Ben Roy on Those Who Can't, His New Album and Leaving Denver

Those who've only seen Denver comedian and Westword cover boy Ben Roy his brief television appearances are missing the singular experience of watching him perform live, when they can hear his jokes in their windy entirety. But between moonlighting as the frontman for local music-scene champions Spells and winging his way across the country to headline shows, Roy isn't appearing at his home club as much as he used to — which is why the opportunity to catch him recording a live album on Wednesday, March 11 at Comedy Works is a rare opportunity. The ever-prolific Roy — whose previous recordings, I Got Demons and No Enlightenment in Sobriety, were instant staples of comedy-nerd album collections — has more to say than ever. Westword recently sat down with Roy at Mutiny to discuss recording his new album; the recent announcement that Those Who Can't, the series he co-created with his Grawlix co-stars, has received a ten-episode order from Tru TV; and his move from Denver to more prosperous shores.

Westword: So, what's the big news that just broke about Those Who Can't?

Ben Roy: The show has been picked up for ten episodes. 

Oh, congratulations. That's awesome.

To air on Tru TV in early 2016. 

Do you guys know when you go into production yet?

We start writing next week and production would be sometime in the summer. 

Are you flying out there to shoot it?

Yeah, I've learned as this goes along that it has to do with tax breaks.

Oh, yeah, Colorado gets like one film a year or something that they can offer incentives to, and Hateful Eight got them.  

The incentives are ridiculous in California. And the infrastructure is there. It seems like we'll continue filming in Van Nuys. So, it's cool.

It's also probably easier to get people like Kate Berlant and Rory Scovel to show up.

Yeah, they live there. So everybody gets to go home to their own beds at night. And — you can write this if you want — it looks as if I'll be moving. Which is a painful thing and I'm not at all excited about that part of it. I'm excited for the opportunity, but moving to Los Angeles is not something that I'm all that excited to do. My wife is excited, though. She just thrives on change, her personality is such that she gets bored easily. So the more routine things become, the more she gets excited to change.

There are a lot more models out there for her to photograph. 

Yeah. And she was born in Long Beach and grew up there. If I was by myself, I would just stay at an Air Bnb or something during the time I had to be there and come back during the off-time, but I can't be away from them that long. I don't want to have my son grow up and have major things happen for him that I'm not there to watch. And being away from my wife is really hard. I'm probably a bit co-dependent. I'm not like a mess or anything, but I was gone for sixteen days the last time we were out here filming and it was painful for everybody. I know she's fine. She adapts very easily and she's super-personable and she has goals and dreams that will benefit from being out in L.A. as well, but it's my son that I worry about the most. I get super-emotional thinking about it.

Yeah, he's all settled here. That's a tough one. Is he in like a transitional grade, where he'd be changing schools anyway?

Yeah, he will be. Which is the only positive. He has fifth grade, but he would have to switch from elementary to middle school anyway. You know, if it does well and we have four or five years under our belt back there, maybe he can come back for high school, or we can move back. I just don't want him to feel like he never got settled in one place. So that's a big concern. And who knows, we may bounce back and forth while the show's not in production. 

So, does that lend the recording of this album an extra sense of finality? Whether or not it was by design, it feels like the end of chapter. 

It is. Big time. We kind of knew. We had an inkling that it was gonna go; everything seemed to be pointing in that direction and I wanted to get this stuff down before things started to get crazy with the writing so that later on this year, when I'm in the middle of it, I can release something and continue to keep some momentum going on the standup side. But it's also kind of a farewell in a sense.

Yeah, it's your home club. 

I grew up in Maine, and I have an extreme  fondness for Maine and the people I grew up around. Because that was my childhood, so there's a nostalgia for it. But I always say: This is the place I grew up. This is the place that I retreated to, where I tried to figure who I was and reinvent myself. So my love for this city is built on the foundation of being the place where I started to get a hold on my problems and figure out what my passions were. You know, music and everything else I've done. It's given me the chance to get into music, which is such an important part of my life. So this is extremely bittersweet every time I think, "Holy shit, I'm getting this chance..." But I started with standup here, so I want to close out my time here with standup. And I'll come back.

This is a city that's proud of its people. Look at people's reaction when Kronberg or T.J. Miller or Rob Gleeson come back. People come back regularly. The city is proud of them and doesn't hold any sense of animosity for them leaving. Standup was where this all started; it's what afforded us a lot of opportunity. At Lion's Lair and the Squire Lounge and going on to Los Comicos Super Hilariosos and Comedy Works, this is where we started. That's why I love recording at Comedy Works. I can't even begin to thank Wende Curtis enough for what she did. I don't think I'd be where I am if it wasn't for her. I shouldn't say that; I mean I owe a lot to myself and my family and my peers in comedy, but she's a big piece of that pie. Giving me the chance to showcase for Montreal and giving me headlining spots when nobody else would. She just has a lot of foresight and a lot of love for nurturing new talent, so being able to record this album there is going to be awesome. 

What makes this album different than your other two?

I'm particularly proud of the stuff I'm going to put on this one, it's the stuff I've been working on for a year and a half. I feel like I've really honed it and I'm excited to get it out there. 

Do you burn off the material once it's recorded? Are you going to tell those jokes anymore?

I'll do it on the road if I haven't been to that club or the crowd's not that familiar, but I'll probably stop doing that stuff around here. A lot of the stuff on the old album, the stuff about the apocalypse, about drinking and the "family is cancer," I haven't really done that since the album came out. Not because I follow the Louis CK model or anything, but it is good to keep you writing. I'm already thinking about what I want to do for the fourth album. Not a lot of people are too eager for me on TV right now because I don't fit stylistically.

I was watching that clip from Adam Devine's House Party and it's like only half of one your jokes.

Yeah, late night and showcase sets on television are not conducive to benefitting long-form comics. I just don't write short jokes very well, and I don't want to. I like storytelling. It all comes from my fear that I'm going to be deemed stupid. Because I'm always so sensitive and insecure about the fact that I did so poorly in high school. I'm always worried that people are going to think I'm stupid or I'm going to get a word wrong or fuck something up, so I become obsessive about the things I say. So all my bits tend to be longer because I want to address a potential counter-argument. Because I can hear people saying that in their heads. So that just becomes like an obsessive behavior about making sure that I don't appear like I haven't thought about something. I don't care if I'm wrong. I'm wrong on shit all the time. It's interesting, this idea that we have about standup, that you're not doing it right unless you're bombing. Why isn't that the same with thought? You know what I mean. To me, with ideas and theories, you're not learning anything unless you're bombing once in a while. Unless somebody tells you that you're full of shit, or you get proven wrong. 

Nothing will inspire to learn and remember something like being embarrassed. 

Exactly. Or if somebody just creates this counter argument that I can't get out of. Like on the last album, I said that I believe animals are parasitic creatures. People are always ready to make counter-points or point it out when I'm petting a dog. I like that. But if I can present a compelling argument, sometimes I'll be right and sometimes I'll be wrong. 

But at least they'll keep thinking about it. They'll forget someone's topical joke, but they'll remember something that they disagreed with, or that challenged their beliefs. When it works, at least. Sometimes, you can see people shutting other ideas out of their brains.

For sure. Facebook has become the funniest environment for my new favorite kind of post, which is "if you're one those people who believes..." you know, fill-in-the-blank "then prepare to be de-friended." Basically what you're saying is "unless you agree with everything I'm saying, then you're not my friend anymore." What a boring stance. 

What difference is it going to make, honestly? Am I going to change someone's mind? "Oh, Byron unfriended me, I guess what happened in Ferguson was wrong after all." 

I used to work with this dipshit, who I was quite good friends with for a while. When I expressed my views on religion and he publicly insulted me on his page about it. Another bashed me on twitter because of my viewpoint about voting. It's like, "What the fuck do you care?" I'm somebody who'll support and defend your right to say and believe things, as long as they're not infringing on other people. What I believe isn't something that affect somebody, so to have somebody outraged about it is ridiculous. 

None of it matters either way.

I think that with this new album — I listened to the first two again, and I'm proud of them for where I was at the time. I talk about people on TV and things like that a lot. Shit I just don't care about anymore. I'm not saying that like I'm so much better now.

It's an interesting demarcation of style and growth though. Your content and presentation has changed. You're sitting on a stool now!

I think that the more and more I've read, like when we talked about reading, I really got into reading about evolutionary biology over the past couple years. Evolutionary psychology, Darwinism and what's funny is that the more of that stuff I read, the less angry I am. The more I read about how human thought evolved, and the more I look  around I find that I'm just not as mad. I'm still passionate about things, but I'm not as angry about why people do things. My last album was hard to listen to because it was so aggressive. Now I want to play with ideas more.  

Ben Roy will be recording his latest album at the Comedy Works on March 11, and will be headlining at the club on March 29 and April 1. Tickets cost $12 through the Comedy Works' website. 

Follow Byron Graham on twitter @ByronFG for more mildly amusing sequences of words.
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Byron Graham is a writer, comedian and gentleman thief from Denver. Co-host of Designated Drunkard: A Comedy Drinking Game, the deathless Lion's Lair open mic and the Mutiny Book Club podcast, Byron also writes about comedy for Westword. He cannot abide cowardice, and he's never been defeated in an open duel.
Contact: Byron Graham