There is nothing free in this world. Much of my adult life has been spent trying to disprove this statement, and I have been unable to come up with a convincing argument until now. Dave Ross has proved, adversely, that the best things in life are free. Held at the Downtown Independent and run by Dave Ross, Holy Fuck is the kind of show that is truly about nothing more than comedy. The show was started in 2009 to raise money for an art gallery that was actually shut down before the first show went up. Since then it has become one of the greatest shows in town.
Tony Bartolone: Why do you a run a comedy show?
Dave Ross: Oh, for so many reasons. First of all, I love comedy. I love to perform comedy, I love to entertain people, and I like to make people feel good, in general. If you run a comedy show, you get to create your own vibe. Everything's in your hands, from the setup of the stage to the music that plays pre-show to the comedians on the bill to the temperature of the room. You set the tone for the night, so you can make the night as positive or fun as you'd like. (And on the same token, as negative or boring as you'd like.) I get a lot of satisfaction from seeing people leaving the theater smiling after the show. It's great.
It's also a place to help me hone my skills as a comic, and to help my friends do so, as well. It's tough to get good stage time in LA, and the fact that I have a place I can go every week that I know will have a warm crowd and a positive atmosphere is a blessing. I do my best to extend that blessing to as many comedians in LA as I can, because lord knows they all deserve more of it. Comedy's hard, what with the open mics and empty/hostile rooms you can perform in. I certainly know that and experience it daily, so it's nice to be able to offer a set at a good venue to friends and colleagues.
TB: Why a free show?
DR: There are a bunch of reasons for this, a few of them self-serving. For one, I hate dealing with money. It complicates everything, and I'm aspiring to make a living as a comedian, not a producer, so I'm not in this to get paid. The stage time is enough payment for me, not to mention how fun it is to see people enjoying something I made. I love the opportunity to give back to the comedy community, as well, and to help out my friends. Really, I've just got a great deal worked out with the theater and the wonderful people who work there, and there's no reason at all for me to screw it up. If I charged at the door, then they'd want a cut of it, and we'd have to do THAT math, and I'd want to pay the comics, and on and on and on... It'd be a hassle. We'd probably lose some customers, too.
Which brings me to another reason to run a free show -- it's a recession. Lord knows I'm broke, and I know everyone else is, too, so why not create a place that anyone can enjoy themselves, regardless of their financial situation?
A couple years ago, once the show started to get big, people started suggesting I charge a cover to build the audience -- people don't think a show is worth going to if it doesn't cost anything, or so they would say. I mulled it over in my head, and was considering doing it -- a bigger audience would be better for everyone. I talked to Matt Dwyer about it, though, and he said something I'll never forget: "Yeah, that might work, but I grew up listening to Minor Threat and Fugazi, so I guess I'd just rather make a show cheap and DIY. For the kids." I loved that, and I've held on to it since. I grew up listening to punk rock, too -- going to shows and scouring record stores for cheap CDs. Most of those shows and CDs were $5 or less, and if they were any more, my childhood would've seriously suffered. I'm approaching the show from that angle, I suppose -- I want kids like me to be able to come to it. I want the audience to be filled with weirdos and nerds and punks and broke idiots who are looking for a break from the loud, angry, blaring neon of every day life. I want the comedians and the comedy and the smiling patrons and the great vibe to be the draw, not the huge name at the top of the bill or the fact that so-and-so knew someone who could get them tickets. I don't want people to have to save up to come to my show, I want them to come every week and become a part of the show. I want Holy Fuck to be a scene -- a place where everyone can have fun, and everyone's allowed in, and everyone's accepted unless they're being a dick. That's why it's free.
TB: When and how did you start doing comedy in LA?
DR: I had a false start in 2006. That is to say, I did standup 5 times and quit. It freaked me out too much, and I had a terrible attitude about it, but my friend, Julie Cohen, started at that time and stuck with it. She'd call me occasionally over the following three years and ask me to go to an open mic with her, because she knew it was something I very much wanted to do, but I'd always be too scared to go.
Then, in 2009, Julie fired her co-host at the open mic she ran and basically called me a pussy until I agreed to run it with her. That'll be three years ago in March. That's how I got started. For about five months, I only performed at the open mic, riffing between comedians, and I didn't write any jokes at all, but it helped me ease my nerves before deciding to really go for it. In August of 2009, I wrote a bunch of jokes, took 'em to the Tuesday open mic at Westwood Brewing Company, and I've performed almost every single night since then.
TB: What makes somebody a comedian?
DR: A comedian is someone who performs comedy regularly. Some people perform it every now and then, and I'd consider those people more of hobbyists, but if you're doing it daily, or even weekly or monthly, that means you care about it, and that's all it takes to me.
There's one more thing, actually. I did a show recently with Moshe Kasher, one of my favorite comics, who spends most of his sets in town talking to the audience now. At this particular show, he went through each audience member and asked them a question -- it was usually "What's your story?" or "What do you do?" -- but he got to one of the last members of the crowd, he said, "You! What's the thing you've always wanted to do but didn't and will always regret it?" We all laughed, but that's an honest and poignant question. A lot of people have that thing that they daydream about that they never went for. Comedians don't, though. We're doing that thing on a daily basis. That's what really makes a comedian, and that's probably why I love comedians so much.
TB: You've talked about being in the Riot Kickstarter video, saying you're always begging friends to put you in their videos... How does it feel to see friends obtain goals you'd like to obtain yourself?
DR: Ha! Oh man. Loaded question. ou know, I remember when I said that at Holy Fuck, and I wish I hadn't. I like to be self-deprecating, and I wanted to point out that I was the only non-famous person in the video, so I acted like it bothered the crap out of them to have me be in it because I thought that'd be funnier than the truth. The reality is, though, that I co-wrote the script for that video with them, so they put me in it. They're good friends, and they wanted to make sure I got the fruits of that labor.
I love it when my friends achieve things. Obviously, I'd be lying if I said I never got jealous, but that jealousy is always quickly overshadowed by happiness for them. It's pretty easy to go negative in this world, what with so many opportunities for rejection or validation every day, but I try very hard to keep a positive outlook. You gotta have fun, right? And if I can't be happy for my friends, then what kind of friend am I? Plus, I'm still pretty new at this. Maybe, when I'm ten years in, I'll get fired up about people getting things I didn't, but right now, I'm extremely happy with how far I've come and where I'm at.
TB: How do you define success in comedy?
DR: I honestly don't know. I think I'd define success as making a living at comedy. And more specifically, making a living at something I created. Creative control. That's my main goal. If WOMEN or the Sex Nerd Sandra Podcast started making me a living, I'd be in utter heaven.
TB: What do you think is funny?
DR: The funniest thing in the world will always be someone falling down. I don't think I will ever write a joke funnier than someone eating shit on a skateboard. Barring that, though, what's funniest to me is honesty. And honesty itself isn't really funny, just what comes from it. People are funny! Everything we do all day is hilarious, because we're all awkward, blathering idiots with no idea how to interact with each other. We cover up our insecurities and our fears with lies or fronts or posturing, but if you lift that veil, you see humanity at its truest: klutzy, oblivious, terrified, self-obsessed, and desperate. Present those realities with confidence and you've taken the pain out of them, allowing the audience or the viewer or the reader to cackle at the absurdity in knowing that no human being ever knows what the hell is going on.
Talking with Dave Ross, I was reminded of a quote from Conan O'Brien. "Nobody in life gets exactly what they thought they were going to get. But if you work really hard and you're kind, amazing things will happen." And in this face-paced, modern world Holy Fuck is a little slice of amazing.