The very funny Seaton Smith very seriously interviews the very funny Rob Cantrell, right before his DC Show tonight.
I met Rob years ago, and he was amazing. The odd thing when you see someone amazing you’re always expecting them to push you to the side cause you’re not worthy of them, but it was not the case with Rob Cantrell. He’s the coolest dude I’ve met in comedy. Everytime I talk to him it’s a pleasure. I learn something, and I laugh about something that I didn’t expect. Tonight he’s headlining the Arlington Cinema drafthouse. I HIGHLY recommend seeing him if you like comedy. Or – if you like being happy you’ll see him. If you like tacos, you’ll like Rob Cantrell.
Seaton: Nice to hear from you! Fuckin’ headlining the Drafthouse again—what number time is this?
Rob: I was the first comic to ever headline that place!
Seaton: You’re expecting a couple of sell-out shows, right?
Rob: I don’t know, we’ll see, hopefully. D.C. is a good market for me. I keep coming back and I just think the word is around that I’m kinda funny and that I have a positive, fun vibe and I always change it up and try to keep it loose and something different. Slowly but surely I think word’s getting out.
Seaton: So you started in San Francisco. How many years ago?
Rob: Ten years ago. July ’99.
Seaton: So when did you come to D.C.?
Rob: I was born in D.C. Born and raised in D.C. Anytime I got into town I’d hit up the local spots and hit up the Improv. The Improv was good to me and put me up and then after Last Comic Standing I started booking little theaters along the way. It’s a great opportunity for me to get back to the DMV. I definitely love the vibe and I love the people. Some of the best comedy crowds are in D.C. I’d say the three best comedy crowds in the country that I’ve played, are D.C., New York, and San Francisco.
Seaton: So you’re a full-time comic now?
Rob: Yeah, I’ve been a full-time comic since 2003, thank God. I’ve had some hard roads, but the universe just comes around and helps me out. I just try to keep going. Everyone has their own path and it’ll drive you crazy if you think about everybody.
Seaton: Do you ever have those moments where you think, “I should be funnier, like…”?
Rob: Yeah, I mean, there is a healthy part of competition. You want to test the temperature and the scene and see if you’re slacking or bringing it. We all have those things, but a lot of comedy is keeping your head cool. Being funny is great and that’s what it’s all about, but there’s definitely a next level where you have to control some of that anger and control some of that frustration and control that rejection and put it toward something positive.
Seaton: Are you auditioning a lot?
Rob: Yeah, I audition here and there. I’m always submitting. I just wrote a bunch of stuff for Adam Film. Adam.com played an exclusive one-man piece that I did, called “General Potten.” It was for the Prop 19 vote in California and it was a parody of the film “Patton.” I also released four or five rap tracks on my last album so I’m working on music as well. I enjoy doing characters and sketch. Comedy and music are my two loves and over the last ten years they’re just really what I’ve dedicated my life to.
Seaton: Was your comedy really character-driven? Did you ever try to deny yourself and be like other people, or were you immediately just Rob.
Rob: No, I was all over the map. It’s still not fully there. In the beginning I think I was really, really raw and it was just really bizarre stuff that I was spitting out. Looking back on it now, I don’t think I had a handle on it. I used to do this thing where I would go on as a really nervous comic and my first three jokes would just bomb, and I’d have a panic attack on stage and I’d start crawling under tables and start crying about how I couldn’t do this. I would sell it all the way.
Seaton: Did it work?
Rob: Looking back on it now, I should’ve been doing that stuff at UCB, I shouldn’t have been going into comedy clubs trying to do that. I was doing all of this out-there stuff, and I’m still that way, but I do understand the beauty of being yourself and the truth and the funny comes really naturally when you are yourself. But at the same time, I’m a fan of just silly bullshit.
Seaton: It’s weird to find that balance. You’ll do a set that’s really weird, fun bullshit then someone will come on after you and be as honest and as vulnerable as possible and you’ll be like, “Well fuck, now I have to be vulnerable!” So you’ll be vulnerable, and then somebody like Reggie Watts will come on after you and do some off-the-wall shit, and you’ll say, “Fuck, now I have to be off-the-wall!”
Rob: I could break it all down. In the beginning there were one-line guys and story guys and I was always like, “I want to do a little bit of one-liners and a little bit of stories and I want to do a little bit of serious but pull back and just fucking do comedy for the sake of silly.”
Seaton: How do you keep that balance then?
Rob: Keep it moving forward. It’s not up or down, it’s forward, my man! Forward motion.
Seaton: So you don’t worry about one-liner versus story anymore?
Rob: Now it’s starting to seep into myself. We think too much sometimes. You can’t play jazz without learning the scales first. Miles Davis didn’t start doing Miles Davis shit right from the beginning. It’s a process. There comes a point where you’ve got to let go of it all and just fucking Black Swan that shit.