Steve Rannazzisi is best-known to fans as the long-suffering Kevin MacArthur on FXX's The League, but he's also a prolific standup comedian. Touring the country regularly, Rannazzisi has seen his career progress from humble beginnings working the door at the infamous Comedy Store in Los Angeles to performing on Conan, @Mindnight and the Comedy Central Roast of James Franco. We caught up with Rannazzisi in advance of his headlining engagement at Comedy Works to discuss fantasy football fans, putting a new hour together, and why people's passion for the ridiculous is a recipe for comedy.
Westword: You're a regular at the Comedy Works. How did your relationship with them start?
Steve Rannazzisi: I filmed a movie called Nowhereland in Denver back in 2007. The Comedy Works was kind enough to let me pop in and do spots while I was in town shooting the movie. Since then I've come back several times to headline, and they've always been very very kind to me. Plus, I've always been in love with this club after listening to Skanks for the Memories, by Dave Attell, which is one of my top five comedy albums of all time.
What do you like most about performing in Colorado?
The Comedy Works in Denver is widely considered one of the best comedy clubs in the country. The club is in a great location, the people are always smart, passionate crowds. It's also just an easy city to walk around in with some awesome eats.
Your last special, Manchild, came out a couple years ago. Are you working on new material?
I am working on all new material. This show I'll be doing this weekend is a whole new hour from the last time. I hope to shoot this new material for a special in April or May. I'm really psyched about how it's coming along.
Have you found that comedy nerd-dom and the degree of inside-baseball-type information that comedy fans have access to has changed people's expectations about how much material a comic should be able to generate?
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The bar is set pretty high to try and come up with a new hour each year. I haven't exactly had a time when I believed I'd be able to do that, but I think over eighteen months you should be able to develop a new hour. It's important to give fans new material and watch you grow as a comedian. Also, they do sometimes want to hear some of the older stuff that they are more familiar with, so it's a nice balance of back-and-forth. For me it's all about life experiences and having the time to develop those stories, and make them into really, really funny material.
How does the process of putting a new hour together work for you?
For me, I just think about the things I want to talk about. I'll start to develop some ideas on stage, working about fifteen-minute blocks at a time. Then I'm putting those blocks together and trying to form for maybe twenty-to-thirty minutes of stage time and taking that time out on the road. That's when I'm developing those blocks into an hour and seeing really what lives and what has to die; I'm seeing what wouldn't go away and what can be edited. So it's a process of starting small and building on it.
Football season is the time of year where I have to pretend to like other people's fantasy teams. Truth is, I couldn't care less. No one can. Hearing about other people's fantasy teams is like listening to their dreams: You're the only who cares! That being said, league fans are awesome and I love how they are so passionate about our little show. But yes, I get to hear a lot of sob stories. Keep reading for more from Steve Rannazzisi. Were you much of a sports fan before you took that role?
I was and still am a huge sports fan. I'm a New Yorker, so the way it breaks for me is Yankees, Knicks, Rangers and Giants. Nothing much to root for there. I guess the Rangers have got a shot.
Why do you think it's such a rich vein for humor?
Passion. People love their shit. They want to win and they want to see you lose. Plus, they want to make fun of you when you do. It's just a recipe for humor. Passion + Ridiculousness = Comedy.
You're in a pretty interesting lineage of comedians who started out by working the door at the Comedy Store. How did that experience shape your early career and form relationships with comics?
The Comedy Store in Los Angeles is my Shawshank Redemption. I hated it while I was there, but I still go every night when I'm in town. It's the place I learned the most about comedy -- but it's also where I learned to hate the audiences and sometimes the other comedians. In any case, I wouldn't be where I am without that place. I'd probably be a lot further along!
When did you start shooting your Daddy Knows Best web series? How has the response been so far?
I came up with DKB about three years ago with my good friends and comedians Jeff Danis and Ryan O'Neil. No, not that Ryan O'Neal. They are hilarious writer/directors that I have known for a while. We wrote and shot that in two weeks. It was a very fun process. We didn't have to listen to any say so from anyone but us. Anything we found funny, we put in. There was no second guessing, and I loved that.
In general, is film and TV work more of a way for you to increase your bookings and ticket sales as a standup, or did you see standup as more of a platform to an acting career?
For me, it's been truly hand in hand. I started doing both around the same time, so I really could not choose between them. One helps the other and vice versa. But there is nothing that feels better performance-wise than a live show. Nothing.
Do you have anything else coming up on the horizon that you want to mention before we wrap up?
I am working on a new hour of stand up that I hope to film in the spring. I also sold a show with my pal Ari Shaffir for the both of us to star. Ari will be in town at Comedy Works the week after me and he is hilarious. Also, we have one more season of The League to shoot this summer. Also, I have two boys that I have to raise into decent humans, so that's all on my plate.
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Follow Byron Graham on twitter @ByronFG for more mildly amusing sequences of words.