

Delaney: I’m vehemently against that. If somebody recorded a set of mine, I would figure out a way to get it down, even if that included going to their house and doing it on their own personal computer. That is fundamentally wrong.

THR: What about it do you find so fundamentally wrong?

Delaney: Well if I’m developing a bit, in the beginning, it might not be that funny. And guess what? That’s okay. My workshop happens to be in public. And so I determine when the thing that I made is ready for mass consumption, not anybody else. And if they don’t feel that way, then they’re not welcome at a show of mine.

THR: After the Tosh and Dane Cook uproars, what do you think of the new criticism that comedy is getting? Should the club be a safe place to try out ideas and material, or is there a responsibility to be sensitive to the public?

Delaney: Safe is relative and in the eye of the beholder. It’s all an occupational hazard. Daniel Tosh and Dane Cook are big boys, they’ve already handled it, that stuff has already evaporated. And then some of the concern over those things weren’t people’s actual, legitimate concerns, they were just hopping on respective bandwagons. So I don’t really care what people think about that stuff. And neither does anybody of substance. That was manufactured brouhaha just because it’s fun for people to get excited about stuff, and reflect legitimate concern. That can happen. Daniel Tosh and Dane Cook can say those things and I’ll fight for their right to do that. People can blog about it from their mom’s basement afterwards if they want to, and I’ll defend their right to do that. It’s the United States, we still to date have the First Amendment. I say do whatever you want, and maybe some people won’t like it, maybe they’ll be vocal about it, and you’ll ask yourself if you care or not. 

At the end of the day, I want my comedy to unite and make people laugh. But at the same time, as a painter uses a bunch of different colors, to paint a landscape that is beautiful to look at, there might be some black paint in that painting. And you might have to learn to work with black paint. So that may necessitate talking about, on-stage, topics including rape and mass murder, to reference the Tosh and the Dane Cook incidents. As you develop the voice to talk about those things, they might be messy, but that’s okay. And neither of those guys, at no point did I see them sit down an issue statements that they support rape and mass murder.

Email: Jordan.Zakarin@THR.com; Twitter: @JordanZakarin