Watching Dallas-based comedian Aaron Aryanpur on stage is somewhat of a master class in the art of stand-up comedy. He’s controlled, engaging, open and vulnerable; ultimately, he’s relatable and very funny.
His act is built around some common themes of being a young man, striving towards his calling on stage who still has the responsibilities of supporting a young family. Finding the balance in life between performer and father, traveling comedian and provider is not just part of his act but part of his existence. Finding equilibrium in life is thematic throughout both.
Being born and raised in a half-Jewish American, half-Persian Muslim émigré family is where the roots of this struggle grow deep, “I always thought my father was passive aggressive, but the more I learn about Persian culture the more I realize it was not just him, it seems to be something genetic,” says Aryanpur. “There seems to be a plausible deniability factor built into every Persian.”
As a country of deal makers from before the time of Marco Polo and the spice trade, the Persian culture (Iranian to some) is full of contradictions that never seem to be quite explained, fully. For Aryanpur, he was raised in the Jewish side of his upbringing but identifies fully with the Arabic side and has instinctively sought the praise of his Persian father who never seems to quite be able to deliver such approval.
In part of his stage presentation Aaron wanders deftly from stories of corporate frustration, fatherhood, and being married young. He returns repeatedly and skillfully to stories about his interactions with his own father, Sam. It’s amazing watching people in his audience poke and elbow each other as his stories hit close to home.
His dry, near arid humor, has evolved and been influenced by early “British Comedy” icons like Monty Python’s John Cleese, George Carlin and others who never hacked it out telling mere “jokes,” but created thought provoking observations with surgical accuracy.
“I had seen lots of stand up comedy on TV and went to see big theater shows like Carlin, but around 2000, I started coming regularly to the Improv to see the comedy live,” says Aryanpur. A skilled visual artist and graphic designer, Aaron began bringing caricatures he had drawn of the headliners hoping to get an autograph on his artwork. This ultimately pulled the curtain back reviling a view of the Grand and Masterful OZ that compelled him to push further into the world of stand up comedy.
“Because I was a regular, and got to know the wait staff, they would take my drawings back and often the comedians would invite me back to the greenroom. I was lucky to get to meet Mitch Hedberg a few times, and I also got to know some of the local comedians,” he explains. The bug was planted, and Aryanpur started reading everything he could get his hands on about the craft, and he then signed up for Dean Lewis’ comedy workshop.
It was under Lewis’ tutelage that Aaron began to find his voice. “I was lucky, I started at around the same time as Paul Varghese, Raj Sharma, Jason James and a couple of other local guys.” They all were supportive of each other and their desire to stand before the brick façade of the Improv. “Each of us had a different voice, a different delivery but we were all the ones who persevered,” says Aryanpur.
With his graphic skills, Aaron would create the flyers for his counterparts, and when one was working, the others would show their support. Together they moved up the local comedy ladder. “When I was starting out, all the books and people I talked to kept saying the same thing; to become a comedian you needed to ‘go up’ and get time on stage. I always found it frustrating because in order to go up, you had to have been up and getting up only happened if there was an up to get up for,” explains Aryanpur.
Also, his ability to find humor in the complexities of the English language shows some of that early George Carlin influence. “There’s a rule of thumb with comedians that it takes ten years to develop into a real comedian. But when I started, I couldn’t believe that.” Aaron continues, “I thought there was no way it could take that long but here I am ten years later.”
The friendship with the other local headliners like Jason James, Paul Varghese, Mark Agee and others has helped keep each of them on their toes as well. “When you have guys like this who you respect, it drives you to avoid the easy joke, to really work on the craft.” Given Aryanpur’s upbringing in Hebrew school, with a Muslim father at a time that having roots in Iran became somewhat problematic, you can guess he has heard every two Jews and an Arab walk into a bar joke, but Aryanpur doesn’t really tell jokes as much as he tells stories.
Early on in his stand up career, Aryanpur noticed an online video of another “Persian” comic, Maz Jobrani. “I realized I was using a joke that was very similar, so I dropped it. but out of the blue I decided to send Maz an email because I really liked his stuff,” recalls Aryanpur. That random email lead to Jobrani taking a risk on the young unknown, making some phone calls and helping Aaron get some stage-time in some clubs in LA. The two stayed in contact over time, and when Jobrani was headlining with Ahmed Ahmed and Aron Kader, on their Axis of Evil Comedy Tour, Aryanpur was asked to be the opening act in this area.
With some top comedians like Jobrani taking interest, and his getting the chance to feature for national touring acts like John Lovitz and Michael Winslow, Aryanpur keeps making impressions on comedians who have seen his talented delivery and insightful humor. “It is all about networking and making the right contacts. Some of these guys are fantastic, I mean Maz had never met me when he put himself out there for me,” Aryanpur admits. “Another one who was just fantastic to me by making calls and helping me get stage time was Al Madrigal. He called quite a few club bookers and got them to give me a chance.”
It’s a sign of professional respect for Aaron’s abilities when comics who are true professionals and masters of the art take notice of a young man from Dallas, and then take the time to push him forward. Such performers don’t just stick their necks out for anyone.
While featuring this past weekend at the Addison Improv, Michael Winslow was listening to Aaron’s act. He was impressed with his stagecraft. “He is good,” said Winslow.
When others began to notice his talent, and respond to his act, Aryanpur has delved deeper into relationships, family and work with his eye on his craft. “When the audience responds to my stories I really get a charge, then after the show, when people come up and say that my story about something happened to them too, it makes me think I’m on the right track.”
For the most part Aryanpur’s act is clean, perhaps squeaky clean, even, but he’ll modify based on the audience. “When I’m playing a college, I know the stuff about being a dad is not going to play as well because there isn’t a point of reference for a room full of 18-20 year olds. But being able to work clean opens up so many other opportunities like corporate gigs or opening for comics who insist on having clean acts on their show.”
Recently Varghese and Aryanpur were invited to a showcase for “Industry” in Los Angeles. “Nothing has come of it, yet,” Admits Aryanpur. But, the more people who see him the more likely that balance he has maintained will begin to shift favorably.
“I really couldn’t do this if my wife wasn’t so supportive. She can tell if I haven’t been up in a while, there is something gnawing at me.”
If you watch his headlining act this Sunday at the Addison Improv you may get the idea the thing gnawing at him is the double-edged faint praise of his father’s voice as he quotes on his own website, “Surprisingly, he didn’t suck”
The Sunday show also includes friends and fellow local headliners Mark Agee and Jason James on the under card. So, if you’re looking for something to do this Sunday evening, The Addison Improv is definitely going to be the place-to-be, as this line up is second to none in North Texas comedy.
Jo Koy, headlining comedian performing at the Addison Improv this weekend, has managed to capture lighting in a bottle. A guy named Tom Werner, co-creator of the Cosby Show, thinks so, too. Now, Jo Koy, comedian is now developing a half hour sit-com for Warner Brothers Studios.
Koy’s high energy, engaging persona on and off stage has managed to capture audiences, producers and other comedians in its frenetic swirl to the top. That pathway has not exactly been linear, but in 18 years of working as a comedian you get the impression Jo knows how lucky he is.
After growing up in Washington State, the bi-racial son of a first generation Pilipino mother and American born father had moved to Las Vegas to attend UNLV but decided early that school was not for him. The lure of the microphone pulled him to open mike nights at coffee shops and local clubs. “My mother literally cried when I told her I was dropping out of school to become a comedian, she was heartbroken, a university education for their kids is one of the most important goals a immigrant parent,” says Jo, “I used to do a bit about it in my act.”
Jo’s personal life has always been a big part of his act, as a storyteller rather than a one liner comedian, Koy’s electrified personality, animated actions and emotive face brings you into his highly relatable world and masterfully twists you into fits of laughter.
Most comedians make their mark in LA or New York, but Koy’s path of starting in Las Vegas had some advantages. As he honed his craft working he got noticed by the booker for one of the casinos Jo explains, “A girl I knew was dating this guy who was booking acts for ‘Catch A Rising Star’ at the MGM Grand, she brought him to see me and I got booked the next day.”
Performing, refining and performing is the key to success for a comedian and as Koy began to garner a reputation around comedy circuits, other comedians looking for an opener would show up and offer to take him on the road,“I was always getting let go after one or two shows. It was hard but they would say things like ‘you need to be a headliner, go to LA and become a headliner’. At the time I would end up making as little as $40 a week after I paid for gas and food. It was awful but I learned a lot.”
Hard work and luck again paid off as Koy was offered a chance to do Comic View on BET. Serendipitously as we were discussing this, Dallas comedian Rudy Rush walked into the Green Room at the Improv to say hello. Pointing at Rush, Koy’s says, “This is a guy who gave me a big shot, I was doing a show for Bob Sumner doing Def Jam on the Road, Ricky Harris was hosting and Rudy was a feature. They wouldn’t even let me open the show I had to stand in front of the curtain before it went up and crawl through it after my set. Rudy looked at Bob and said, ‘Who the fuck is this guy’ Bob was like, ‘I don’t know I just met him today.
Rudy then asks if I wanted to do the Apollo? I was like Hell ya! Rudy says he is going to have his manager call the next week and he was true to his word it was like two weeks later and I was onstage at the Apollo. Rudy was the host.”
For a non-African American comedian to do Showtime at the Apollo is rare, the legendary theater is in the heart of Harlem in New York and for a comedian, it is a very tough room.
That exposure lead to a spot at the Montreal Comedy Festival six years ago, where talent scouts for ‘The Tonight Show with Jay Leno’ approached him as he left the stage. “Congratulations you have just got the Tonight Show,” Koy smiles, “I called my Dad and told him and I think I called everyone else I know to tell them I was going to be on the Tonight Show.”
The path to what is still the biggest stage for a young comic is not exactly linear, Koy explains, “Before they let you on the show they want to make sure your act is tight. You only have 5 minutes and they want to make sure you are not a risk to swear and that you have a chance to do it right.” After telling everyone he was going to be on the show it took months for it to happen. “They would come to see my “Tonight” set over and over and for a comedian doing a 5 minute set is hard, usually we want or need at least 20 to get in and rolling right.”
The work was worthwhile as Koy registered one of the few Standing Ovations in tonight show history.
While coming up Koy would work three jobs at Nordstrom Rack, Borders Books and on Saturdays and Sundays doing catering on a yacht and still hit the Laugh Factory for a set at least 4 or 5 times a week.
“Being on the Tonight Show changed my life completely,” Koy says, “When I booked it people told me it was “Good Tape” because I could use it to send around to clubs to the managers so I could get booked. I mean people would downplay it like it wasn’t as big a deal as it was. Within two weeks I was doing a national ad campaign for a cell phone company and was booked on a national tour and all of a sudden I was making great money for the first time.”
From there Koy’s path started to rise dramatically getting his own Comedy Central special, ‘Jo Koy – Don’t Make Him Angry,’ he appeared on Jimmy Kimmel and was featured on Jamie Fox’s Laughapalooza tour. From this, his routines have hit “the Foxhole comedy station on Satellite Radio.
“I really like the way things have come together, it is kind of like the old way of doing things where I was out there making it happen one night at a time,” Koy admits that there are now times he has to almost pinch himself to know this success is real, “When Tom (Werner) approached me about the sit com I had to sit back and go WOW! I mean this is the guy who created the ‘Cosby Show’, how cool is that? I couldn’t believe he was having dinner with me let alone developing a television show for me.”
Werner also owns the Boston Red Sox and Koy had the experience of sitting in the Owners Box with his father watching the Sox play at Fenway,“I couldn’t believe we were sitting there. Tom actually comes to my shows and watches. It is just crazy he knows my bits and talks to me about things that can be the basis of an episode.”
Koy is also working on a book, is a regular every week on ‘Chelsea Lately’ and is touring extensively and is performing this weekend at the Addison Improv.
During the Thursday night set at the Addison Improv, a woman sitting down in front – who may have gone from “Dos Equis” to “Bente Equis” – started calling out a request for “Orange Chicken,” a signature bit from early in Jo’s career, “I hate that, I really do have an idea of where I am going with what I do. I don’t do that one in my act any more, I don’t just want to sit up there and do a “Set”. That would be boring for me and for my audience. I have people come back to see me and they make comments that it is different every time. To me that is a great complement.”
His set now is reflective of where he is in life, still dealing with his mother, and now primarily with his son, who is even featured on some of Koy’s merchandise, “I grew up with next to nothing and now I am in a position so my son can have everything, but I am on the road so much it is hard.” Koy makes sure when he is back in LA his spends as much time as he can with the little guy, explaining, “His mother and I are not together anymore, but I make sure she is ok and really, now, we are the best of friends.”
As Koy’s career takes off into the stratosphere, he remains rooted in remembering how hard it was to get started, “The guys who I bring with me as openers, Adam Hammer and Ty Rivera, I really want them to have a chance to enjoy the road. I mean, when I was out there starting it was horrible and some weeks I lost money. I decided very early I wasn’t going to make my openers lives miserable. I am going to help them because I didn’t have that, after all Adam , my opener here, has to get the crowd going and you can do that better when you are into the act.”
Judging from the nearly sold out crowd at the Improv for a Thursday show, getting tickets to Koy’s sets this weekend might be difficult. It is an act you may not be able to see again at such an intimate venue as the next time you see Jo Koy will most likely as the star of his own show on NBC or CBS.
Improv Comedy Club
4980 Belt Line Road
Dallas, TX 75254-7037
After spending twenty years working as a comedic writer and standup comic Greg Behrendt achieved fame very quickly.
It was sudden, a line he created as a writer on “Sex and the City” was somewhat off the cuff and became a tag for a stand-up routine, then a New York Times Best Selling book on relationships (co-authored with Liz Tuccillo), a movie and even opened the door for his own daytime TV show.
The line “He’s just not that into you…” was a phenomenal word combination that seemed to unlock something, primarily in women, and suddenly Greg Behrendt became the “Guy” with the answers for understanding guys. “The book came about because a really small publisher thought a relationship book for women from a guy’s standpoint would be something we could sell a couple of copies. So the Sex in The City gig was over and I was out of work and it was something fun to do and get paid for.” Greg says “It went out on a really small imprint and then I went on Oprah and it sold a lot of copies.”
Prior to his Oprah appearance as a “Relationship Expert” Behrendt had been a headliner touring the country doing his stand up, writing stories appearing on the Tonight Show and Conan O’Brian building his stand-up career his own Comedy Central special “Greg Behrendt is UnCool” in 2006.
Uncool was stand-up of the then 40 year old, who had dreams of being a rockstar’s evolution from cool young dude to creepy old guy and becoming a devoted husband and father of two little girls. His wife worked in the music industry and his ambitions have now resulted in an emerging band called “Reigning Monarchs”
“I started stand-up in San Francisco after being encouraged to give it a shot by Margaret Chow.” Explains Behrendt. Chow was a fellow member of an Improv Comedy troupe called “Crash and Burn” and after a taste Greg was hooked. He joined the writing team on Sex and the city as a straight man (pun intended) giving notes and suggestions to the writers who were almost all women or gay guys.
When two of the characters were trying to decipher the intentions of a suitor Carrie’s new boyfriend explained: “He’s just not that into you, if he was he would have come up meeting or no meeting.” For the female characters in the show and millions of women across the country that line was powerful. Ironically the short lived “boyfriend” (Jack Berger played by Ron Livingstone in season six) who delivered the line eventually got very tired of nonstop decoding men for the women.
The incredible success of the book, and other “Self help” books like “It’s called a breakup because it’s broken” propelled Behrendt into the cusp of celebrity and suddenly 20 years of work became an overnight success. A syndicated Daytime Talk show followed and the Greg Behrendt became the “Dude Whisperer” to millions of women.
The TV show only lasted a year, but as Behrendt says in his stand up (Appearing this weekend at the Addison Improv) women all over the country suddenly took self help to some sort of Oracle of Dude’s. As the “Jack” character foretold being the “Answer” man got worn out. “It first really hit me when I was on stage in New York. There was a table full of women who were talking while I was on stage and I just snapped. I yelled at one woman, who was talking loudly and she held up a copy of the book, she didn’t come to see my act she came to ask me why her boyfriend broke up with her.” The rest of the story he tells on stage but it resulted in a 2-year hiatus from performing.
Basically what happened is he answered a woman’s question as a guy, a Dude if you will. He saw the problem, proposed a solution and expected to be able to move on as guys tend to do. Behrendt was unprepared for the volume of follow up questions that hit him from thousands of women struggling to understand men.
As his fame grew he began to feel uncomfortable in his own skin. Some women were approaching him on the street expecting him to solve their problems, which is sort of funny when you think about it. As “Greg Behrendt – Self Help Guy” he noticed that a lot of the people approaching him were not interested in helping themselves but having someone else fix them.
He went from being a stand-up comedian to a strange blending of Dr. Phil and Tony Robbins moving further from what he knew was his core, comedy.
During his break from the spotlight Behrendt started playing music more and pod-casting “Walking the Room” a title is a bit of an inside joke to other comedians identifying someone who walks out during a set or clearing a room with a mass walkout. He has set up a new twitter account so as to take a complete break from the “Greg Brehendt” persona and what people expected of him.
Back in his first love of on-stage stand-up comedy his keen wit and personable presence still has some stories of what happened in his time as “Oracle of Dudes” and relatable humor of now being 47 years old and having two very different daughters beginning to really develop into their own worlds.
Sitting in the green room of the Improv Greg is relaxed in his skin and seems to have found some peace being back telling stories and making people laugh. His musical knowledge is amazingly deep and discusses old Reggae, early Ska Surf and just about every other genre of music.
He is lighter having lost over 25 pounds and has toned up both his body and sharp wit it. His audience is still skewed towards a female demographic but his humor is universal with two shows tonight and one on Sunday it is an act that is well worth catching, don’t expect him to solve your relationship problems but if you know a little about music….
Improv Comedy Club
4980 Belt Line Road
Dallas, TX 75254-7037
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