Rob Delaney wears many hats. He's a stand-up comic, a Twitter god, a father, a husband, the face of a board game, a writer with a memoir forthcoming and regular columns with Vice, and also a huge proponent of Southern Literature.
Complex connected with the funniest man on Twitter to talk about "War of Words," the board game inspired by his tweets, and what makes his social media presence so necessary.
Interview by Ross Scarano (@RossScarano)
I wanted to start off talking about the board game, since it’s timely. I’m curious about the thought process behind making it, behind putting your name on this thing?
A guy asked me what I thought about making a board game out of my tweets. He had a board game company and I said yes immediately—that I would, at least, very seriously think about it, because I really love board games. I wondered if people would think it was silly or weird, but the response has been quite positive. I think people realized I’m not doing it to make money; I'm doing it because it’s an amazingly done board game with my name on it. I approved everything and did test game plays and all that stuff.
So you don’t see it as a way to monetize the work that you do on Twitter?
No. I don’t think you make a board game in 2013 with the goal of making money. You'd have to fire yourself, if you were your own business manager. I make money by touring.
Do you see stand-up as an extension of the work you do on Twitter?
No, because I’ve been doing stand-up for longer than I've been on Twitter. I love writing jokes on Twitter. Having followers makes it easier to sell tickets on the road. Tweeting is not a marketable skill—it can lead to opportunities, but no one really gets paid to tweet.
With stand-up, you have the power of inflection, body language, and all these things that make it easier to shift gears between joking about absurd things and doing more serious satirical work, political bits. It seems tougher to do that sort of work on Twitter, where you don’t have as many tools available to you, when you've just got words. Yet you're someone who's capable of making that shift work. You're able to switch between multiple voices.
First, I’ll say thank you for thinking that, and then say that there are certainly people who are funnier than me, people who are smarter than me. But if there’s one thing I might be better than average at, it might be respecting the intelligence of the audience. Which his to say, I don’t worry. People who can’t handle those tonal shifts, I don’t care about them. I’m not going to engage on Twitter with people who say, "Hey, man, I’m here for the dick jokes." I don’t care why you came here. Most people get the shift; people are smarter than me. People are smarter than the producers of the Kardashian shows. There are a lot of smart people and kind people, funny people, and they find each other—especially online—rather easily, so I don’t hesitate to switch between an earnest Tweet supporting Planned Parenthood and then tweeting about the Japanese word for "beef whisperer." Those are some of the things I tweeted today, and people are going crazy! For the Planned Parenthood stuff, great, you know, fantastic! And I don’t care. If I say something about Planned Parenthood and people have a problem with that, that’s fantastic!
If you’re funny to men, but you’re not funny to women, you’re not funny. If you’re funny to white people, but you’re not funny to black people, you’re not funny. So as filthy and as muscular and as profane and as angry that some of my comedy is, I try to have it cross all those borders.
Do you catch much vitriol way for your politics?
I would say, quantitatively, yes, the number of angry tweets I get is high. But percentage wise, it’s quite small. I’ve enjoyed arriving in the public eye, or whatever, after years of Internet boot camp, watching how other people have dealt with it. I definitely have a playbook that I refer to, and I usually don't engage.
Is that the primary directive in your playbook?
Not necessarily. I’m grateful that anyone follows me on Twitter, and I want to respect them, so I try and write tweets that have substance. And you can argue a fart tweet doesn’t have substance but I try and do it in a pure manner, which is to say, I want it to be entertaining at best, or at worst, which is pretty still pretty good, something that makes you go, "Ew." Because, why were you looking at that? You took your phone out of your pocket at a meeting, or on some occasion where you should've been paying attention to your family, and you looked at Twitter so you are going to see my fart tweet.
Another aspect of your Twitter voice I'm interested in is how you openly speak out about women's rights.
Thanks for saying that. It’s mostly a utilitarian thing. Women are a little more than half of our planet in population. I had the very good fortune to be raised by an amazing mother, and my only sibling is a sister who's five years younger than me. I watched her grow up; I got to see my mom raise a boy and a girl, and now I’m a father married to a woman who has had two kids in two years. Along the way, I picked up that sexism and misogyny are going to be here after we get rid of homophobia and after we get rid of racism. It’s so much more entrenched. It hamstrings us globally. Warren Buffet actually wrote a pretty cool piece on it. You know, it’s a little dusty because he’s an old guy from Nebraska, and I saw some people give him guff about that, but the fact is that it was pretty progressive of him to write it. He talks about the foolishness of our planet, about how women have been allowed to be part of the workforce, and how now that they're going to be, what power that will unleash. Woman are just too important, and there are too many of them. I have an almost robotic feminism. I look at the status quo and can see that it doesn’t make sense. My feminism isn’t "Oh, sisters!" I’m just looking at men and the women who trample other women, and wondering, "Why are you doing that?" It’s like driving a car with the brakes on.
People buy into this belief that gender really does inform the way you act, and that women are actually this way or that way, in a way that isn’t acceptable when you talk about race, for instance.
Women and men are different from each other, but its fluid and changing. Do our brains function differently? Allegedly? I don’t know, but I know that they should have every opportunity, so I try to use my platform to help.
Your voice on Twitter is stereotypically masculine in a lot of ways.
There’s this debate between club comics and alternative comics, and I think it might've been Patton Oswald who said that, "If you can’t be funny in both, then you’re not funny." I agree with that. If you’re funny at the Upright Citizens Brigade but you’re not funny at improv in Galveston, Texas, then you’re not funny. I feel the same way about men and women: If you’re funny to men, but you’re not funny to women, you’re not funny. If you’re funny to white people, but you’re not funny to black people, you’re not funny. So as filthy and as muscular and as profane and as angry that some of my comedy is, I try to have it cross all those borders. It shouldn't be exclusive. Good comedy is powerful. It lubricates society, it connects people.
Tell me a little bit about your upcoming book.
I've done a show for a while now called “Naked and Bloody," and a publisher saw it and asked me if I wanted to write a a book. I said, "Yes, I do!" It’s a memoir.
What span of your life does it cover?
The earliest stuff is when I was a little kid, but it deals in detail with the big car accident I was in 11 years ago, getting sober, getting married and becoming a dad, and toiling in comedy until I was able to make a living. I love the style of Henry Miller’s Rosy Crucifixion trilogy, where it’s autobiographical but he’ll also just meander for four pages about a book that he read. I tried to use him as a template. Or, by contrast, the memoir of a politician. Politicians write books a couple of years before they run for big office so the people can get to know them, so stuff like that, where it’s autobiographical but I’m aggressively hammering my world view into your face, like a big asshole. Except I’m trying to do it in a funny way because shame on the comedian or the entertainer who doesn’t make their book very, very readable.
Have you been writing from young age?
One way or another yeah.
Who are some of the other authors you had on your mind while writing it, or that you admire in general?
Herman Melville and Toni Morrison. I read Open City by Teju Cole recently, and I’m crazy about it. Charles Portis, Nathanael West, Barry Hannah.
Barry Hannah’s Airships is a very important book to me.
He’s unbelievable! Isn’t it shitty that we all know who Cormac McCarthy is, but people don’t know Hannah?
It is shitty. I’m not mad at people who know about McCarthy, though; he's great in his own way.
He totally is, but there’s just a bit more sunshine in Barry Hannah, from a Southern Literature perspective.
Barry Hannah also has room for women. Cormac McCarthy will continue to write about the world as if women don’t exist.
Yeah. Have you read Suttree?
No, that's one of the only novels of his I have left. I understand it's super dense.
It’s so dense. I hear people say that it’s funny, but I put it down. I don’t want to carry a machete around with me to hack through this book. But I love Cormac McCarthy, no question.
It's sitting on my shelf at home. I’ll attempt it at some point but there’s no guarantee that I’ll finish.
Yeah, well, good luck
Interview by Ross Scarano (@RossScarano)