Aaron Karo (2010) Interview

There’s something refreshing about seeing people in professions they love and that suit them. The joy they must feel when they do their job is recognizable in their work. With stand-up comic Aaron Karo, it’s hard to imagine a profession that would fit him better. After years of practice in finding the humor in every day and with several books under his belt chronicling his ruminations on life, nothing escapes Karo’s observant eyes and it wouldn’t be surprising if he could improvise an entire set and kill. Aaron Karo met with Working Author for a few drinks to talk about his process as a comic, how his career began and about his upcoming special on Comedy Central called The Rest is History.

Aaron Karo is one of the least pretentious people around – even beyond Hollywood standards. When he answers questions he rarely needs time to think because he isn’t trying to protect an image. He also speaks just fast enough to unnerve any interviewer into thinking he or she might not have enough questions to fill thirty minutes. When describing his comedy, Karo rattles off, “Fast-paced anecdotes about drinking, dating and fornicating.” After a pause for effect he says, “Remember I also write for television so I’m used to speaking in loglines. So quick you didn’t even get to write it down!” Aaron Karo is polished, disciplined and exudes confidence, but in a non-threatening way. He fondly recalls his very first set, however, contrasting that performance with current ones. “It’s a pretty cool contrast,” he says. “I’m talking a mile a minute…my jokes really have no punchline and are just kind of rambling thoughts. You can really see the difference. It’s pretty cool.” He jokes that he keeps the digital copy of his first set in a safety deposit box so that no one really will see the differences.

In 2002, Karo was working in equity research for a large investment bank on Wall Street. He hated it, but lasted 13 months before changing careers. “I left Wall Street like three weeks after I did my first stand-up, but I already had a book coming out so it wasn’t because I was like, ‘Oh I’m going to be a stand-up and quit my job!’” Karo says that he “got the bug” and fortunately he had a friend who was a producer that was able to secure a few open mikes for him, but Karo ironically kept backing out. “One time he booked me and I couldn’t get out of it…. And so I was forced to do it, basically. I discovered I was OK at it and people seemed to like it and soon I didn’t have a job anymore, so I needed something else to do. And I started doing it.”

While a stand-up comic seems like the farthest profession from an investment banker, Karo’s time on Wall Street is at the foundation of his comedy. “I just live, man,” Karo says nonchalantly when discussing how he comes up with new material, “I just live, you know? I’ll go out and…something funny happens and I’ll just email myself. The one thing I maintain from my Wall Street days…I had this giant spreadsheet that I was in charge of. Just full of fucking shit that was stupid. The worst spreadsheet ever. And I kept that spreadsheet and I took out all the numbers and I retrofitted it into a material database. And I have this spreadsheet and I literally have every thought I’ve ever had since 2002 organized by ‘What’s the joke about?’ and when I came up with it. So I think of a premise, put it in this database and I kind of use that as a jumping off point.”

This analytical methodology is one of Aaron Karo’s rarer defining characteristics. His mind is constantly multi-tasking, picking up details and synthesizing them. “When you’re on tour, once I’m telling jokes I’m thinking about twenty different other things, like ‘look at that chick with the tits, I have a flight tomorrow’, blah, blah, blah.” He even stops the interview midsentence to point out that of the two alcoholic beverages ordered at the table he’s the only one drinking his. When he learns that the second drink was ordered just to make him feel comfortable, he exclaims, “Are you kidding me? That’s absurd!” Then he pauses to reflect before saying, “I was just thinking if there’s a joke in there….” Working Author may now very well have a place in Karo’s material database spreadsheet with perhaps an entire pivot table and macros dedicated to this particular interview. Probably not.

On November 19, Aaron Karo’s stand-up special The Rest is History will premiere on Comedy Central. The hour-long set deals mostly with relationships, both friendly and romantic. With such a broad topic, Working Author was curious to know how difficult it was to edit down the material to fit the timeframe. “I don’t know if that’s necessarily the right question,” Karo begins, “because I don’t say ‘I’m going to do a show about relationships, where do I start?’ It’s more that this is what I talk about and that’s how I describe it on the backend…. I talk about relationships; whatever’s funniest stays.” The Comedy Central special comes at the end of a year-long tour, so the set featured in the show has actually been assembled and pared down from material in other Aaron Karo sets. While he jokes about other topics, they aren’t included in The Rest is History because “they just didn’t work.”

The Rest is History is funny from beginning to end and has moments of absolute hilarity. Aaron Karo’s comedy feels less like jokes and more like altered perceptions that will have viewers seeing humorous truisms that surround them. For instance, couples on vacation always seem to take pictures of their feet that no one wants to see. Vomit is impossible to clean from the space between the toilet and the bathtub. Finally, bride’s maids always give speeches giving embellished recounts of how the bride and groom met, ending the story with “the rest is history.” Throughout the show, Karo displays his master craftsmanship, moving from bit to bit seamlessly and without any forced segues. Anyone who has survived or is currently surviving in the dating world will find plenty to laugh about here.

Tune in to Comedy Central on November 19 at 11 p.m. / 10c to watch Aaron Karo’s The Rest is History. Fans of Karo who happen to be in New York that evening can join him for a viewing party at the Village Pourhouse. Fans can also own the performance on audio by purchasing the digital album released by New Wave Dynamics on November 20. Tracks will be available on iTunes, Amazon and wherever digital music is sold. Working Author recommends watching the special and purchasing the album since it is uncut and uncensored.

Aaron Karo is one of the more tech-savvy comedians around. When his cell phone rings it plays a custom ringtone of Far East Movement’s Like a G6 – he’s able to identify and explain all of the references in the chorus incidentally – and he works in jokes about Facebook practices into his stand-up. It makes sense then that a man who has immersed himself in the digital zeitgeist would get his start by harnessing the instant publishing power of email. What started out as a humorous email to friends about his ruminations on college life quickly exploded into a weekly email column with thousands of subscribers. The column turned into a book Ruminations on College Life, which led to another book Ruminations on Twentysomething Life. Karo’s third book I’m Having More Fun Than You was published in 2009. He also has a fourth book on the way, but was tight-lipped on details. Karo still maintains his Ruminations column that eager readers can subscribe to by joining Aaron Karo’s site www.ruminations.com where the entire canon of Karo’s observations is available for public consumption.

Reading his earliest entries back in 1997 only goes to show that Aaron Karo was funny long before he did it professionally. When asked if he still enjoys what he does, he replies, “I enjoy it more than ever. The only downside, which all comics will tell you, is travel. I’ve been hung-over in every airport. But…it’s great.”

Watch Aaron Karo on Comedy Central on November 19 at 11 p.m. / 10c when The Rest is History premieres.

Purchase The Rest is History digital album on iTunes and Amazon on November 20.

Join www.ruminations.com for Aaron Karo’s email column and visit him at www.aaronkaro.com.