The comedian catches up with us before returning to the Comedy Club on State from July 28 through 30.
Over my years as a comedy fan, I have watched a lot of late-night sets. From the lower ranks that drifted into the early morning like Craig Ferguson and whatever show it was that Carson Daly hosted, on up to the prestige spots that were offered out on Leno and Letterman that could legitimately change your whole career trajectory. I would search them out or come across them when I was researching whoever the new guy was that I had just stumbled across on such and such podcast. Some sets are great, others (even from guys who would go on to much greater things) were duds, but John Roy’s 2012 Conan set, recorded a month before he was scheduled to record his debut album at the Comedy Club on State (more on the fate of those recordings in a little while), immediately felt to me like the stuff of legend.
Maybe it was Roy's infectious enthusiasm for his material, or the fact that his casual nerdiness that wasn’t forefronted as a novelty, but that one spot stands out in my mind to this day as the most fully-formed and well-executed late night set I have yet to come across. I brought this up with Roy when I had the opportunity to talk to him last month, and he was remarkably humble about the whole thing, passing the praise on to Conan’s warm-up comedian and the show's band for providing a good setup.
What came across on Conan was what Roy ended up being on stage, but in the club setting he was somehow even more energized: He delivered bit after bit at a rhythmically steady pace, cramming multi-level punchlines into every possible nook and cranny. He’s intelligent, but never snooty, in that way that brings people together, unifying a room in the a locked groove of laughs.
Roy did in fact record his 2012 run of shows at the Comedy Club on State, but there were some sound problems and the whole thing was scrapped and re-recorded at LA’s Nerdist Theater at Meltdown Comics. Released in 2013, the resulting album, Alexander Hamilton, might’ve beaten Lin-Manuel Miranda’s Broadway monolith to the marketplace, but it’s resulted in more than a few one-star ratings from people apparently confusing the two. “The picture of me on the cover should’ve been a red flag,” Roy says, explaining the lack of responsibility he feels towards anyone who mistook it for a Broadway hip-hopera cast recording.
After the minor debacle of that failed first album recording in 2012, John Roy will be recording his second album at the Comedy Club on State over the course of his five shows between July 28 and 30. It will join a growing discography for the venue: In just the last year the club has hosted album recordings for Sean Donnelly, Jon Dore, Wyatt Cenac, and Ms Pat.
Roy says he probably won't have a title for the new album until he listens back to the recording, but he does plan to stay with the A Special Thing label for its release. Fans at the show will be able to buy a screenprinted posted by artist Barry Blankenship, which comes with a digital pre-order code for the eventual album.
Roy has his hands full right now, not only as a touring comedian but also as a producer for the Trump vs. Bernie videos for Fusion (which are still going strong despite the fact that Bernie finally took himself out of the running) as well as putting out his Don't Ever Change podcast over on the Feral Audio network (which is run by former Madisonian Dustin Marshall) when he manages to find the time.
For those only familiar with Alexander Hamilton, the new material on display this weekend will be a bit warmer than Roy's older bits, but that nerdiness will thankfully still be intact. “The last album was very much a guy who was bitter and single, this time I’m a lot better of a person but it’ll still be good and nerdy,” he says.
Pop culture has caught up to the nerds since Roy was a kid, and it’s understandably strange for the folks who were there for the decades leading up to this point. For this latest batch of material, Roy's been grappling less with alienation and more with the challenge of writing about a happier period in his life, where he's, well, not bitter and single. Based on what we've seen from Roy before, watching him try to tackle those new angles onstage should be a rewarding experience.