In many ways, stand-up comedy is about being able to relate to people. It’s the shared human experience that gets people laughing, because they know exactly what the comedian is talking about. This seeming logistical necessity always makes discovering a young comedian who is actually funny a pleasant surprise. One doesn’t expect youth to have enough life experience to give any humorous insight on the human condition, much less thrive in an arena that is terrifying at any age. Yet stand-up comedian Rob Gleeson accomplishes both with ease, telling relatable jokes that go beyond how horrible airline food is or how difficult it is to date and surgically striking at the absurdities that make life so interesting. Gleeson met with Working Author for a cup of coffee to talk about the intricacies of his work, his upcoming film and his debut album Getting Normal.
While he has it, Rob Gleeson doesn’t mind highlighting his youth during his sets. “When I grow up,” one of his jokes begins, “I want to be a stay-at-home stepdad.” Yet at 23, he already has a wealth of experience that shows in his even and measured delivery. “I started hanging out in clubs right around when I turned 18,”Gleeson says with a smile. “There was this black box theater in Denver looking for a comic to open for their shows…. I told them I had all this experience and toured…I told them I was much older than I was. They gave me ten dollars a set. And those were my first sets.” Of course his performance skills came naturally long before he stood in front of a paying audience. “I was the youngest of three. My older sisters are ten and eleven years older. So with such a huge age gap I always felt I had to compensate. I felt like I had to be more mature than I was. It was very difficult to hold their attention. So I was always coming up with something that was different or that would get a rise out of them.”
Now recently graduated from college, Gleeson lives in Los Angeles, but his home could have easily have been New York City. Luckily for Angelinos, Gleeson competed in the 2010 Laughing Skull Comedy Festival and won the New Faces Contest. He was signed shortly after and since his representation is based in Los Angeles it made sense that he live there as well. It’s obvious that Gleeson has a love-hate relationship with the city. “It’s good,” he says, but then adds, “It’s a grind. I think LA is just parking tickets and Skinny Jeans. I’m trying to adjust.”
Regarding his comedy, Gleeson takes a few lengthy moments to gather his thoughts. “I’m definitely not dark,” he begins before pausing for introspection again. “I would definitely describe [my comedy] as lighthearted and intelligent. Witty and a little bit biting. I’m not trying to tear down walls, but…every comic should have a point of view and if I have an opinion on something I’ll make it heard but I’m not going to jam it down your throat…. I don’t have an agenda.” Gleeson fans will be surprised to know that 98% of his material is anecdotal truth, though not always accurate. So while he has definitely experienced and is annoyed by people who add “holic” at the end of innocuous things like sushi – as one of his jokes points out – he hasn’t exactly met a woman who wants to be a rocketship.
What’s fascinating about Gleeson – and all stand-up comics to a degree – is that the actual act of doing the comedy doesn’t seem to be the hardest part of the job. When asked what is the hardest part? Gleeson says, “The volatility. It’s very up and down…financially, emotionally…ask any comic. That’s a true to the core answer. You have to stay grounded. You have to stay up when you’re down and down when you’re up and keep centered if you want to have longevity. Maybe that’s everything in life. I’ve never done anything else so I don’t know.”
“Stand-up comedy is like therapy,” Gleeson says regarding the title of his debut album Getting Normal. “Therapy for me and pretty much every comic. Comedy is sort of a release.” On the other hand, he also sees the absurdity of what he does night after night as he describes the job. “Go into a room where all the lights are on you, everyone’s looking at you and there’s no one behind you. It’s very unnatural. Part of it for me is that it’s the least normal thing you can do.” Despite the connotation-heavy title, Getting Normal is less a dissection of Gleeson’s psyche and more quick-witted observations on life. There are a few act-outs and some good crowd work as well as more callbacks than one might expect, giving the performance a kind premeditated direction rather than being a bunch of jokes loosely strung together. As such, Getting Normal is a solid choice for any lover of live comedy.
Rob Gleeson is also starring in an upcoming film as Matt, a young man who reconnects with high school friends to save his grandfather’s cheese shop. While film seems to be a more complex medium to work in than stand-up comedy, Gleeson doesn’t seem to find it any more or less difficult. “It’s different. Of course you want to use your comedic instincts and timing. The biggest difference for me has been that I’m portraying a character who isn’t really the source of a lot of the humor; the comedy happens around him as opposed to happening because of him.” While Gleeson couldn’t divulge too much about the project, he wanted to ensure viewers that “It’s honestly, really funny. It’s dirty, but it’s hilarious. Plus, there’s a storyline and a plot that keeps you interested.”