Aaron Karo, Comedian: An Interview

Posted by Jon Wiener on November 1, 2010

For those who don’t already know, Aaron Karo has been on the comedy scene for over a decade, having started his “Ruminations” email list in 1997, ultimately resulting in the majorly successful Ruminations.com.  After publishing 3 books (Ruminations on Twentysomething Life, Ruminations on College Life and I’m Having More Fun Than You), a CD (Just Go Talk To Her) and several stand-up tours, Karo is about to premiere his very first Comedy Central special, The Rest is History on November 19th, accompanied by a CD by the same name the next day.

I had a chance to get on the horn with Karo the other day and we really got to the core of his background and how it led this former investment banker to a booming career in comedy.

Let’s start at the beginning.  How did you first get involved with comedy?
While I was a freshmen at University of Pennsylvania in September of 1997, I started writing emails to 20 of my high school friends called “Ruminations on College Life” and they were literally just my random Seinfeldian anecdotes about life in the dorms – something that I did for fun.  My friends got a kick out of it and they started forwarding it around, so I kept doing it just for their amusement.  People started emailing me about the forwards and wanted to be added to my list.  I was like, “what list?”  There was no list.  It was just me emailing my friends.  So I eventually started a mailing list and through all four years of college, I wrote these emails and had about 11,000 subscribers around the world.  I graduated from Wharton.  I got a job at an investment bank and didn’t think much about doing anything with comedy, but then a couple months into work, I got a book deal from Simon & Schuster to publish the emails.  I wrote and edited the book during my 13 arduous months on Wall Street and in the summer of 2002, the book came out, I left Wall Street, I started doing Stand-up.  And, no pun intended, the rest is history.

Back when you were writing these emails, did you ever imagine that it would turn into a career?
I never imagined this.  When the email list started to grow, I had an inkling that having the email list was valuable – I had this nebulous feeling that it can’t hurt to have a lot of people on an email list.  Like I said, I was at Wharton and was on a track to do what people do and if you told me 13 years ago I’d have a Comedy Central special, I’d be like, “you’ve gotta be kidding me!”

When you were growing up, you didn’t have any desire ever to become a comedian?
That’s the thing – I don’t want to say I was a class clown.  I was, sort of a class comedian, because a class clown implies misbehavior and I was always an honor student, but I was always quick to crack a joke.  It’s interesting you ask, because I was just back at my parents’ house and I found a VHS tape of our senior talent show and I did kind of a Saturday Night Live monologue, but I never thought anything of that.  I just thought “Oh, I’ll just do this because I’m funny”.  I never put 2 and 2 together.  It seems silly now – I knew I was funny, I just didn’t know I could make money doing it.

So this is your full-time job now?
Full-time job since August, 2002.

That must feel great – it seems to be working!
Yeah! It is a soul-crushing, grinding experience, but I’ve tried to diversify myself.  I write books, I have my website, I write scripts, I do stand-up.  I’ve tried to expand my horizons within comedy, which I think makes it less soul-crushing.

After your Comedy Central special airs in November, what would you like to happen next?
Well, I already sold my 4th book.  My first 3 books were non-fiction humor books – my last book is about being single and all of your friends are married called I’m Having More Fun than You.  My 4th book is actually going to be my first novel, so I’m taking a bit of a different path there – it comes out January, 2012.  And I’m going to start touring again.  That’s what’s tough about being a comedian.  I put together an hour of my best material, and then the special will come out and I need to retire every second of it and come up with a brand new hour, so that’s what I’ll be doing.

So you don’t repeat any of your material after you finish a tour?
Next week, I have some shows and it will be the last time I do anything I did in the special.  It was filmed a year ago, so since then I still do some of it, but anyone who sees me perform after the special airs will not see any repeated material.  I think people deserve to see new stuff.

A lot of your comedy deals with relationships and being single.  Is that something you always want to talk about, or do you want to be done with that soon?  I don’t want to pry into your personal relationships, but clearly we all talk about what we know best.  Is that something you hope will some day not be part of your repertoire?
I think that more recently, my material has been a celebration of bachelorhood.  That’s what the last book was about.  That’s what the special is about.  That’s because I’m 31 and I’m in the time of my life where everyone I know is getting married and I feel like those people look down on single people.  We’re segregated to special tables at weddings. To me, that’s sort of what I’m going through now…and I say in the introduction to my last book that I’m not anti-marriage, I would like to get married one day, just not any time soon.  It’s interesting because people always ask, “are you always going to write about college?” because that’s how I started.  I was always insulted by that question because, well, “I’m in college, I just graduated from college – I’m going to talk about college now”, and now I’m talking about single life and people get mad, like “are you always going to talk about this?”.  I’m going to talk about whatever I’m going through.  Kids are starting to pop out of my friends’ vaginas, so I think that’s probably the next topic.

So you think that one day, you’ll be married and you’ll have a single friend that you’ll tell to “Just go talk to her”?
No, I swear on my life that I will never say “Just go talk to her”.  I promise you that.  It’s funny, you said that and I had no idea what you were talking about.  Along those lines, the other day I was at the Improv in LA and I was talking to a couple people after the show and someone referenced a joke that I did in 2004 and I didn’t even remember it.  It was pretty cool for them to remember something that I didn’t even remember.  I remember seeing Madonna once on TV.  She was singing “Like a Virgin” and she said “I don’t even remember the words!”, which is bullshit, but obviously everybody else knows the words.  It’s kind of funny – this guy remembers my jokes and I don’t even remember them.

Was it ever surprising for you that you had a fan base?
The thing with my career is that I started my stand-up career with a fan base already.  I had done 5 years of building up a mailing list, which now in the 2000’s is something you do – you build up an online following. I did that by accident – I didn’t do it because I wanted to do stand-up, I just did.  And now, I still write Ruminations, 13 years later, to this day, 10s of thousands of subscribers around the world.  I didn’t call them fans until a few years ago, but I’ve been accumulating fans my entire adult life.  It still weird when a girl says “can you sign my tits?”  I’m like, “really?”  No, I did not expect this when I was working at my investment bank.  I didn’t think when I was crunching numbers that I would be signing boobs.

So you really went on an extreme alternate route to become a stand-up.
Yeah, it’s sort of a precursor to becoming a modern stand-up, because my career is still based on email.  I’m very active on Twitter and Facebook, but my mailing list is still my most valuable asset.  It’s funny because now, everyone does the online thing, but it’s more blogging and twitter, so now I’m old school.  I’m like the old school modern comedian.  But I still think that email is the most powerful channel because there’s so much shit pouring out of twitter.  Email is just so much more efficient.

A lot of comedians don’t do the email thing.  It’s something that you have a strong hold on.  You’ll always have your subscribers.  Most comedians these days are veering towards twitter as a way to test jokes and reach out to new audiences, so it’s interesting that you’re still loyal to email.
An email subscriber is harder to obtain, but way more valuable.  I have a bit of expertise in obtaining them, so it’s not difficult anymore.

So now that you’ve been doing comedy for quite a while – you’ve been touring non-stop for many years, what comedians have you worked with that inspire you?
I performed with Daniel Tosh in 2007 and I had not heard of him.  I was like “this guy is fucking hilarious”.  He’s one of those guys who blew up and I could see that coming.  There’s this guy Owen Benjamin.  He just did a show in LA with me and he slaughtered the place.  I just did a show with a guy named Pete Holmes.  He does a lot of video stuff.  I produce a show out in LA, so I had him on.  He killed me.  I’m a pretty tough critic, but those 3 guys are really impressive.

Do you think that your future holds a television show like Daniel Tosh has?  Do you think Ruminations could be a TV show?
Sure.  I’ve sold 4 pilots that never got made, so I’m going down that path.  But yeah, I’m open to everything – I write screenplays, I’m pitching television shows all the time.  I definitely think television is in my future.  To be honest, I don’t know what the future holds.  4 years ago, I didn’t know I was going to be doing anything like this.  That’s the cool part of the journey.

If there is one thing you would want people to know before watching your special, what would it be?
One thing I think people don’t realize about me is that the majority of my fan base is female.  The special is very guy-oriented, but roughly 65-70% of my subscribers and audience members are usually female and I think that people don’t realize that because I have such a male point of view.  And I didn’t do it on purpose, but I think that women have somehow just taken to my perspective and it’s great for me.

It’s like they say, “Oh my god!  I totally do that!”?  From what I’ve seen of your stand-up, it’s mostly “girls do this…”
Right.  Or it’s like “this is what I do” and they say “oh!”, but after the show, I do exactly what I say I’m going to do and it still works.  I can’t believe to this day – it’s like “I just told you – I gave you my playbook and it’s still working!”  It still works.

Look out for Karo’s special on Comedy Central, The Rest is History, on November 19 and buy his CD on November 20th.  Also, be sure to check out Ruminations.com and, despite his comments on the medium, follow @AaronKaro on twitter

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