An observant mortal once said, “one can judge a man by the company he keeps.” Having cavorted with some of the most intriguing people on the planet Murray Valeriano is just the man to pay careful attention to. Did I happen to mention he is a brilliant comedian, writer, and human sponge? This Tennessee native and preacher’s son found his comedy calling in sunny California and soon began a successful writing career. Murray has written for networks like Comedy Central, VH1, E!, and MTV. Murray has also performed standup everywhere you can imagine and has opened for heavy hitters like Christopher Titus, George Lopez, Kevin Nealon, Kevin Pollack, and more. This captivating fellow possesses a remarkable wealth of pop culture knowledge and experience and it shines through on his popular “Roadstories” podcast. Once you stick a bunch of hilarious comics in room to talk comedy war stories it is simply magical. Remember all that talk about the company a man keeps? Judge away. You will be glad you did.
Serial Optimist: Hi Murray! You have a firm grasp of music history. Is there a genre of music that you just despise and why?
Murray Valeriano: Hi SO!
I really do love all kinds of music. Even the genres I don’t particularly care for, I can usually find something that I like. If I had to choose my least favorite, I guess it would be Christian Rock. I think the message has a lot to do with it. Christian Rock is always so positive and happy. Who wants that in music??? I want my music to be my vent for the feelings I can’t handle: heartbreak, anger, and frustration. I can handle happiness. I think. I’ll let you know when I find it.
Although, it would be an interesting experiment to give a Christian rocker a bag of heroin and a guitar and see what he comes up with.
SO: Wouldn’t that be a sight to behold! You got your start at the Icehouse in Pasadena, California. How did that come about? Was it an open mic?
Murray: I had just moved to California and I wanted to get into comedy. I auditioned for a sketch show that was going to be in the Ice House Annex (that was their amateur room, now it’s called Stage 2 and it’s a great room.) Well, the director of that show pissed off the booker and she fired him and told me I was welcome to stay. So, I would show up to the club on Friday and Saturday nights not on the schedule, but they would throw me on stage to do improv or fill in on a sketch or do a quick stand up set.
One Friday, the booker saw a 3 man show I did and asked if we could do a sketch show the following Friday. We said of course. We met at one of the guy’s houses that Thursday night and came up with a bunch of stuff for Friday. After that show, the booker asked if we would be the regular Friday and Saturday night show for a while. That lasted almost 2 years. 4 to 8 shows a week.
SO: That is quite the fortuitous turn of events. What was your trigger to enter the comedy world? Did growing up the son of a preacher push you in the direction of comedy?
Murray: I always wanted to be a comedian. I don’t think being the son of a preacher made me think “I have to do comedy.” It mostly just made me think, “I gotta get the fuck out of here!”
SO: I don’t blame you. You’ve done your fair share of comedy touring. What are some of your favorite venues to perform at? Can you recant a particularly strange night performing stand-up?
Murray: The Improv is my favorite chain of clubs in the country. They know how to run a show and they treat the comics AND the audience with respect.
One of the strangest nights of comedy happened to me recently. I was asked to do a corporate at a club. They told me that the company was having an induction party. They would do their ceremony for an hour, and then me and the other comic would go on. Cool.
I walk into the showroom and two midgets wave metal detectors over me and yell ‘He’s clear!” One of them was dressed as a leprechaun, he called himself Don the Leprechaun and the other looked exactly like CeeLo Green, but called himself 48 Cent or something and kept yelling, “I’m short change!”
The company’s idea of an induction ceremony was their attempt at a roast. They got their inductees on stage and just insulted them and their spouses with no humor involved whatsoever. But, since everybody, and I mean everybody, was extremely drunk, nobody cared.
This one-hour ceremony went on for 2 hours. I told the manager I was leaving. He asked me to do him a personal favor and just do 5 minutes so it would cover his ass. Since I really like this club and this guy, I said OK.
The sound guy attempted to introduce me, but nobody heard him. I pushed my way on stage. Nobody was sitting down. They were all standing up doing shots and ordering more drinks.
I get to the stage where Don the Leprechaun and 48 Cent are having a sword fight with toy light sabers. I break it up and grab the mic.
I start talking and nobody even notices I’m there. I’m yelling at them to get their attention then all of the sudden I get pelted with something. I look down and Don the Leprechaun and 48 Cent are chucking chocolate gold coins at me.
I pick up a handful and chuck them back. They throw more. I throw more. This is not in good fun. They are pissed and I am pissed. Then this guy walks on stage with 2 shots of tequila, sets them on the stool and grabs the mic out of my hand. He starts to say something, but I grabbed the mic and tell him to get the fuck off my stage and he just stood there. I shoot his two shots of tequila, tell everybody to suck it, drop the mic and walked off.
The club gave me an extra hundred bucks that night.
SO: HOLY YELLOW BRICK ROAD! Wish I could see THAT on YouTube. Hilarious. Where do you stand on clubs vs. alt venues? In your opinion, does one need to be proficient at both to be considered a well-rounded comic?
Murray: I like comedy clubs. I always have. There’s even a small part of me that wishes people could still smoke in them. A small part.
I also like performing in the alt venues, rock clubs and theaters. Just not a Starbucks. There was a show in a Starbucks here in town and I was like, this is where I draw the line.
As far as being a well-rounded comedian, I think you just need to be a good comedian. If you look at the guys who started the alt scene, they were working comedians first. They knew the rules and how to break them. By the way, I think it’s hysterical that there are classes on how to be an alternative comedian.
Murray At The Ice House
SO: That is a hoot. Did you jump from NJ to New York to Los Angeles directly or did you have some hops in-between? What do you enjoy most about living in Los Angeles?
Murray: I pretty much came right to Los Angeles. I love it. Everybody says it’s one of the few places you can go to the beach and go skiing in the same day. I should point out that everybody says that, but nobody ever does it.
SO: Ain’t that the truth. By your own admission you’ve “written for just about every network on basic cable.” What are some of the rewards and drawbacks writing for television?
Murray: I don’t know if there are really any drawbacks to writing in television. Every once in a while you’ll get an executive who got into TV because they were tired of being a lawyer. They are the ones who usually tell a room full of writers and comedians what’s funny and what isn’t.
I have been fortunate to work with the same group of people for the last few years on different shows. We’ve all become really good friends. So, that is just one of the rewards of writing in TV, working with your friends.
SO: Nice perk! You wrote for one of the first shows to combine Internet and television, MTV’s “Web-Riot.” Where do you see television programming of this nature heading? What do you think might be the next big wave of original TV content?
Murray: Who knows what the next big wave of television is going to be? If you know that, you could make a lot of money. Right now, “clip shows” are all the rage. They’re cheap, easy to produce and the Internet is an endless supply of content for these shows. Like all other genres, that trend will fade and the next thing will come along. I did meet with a guy who is doing interactive webisodes. You sign in and when the main character gets a text, you get the text on your phone, or if he gets a phone call, you get the phone call. It’s pretty cool. I’m curious to see if that takes off.
SO: That does sound intriguing. You’ve been a frequent guest on Jackie Kashian’s Dork Forest podcast. On the program you’ve exercised your music knowledge quite successfully. What drew you to music in the first place? Did you ever have opportunities to be in a band?
Murray: Did I ever play in a band?? Perhaps you’ve heard of Bitch Pad? Or the Frank Westin Project? You haven’t? I guess you haven’t been hanging out in my living room or the rent-by-the-hour rehearsal space in Van Nuys.
I’ve played in bands on and off since high school. All for fun, no real pursuits of being a rock star.
SO: On Dork Forest you’ve also mentioned your hobby of surfing. When did you learn to surf and what’s been your most frightening experience in the water?
Murray: At the risk of sounding like every cliché surf character in every movie, it’s more than a hobby.
I’ve been surfing for about 12 or 13 years now. I’ve been pretty lucky. I haven’t had that many frightening experiences in the water. Being held under by the waves is a given, so once you’re good with that, it’s not that scary. The first great white shark I saw was pretty intense. It was about 9 or 10 feet long. It came up between me and my friend (about 2 feet away from me) but it bumped her board, not mine, so she’s got a better story.
SO: Gulp. On the subject of podcasts, you also host your own Roadstories podcast. On the show you talk to comedians about their experiences on and off the stage. What episode has stirred up the most attention from your fans? Any guest you are just itching to have on the podcast?
Murray: I’ve been really fortunate to have some of the best comedians working as guests. Doug Benson, Chris Hardwick, Maria Bamford, Kyle Kinane, Orny Adams, Greg Behrehndt, Graham Elwood. They all have their own unique experiences and stories. I pretty much get whomever I ask. Although, there’s one old school comic who I wanted to get on the show, so I sent him a (probably drunken) message on Facebook. I don’t know him personally, so it was a complete out of the blue email. This was the exchange:
ME: Hey, I’m a big fan. I host the Roadstories podcast. I would consider it a thrill and an honor if you would be a guest on the show.
ME: So, does that mean you will do it?
I never heard from him again.
The one story that stands out to me is from Chris Fairbanks. His first time on the show he told a story about being roofied by a dude and waking up in his hotel room with the guy standing over him. It was so intense and uncomfortable when he told it, but then he said something so funny at the end that we all lost it. It’s a great episode and it got a lot of attention.
SO: Dang! No words. I haven’t watched MTV since they played music videos continuously. Remember those days? Which brings me to another show you’ve written for, “Ridiculousness”. The program examines viral videos similar to “Tosh.0″ and “Web Soup”. But unlike those shows “Ridiculousness” does not show dangerous stunts and has a lot more celebs guests. What have been some of your favorite clips? How long does it take to write an episode?
Murray: I have written over one hundred episodes of clip shows and I have to say, I don’t have any favorite clips. However, I am intrigued by certain trends going around the Internet. For example, launching a bottle rocket out of yours or your friend’s butt crack. Spoiler alert, it never works.
What happens is you drop your pants, bend over and your friend puts the bottle rocket in your butt, lights it and runs. The reason is doesn’t work is, when the bottle rocket ignites and the sparks shoot out, they burn your butt and your butt cheeks tense up, clenching the bottle rocket and keeping it from taking off and it blows up in your ass. That’s right; take that Tom Brokaw and your so-called Greatest Generation! We’re shooting bottle rockets out of our asses!
SO: Butt cheeks just clenched around the world. As the year-end draws near do you have any resolutions for 2013? What’s next career-wise?
Murray: 2013 should be a fun year. Ill be hitting the road, probably writing more jokes about people lighting bottle rockets out of their butts and more Roadstories podcasts.
It looks like I will be doing the NY Podcast festival in January. I have a lot of great New York comics lined up. I’m looking forward to that.
SO: Sounds like a full schedule! We can’t wait to be party to your stories and stand-up in the New Year.