Interview: Phil Mazo (2011)
"You’re in the zone and can do no wrong."
Image courtesy of Phil Mazo
Not everyone can do stand-up comedy. For most audiences, stand-up comedy is a black and white issue – the comics are either funny or they’re not. He or she cannot skate by on looks or personality alone. If the audience isn’t laughing, then the comedian is bombing and that’s a harsh reality that every stand-up comic faces sooner or later. It takes a very special person with steely mental fortitude to face that inevitable silence and keep going. Phil Mazo is one of those individuals who was made for the stage, crafting a killer routine that blends his highbrow intellect with banal topics. Busy traveling abroad, Mazo was happy to answer a few questions and give Working Author some insight into his career and the rigors of being a stand-up comic.
“I’m mostly a joke-teller,” Phil Mazo says, describing his act, “and I tell mostly jokes of a dark, often awkward and uncomfortable nature – which usually come from what might be deemed the ‘wrong’ point of view.” One of his hilarious bits focuses on bathroom attendants and how he doesn’t want to tip someone simply because they handed him a towel. On the other hand, he wouldn’t mind being a bathroom attendant in a women’s restroom, but he’d feel like he’d need to tip the women and they would have to hand him the towels.
Fans of Mazo’s comedy will appreciate how sexually focused many of his bits are. He jokes about how he’d have to flush his computer down the toilet if the cops ever raided his home because there’s so much porn stored on his hard drive. “I’ve always been obsessed with sex and much of my sense of humor has always revolved around it – at least as far back as high school,” Mazo explains. He admits that that observation doesn’t distinguish him much from the average, sexually frustrated teenage boy, but he believes he has a deeper fascination. “[Sex is] an act that deviates humans from civilized culture and resembles the behavior of the filthy, disgusting animals that we actually are. Sure, there’s also eating, pissing, and shitting, but those actions are unavoidable for survival. Whereas sex comes from an animalistic urge that modern man can choose to deny or surrender to, and the vast majority of us give in to it to the extent of our capabilities – from merely masturbating to outright orgies or even behavior that’s so depraved it doesn’t even have anything to do with procreation. And submitting to these animal instincts in and of itself contradicts every polite theory we have when it comes to gender roles and other ‘philosophies.’”
For Mazo, the comedy in sex derives from what he sees as ridiculous and irrational and ultimately socially hypocritical. “That said, my act is starting to get a little less focused on sex, I think for a number of reasons. While I’m proud, for lack of a better term, of the sexual comedy I’ve put out there, by now I feel like I’ve been there, done that and am interested in other creative challenges. I also spent a year abstaining from masturbation, which, strangely, seems to have helped cool my sexual appetite a bit. I think I’ve also gotten a lot of my previous sexual frustration out of my system after having more experiences. And finally, I’m just a little bit older and my mind is less clouded with the fog of lust.”
This August will mark Mazo’s eighth year doing stand-up comedy. In that time, he’s put out a comedy album titled Pervert, written humor for Sports Illustrated, New York Post and The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Jokes, and has performed in several comedy festivals the world over. He was recently booked for a two-month tour in New Zealand. Eight years ago, however, Mazo was still deciding on what kind of comedic entertainment he would get into. “I mostly wanted to be a comedic performer, but I didn’t know how anyone got into that; I assumed the right person just thinks you’re funny and throws you in something. I had no idea that you have to maybe start at open mikes and not get paid and work really hard for years just to get good, never mind find opportunities. I considered taking a ‘sensible’ route and trying to find a ‘regular job’ in entertainment to be around it and maybe hope that someday someone would notice me and put me in it.” He ended up selling tickets for The Underground Lounge in Manhattan. It wasn’t until he caught a show at Ha! Comedy Club near Times Square that he made up his mind. “I got the encouragement I was looking for, because I saw a comedian bomb as horribly as I’ve ever seen anyone bomb since, to the point where a teenage heckler from a prom group caused him to start crying onstage. Not realizing that he was a barker who was given stage time in exchange for handing out flyers on the street, I left thinking, I could do way better than that guy, and he’s a professional!” Mazo quit his job selling tickets and found his first open mike shortly after.
While it’s easy to imagine all of the difficulties and journeyman aspects of being a stand-up comic, Mazo surprises by not listing “travel” as the worst part of the profession. “It can feel near-impossible to get booked – especially at first,” he says. “Finding gigs is in itself a fulltime job, beyond just working on your act. And it’s hard not to compromise yourself in order to get booked or re-booked, since most road bookers are, understandably, looking for acts that will please the broadest audience possible and get the fewest complaints…. In that sense, I often prefer doing non-paying shows in New York or Los Angeles, where I feel more free to do whatever I want, and where the audiences want just that.”
Despite the rigors of stand-up comedy, like hecklers or audiences that are too dumb or too drunk to appreciate any one comedian’s comedy, there’s a very good reason why so many people are enticed by it. Mazo articulates it well when he says, “You have complete control and a range of creative outlets – you’re the writer, director, performer. You don’t need to collaborate with or rely on anyone else. All you need is an audience, and what they see is entirely your vision – at least to the extent that you’ve personally carried it out. You get all the credit – or blame – and you get it instantly.”
“There’s just nothing like when you’re connecting with an audience who gets you,” Mazo says, "you’re in the zone and can do no wrong, and you’re killing in front of a packed room.”
Learn more about Phil Mazo and see where he’s performing next at www.philmazo.com.