Matt McCarthy Presents 'Marking Out' Comedy Extravaganza in NYC
Comedian Matt McCarthy loves professional wrestling, and thinks the sport deserves to be viewed and appreciated like any of the performing arts. For that matter, so should comedy. "I see a lot of parallels between stand-up and wrestling," he says. "They're both bastardized, in a way."
And so on Monday, Jan. 24, McCarthy presents the first installment of "Marking Out," a new "comedy extravaganza" to be held the third Monday of every month at the Ace Hotel in NYC -- with a name inspired by the experience of watching pro wrestlers.
In wrestling, a "mark" is a fan who believes that the characters and events depicted in professional wrestling are real -- or at least reacts as if they don't know them to be staged. "'Marking out' is when you know wrestling is fake," McCarthy explains, "but you get excited and lost in it anyway. So I'm calling the show 'Marking Out' because you know it's just a joke, but you laugh anyway."
Calling attention to joke-telling as performance art reveals McCarthy's cerebral approach to working as a stand-up comic, which he has been doing in NYC and across the country for about eight years. When I ask McCarthy to describe his comedy writing and performance schedule, he pauses for a moment to make mental calculations, then decides, "Well, it's all I think about."
McCarthy doesn't intend to forcefully redefine "funny" or challenge his audience like Andy Kaufman, though, who dared people to even get the joke. Although McCarthy is well versed in the history and psychology of comedy, his ideas of experimentation and pushing boundaries are still all about reacting to and getting laughs from the audience. He says that each "Marking Out" lineup is carefully selected to reflect all aspects of what comedy can be, from stand-up, sketch, and improv to its more intangible, underrepresented iterations.
"The comedy spectrum is so wide and varied that there needs to be a place for all of it to come together," he says. "No one should go into 'Marking Out' expecting anything but funny. But funny is very subjective, which is what makes it all so exciting."
The lineup for the first "Marking Out" features stand-up comics Vince Averill, Sean Donnelly, Hannibal Buress, and Anthony Jeselnik, with a musical performance by Adira Amram. McCarthy also promises a special unannounced guest headliner and extra surprises at every show.
"I just wanted to put on the comedy show that I wanted to see," he says. "Everyone on the first show is a favorite… Ultimately, this is going to be a comedy show for comedians, and I know a New York City audience will appreciate that."
McCarthy believes that live comedy is the purest form of entertainment, based on the interaction between a solo storyteller and his audience -- a tradition as old as human history. Yet he also recognizes that this might be the very reason comedy audiences don't take it very seriously, "because it looks so easy. The greats perform so effortlessly that people take it for granted. If there was more awareness of the process of stand-up, it would definitely raise people's appreciation level."
Fellow stand-up comic Patton Oswalt has argued that if audiences would follow comedians the same way they follow touring rock bands, they could learn to recognize and enjoy the artistic process that is part of every comedian's development. McCarthy knows that this is an uphill battle, though:
|Matt McCarthy - Musicians vs. Comedians|
Of course, the redheaded actor-comedian is most recognizable for his work in television commercials, and he recently flew to Los Angeles to shoot new spots for Starburst and Best Buy. McCarthy's biggest break came when he was cast as a cable guy in a series of spots for Verizon Fios, a role which earned him the 2008 ECNY Award for "Best Performance in a Commercial or Episode of Law & Order." But he discovered the negative side effects of instant national exposure when one of those Verizon ads aired repeatedly during TV coverage of the 2008 Summer Olympics. ("One of my friends told me, 'Dude, seriously, you were on the Olympics more than Michael Phelps'," McCarthy recalls.)
"There's really no preparing one's self for the loss of anonymity," he says. "It was a big adjustment getting used to being stared at on the train, things like that. I've never had a negative reaction, though. What's funny is, for some reason, people think if you've been on TV you must have bad hearing [when they're talking about you]. 'Um, yeah, I'm sitting right here. I can hear you. Yes, I'm me, thanks'."
But he's since learned to cautiously appreciate fans' reactions, and the way fame has helped him move forward in his comedy career.
"It just gives people a frame of reference as to who I am," he says. "'You know, that guy from the thing.' 'Oh yeah, he's funny.' The challenge becomes showing people you can be funny in more ways than they've seen from you."
So what advice does McCarthy have for aspiring comedians who are just getting started at their local comedy clubs, and hope to turn an open mic night into a career? "Perform and write as much as you can. It sounds dismissive, but it's true. There's no other way. Find an open mic, find all the open mics. If there isn't one, start it yourself. Being funny doesn't hurt either."
Enjoy the very first installment of "Marking Out" on Monday, Jan. 24 at 8 p.m. at Liberty Hall at the Ace Hotel, 20 W. 29th St. (at Broadway), NYC. Doors open at 7:30 p.m. "Marking Out" continues on the third Monday of every month.
For more info about Matt McCarthy and "Marking Out," visit www.mccarthyredhead.com.
You can also buy his new comedy album, Come Clean, and follow Matt on Twitter @mccarthyredhead. And be sure to check out Front Page Films for hilarious videos by McCarthy, Oren Brimer, and Pete Holmes.
-- Daniel Lehman