PODCAST PURVIEW: FITZDOG RADIO
BY Sam Webb
Fitzdog Radio is the podcast baby of comedian Greg Fitzsimmons. Initially a postscript to his ‘proper’ radio broadcast on Sirius XM, it has since developed into a fleshed out show that retains that specific ‘end of the night’ type feel. As the host, Fitzsimmons leads with a trademark combination of hilarity, aggression and heart, forming a show as much in his image as is possible, with guests from throughout the comedy world, self-parodically mean questionings and an ever present willingness to delve deep into psyches, environments and conflicts with a very certain joie de vivre.
Fitzdog Radio possesses a very certain energy that is almost certainly derived from its origins as an after show. This comes across in a translated feeling of slight giddiness, which combines perfectly with Fitzsimmons aggressive inquisition, offering a counter-measure through providing a humour and a freedom that might get lost in a show where Greg was more amped up. This loucheness doesn’t stop the show from frequently getting deep into meaningful discussion though. Frequently the middle segment will revolve around Fitzsimmons and the guest discussing modern comedy, the nature of being an artist or where their careers are going and have been. Due to a propensity of comedy guests on the show, this gives them a simpatico with Fitzsimmons, meaning that their shared experiences feed into having similar ideas to talk about, but all do so in very different ways. That they are comedians also means that this depth isn’t a one-dimensional introspection, as they also combine their revelation with veins of humour and laughter, sparring with Fitzsimmons over his own bullshit or committing to a bit that Greg initiates. This is one of the key elements enabling the show to become the outlet that Fitzsimmons seeks, as he unearths the things that are rarely discussed by the bigger podcasters on the bigger podcasts; and takes the show way beyond the personal, instead forming itself into a whole broadcast. This lack of fear over getting deep is a rare gift gives the show a particular depth itself, with it’s meshing of the light and heavy allowing Fitzdog Radio to really make a stamp of it’s own. It stands almost individual, as a show heralded by someone who demands answers, of guests who are equally as hilarious as he is and retains an ease of nature and conversational freedom that allows the discussions to go wherever Greg wants it to.
It’d be all too easy to take a sidelong glance at Fitzsimmons and presume he was just a promoted flamer, someone getting off on being a douche to the people who agree to be on his show, saying something offensive just so people would shout at him. But there is so much more to what Fitzsimmons does than this. There is a reason these guys come on his show, there’s a reason why people like him and there’s a reason why he’s hilarious: and that is that he cares. He won’t rant and rave because he doesn’t care about his guest, instead he prods and probes with an unusual vigour and intensity because he wants to see where the lines lie, where the guest’s boundaries are and what has turned them into the people they are. What Fitzsimmons seeks to channel is not only his own emotions, but also more importantly those of his accomplices in comedy. In a sense the show acts as if a test, of these respondents humour, their character and their personality. Testing how they cope under his frequently vehement questioning, so that he can know that his friends, the people he admires and his peers are worthy of such a position in his life, whilst offering a perspective toward their own lives at the same time. And it’s not like his questions don’t frequently border on the hilarious. Oftentimes the peculiar violence he channels into the most basic of questions, making even an asinine inquiry transform into a virtual interrogation is so thoroughly overblown it cant but be laugh out loud funny. Greg is also unafraid of his own laughter, happy to almost completely melt down in the podcast at a moment funny enough. The combination of his own sense of humour, his love of comedy and the fact that at the centre of it all he gives a damn makes Fitzsimmons someone who is possibly initially difficult to love as a host, but one whose qualities shine through exponentially the more you hear from him.
What with a host so individual, particular and specific, Fitzdog Radio can’t but be a blessing to podcast rosters. Abrasive, hilarious, ambitious but most of all granted a huge heart, this show is one that offers more than your average show, bringing with it a weight of perspective, of humour and depth that prove Fitzsimmons is well on his way to making a defining addition to the market.
The first and only time I met Steven Wright was for a week in 1983, when I running the Comedy Underground in Seattle. One night he asked me to watch his act, to help him figure out why he wasn’t connecting with the crowd. He would do his set and scan the audience but, while he was looking at them, he wasn’t looking AT them. I gave him this observation and he thanked me. Never sure if he paid it any mind, nor have I seen him since. But during his appearance on Fitzdog Radio this week, I finally know what that blank scan was all about. “I was terrified,” he reveals to host Greg Fitzsimmons. Turns out the the first few years he was doing standup, he had trouble remembering his act joke to joke and he would blank out. After a few seconds, he’d take any joke his panicked mind could recall and say that, which eventually led to the purposely pauseful act he’s now famous for, as well as the halting stream of non-sequiturs. The early days of Boston comedy, his love/hate relationship with Hollywood, why he has so much trouble writing a feature-length film — he is equally forthcoming the rest of the chat, an interview deftly handled by Fitzsimmons even though (or perhaps because) he is an unabashed fanboy when it comes to Wright. A must-hear for any comic nerd.
Master Comedian Greg Fitzsimmons
Brings His Raunchy Stand Up Show To Carpinteria Plaza Playhouse
L. Paul Mann
Comedy fans lucky enough to catch Greg Fitzsimmons, at the Carpinteria Plaza Playhouse, Friday May 25th, were treated to a no holds barred, sidesplitting stand up comedy show. The feisty comic, most recently well known from his podcasts on satellite radio, or his Comedy Central specials, pulled out all the stops in a raunchy laugh attack on a receptive crowd. For more click here…
Crave Online – Johnny Firecloud – November 21, 2010
Let’s begin with a disclaimer: If your particular brand of comedy involves the words Dane Cook or Larry the Cable Guy, chances are strong that Greg Fizsimmons is not for you. If, on the other hand, you absolutely despise the kneejerk dumb-funny comedy they shill, opting instead for true grit and relatable, agonizing humor, Fitzsimmons is the man for you.
Constructed around a collection of increasingly angry, unintentionally hilarious letters from his outraged former instructors, Dear Mrs. Fitzsimmons: Tales of Redemption from an Irish Mailbox can’t help itself in an overload of raucous hilarity, becoming a classic Irish American coming of age tale about a bright kid who keeps asking increasingly inappropriate questions of those charged with raising and caring for the future side-splitter, and his general ability to sidestep consequence. Think of it as A Christmas Story with less holiday flare and a whole lot more mischief.
The 44 year-old Fitzsimmons has made a lot of mistakes in his long road to becoming a four-time Emmy Award winner, but while most parents would hide or destroy any evidence so clearly demonstrating their child’s failures, Greg’s family has preserved each mistake like a precious memento from his childhood, allowing for hilarious recounting in a book that steps beyond the nostalgic humor and – through tracing his shameless self-damnation back to its origin, fantastic storytelling and a genuinely morose attitude – reaches a point of empathetic harmony with the reader.
Dear Mrs. Fitzsimmons is a highlight reel of Greg’s life as a kid in the Boston suburbs spent terrorizing the neighborhood, told through this avalanche of disciplinary letters, incident reports and newspaper clippings that his parents received from teachers and school officials. Greg picks up where his parents left off with his own collection of letters received during college and throughout his successful career as a writer, producer, and stand-up comic. Revealing the larger story of how Greg’s distinctly dysfunctional Irish-American family bred him to blindly challenge anyone, anytime, anywhere, over anything, Dear Mrs. Fitzsimmons comes full circle to show that the Fitzsimmons torch has been passed on proudly to a new generation.
“Dear Mrs. Fitzsimmons,” one such letter begins, “Greg was loitering in the hallway when I walked by on my way home. Greg began openly mocking me by making fun of my last name (i.e. ‘The grass looked very Dewey this morning,’ ‘Dewey have any homework?’ and ‘Are we going to learn the Dewey Decimal System?’) It is disrespectful to address a teacher in such a manner, and I think its best to bring this to his parents’ attention.”
Full of wince-worthy stories and cringe-tastic photos to pair with the narrative, the book pulls the reader back into the grit of growing up as an everyday kid. The laughter mixes well with the poignant heartbreak associated with growing up, from being rejected by girls to recounting his father’s death in a chapter called The Sad Part Where Dad Dies. Furthermore, it’s impossible to go wrong when you’ve got a crushingly hilarious foreword from the King of All Media himself, Howard Stern, complete with a sexy picture of his stunning wife Beth.
A fantastic comedic wit with a dazzling ability to move words on paper, Greg Fitzsimmons is far more than another stand-up routine. Dear Mrs. Fitzsimmons is highly recommended – pick it up for the holidays. And if the stories sound familiar, or you have one to top his, Fitzsimmons has created a Web site, DearMrsFitzsimmons.com, for you to share.
CraveOnline Rating: 9 out of 10
Comedy Central Insider – November 17th – Gonzalo Cordova
Greg Fitzsimmons started doing stand up in Boston but moved to New York shortly thereafter. He made his stand-up television debut in 1996 on Late Show with David Letterman and since that time has steadily honed his Irish sensibilities onstage, appearing on multiple other shows and networks in the process. He just released his new book, Dear Mrs. Fitzsimmons: Tales of Redemption from an Irish Mailbox, a personal yet funny memoir shaped around the letters and documents his mother kept from throughout his life. I spoke with Greg over the phone about the book, his stand-up and more.
When I heard about the book, I figured it would be about stand-up and your early years, but it’s actually more about your relationship with your parents.
I think there a lot of comedians with books out there and people go different ways with it. With me being Irish, I felt compelled to go deep into the heavy stuff as well as how I became a comedian and try to put funny stuff in it.
There are a lot of moments that are like origin tales of how you became a comedian, but it’s more in very early stages. You have stuff about your first open mics, but the book has more material about the things influencing you to get into comedy.
I was trying to get to what shaped my personality. Where the pain came from, where the excitement came from. The dynamic of comedians butting up against the line of what’s acceptable and dangerous. I didn’t really get into the fact that I have ADHD in the book. I almost feel like that’s the next book. I think that it’s as much about circumstance as it is about DNA almost.
You feel like it was more DNA that influenced you to become a comedian?
I think it’s both. In that last chapter, when I get into what my kids are like, the punchline is that there’s only so much you can really change.
You mention in the book that your father would maybe have been a comedian had he been born in a different time. He was in radio and was an entertainer, but he probably would have been closer to what you do.
I think so. In watching him, the part of him I saw more was when he would MC things. Seeing his personality up close. That was the thing I saw where the dynamic was really working. I always felt like he was a great radio guy, but that was a bottled version of his personality. When I started watching stand up as a kid, it was like it took more balls. But it was also available to me in a way that wasn’t in his generation. I think Irish storytelling, whether in the radio or in a comedy club is very similar. When I do my radio show, I don’t approach it any different than I approach stand-up. I just take longer pauses, because I’m alone and it’s a slower pace.
You’ve mentioned there are two kinds of comedians, the kind who try to cater to audiences and the kind that come with their own point of view.
I have comedians who come up to me and are starting out, or not even starting out, like they haven’t even done it yet, and they ask me how to get started, how you can make money, how to get an agent. Guys that have been doing it for a year or two asking me how to make it on Last Comic Standing so they can get exposure. What are you trying to expose? You got nothing to expose yet. It takes fifteen years to get really good at stand-up.
It was never about the money to me. It was about having to do it. It was like nothing else would hold my attention and my passion the way I knew stand-up would. It was never like, I am going to do this forever for a career. It was more like, at this moment, in my life, I have to do this thing. And then you look up, twenty years later, and you’re like, “Oh my God. I have a mortgage and a wife and kids and cars and we go on family vacations. And it’s all paid for by me telling dicks jokes to people eating chicken wings.”
How important do you think going out on the road, rather than just staying local, shapes a comic?
I think the fear level when you’re on the road recreates the origins of comedy. Mostly we’re funny as a reaction to an uncomfortable situation. Whether Dad’s dead drunk and everyone’s at the dinner table, or you’re screwing up in school so you get a laugh to get some acceptance instead of looking like a failure all the time, asking a girl out and she says no and then you’re laughing about it with your friends, a lot of it comes from an uncomfortable place.
When you say “staying local,” I almost think of the words “alternative comedy.” It’s really an alternative to commercial comedy. I think that’s a pretty accepted definition of what the genre is. To me there’s not a lot of fear with that. I do these alternative shows and it’s filled with like-minded, for lack of a better word, hipsters, who are white and college educated, urban-cool. It’s a clique. As opposed to going on the road and facing people who have worked jobs they don’t like all week, and now it’s the weekend and they need a laugh. And they are spending money. Your job is to go up there in front of a cross-section of real America and to get a laugh first. You’re not there to talk politics. You’re not there to say ironic things about pop culture, because people don’t give a shit about that outside of New York and LA. And granted, you might make a point, which I think I do because I talk about things that are truthful to me and things I am feeling, but I feel like staying in a city as a comedian doesn’t demand you to go to a place where you can grow as a comic.
When people first start doing road work, it can almost be like starting over. Like starting at mics and bombing again.
There’s a lot of other factors. You can talk about going onstage, you also have to get the gig, which means hustling, sending a tape, following up with calls, emails, getting someone to recommend you. Then you get the gig; you’re on a tight budget. When you’re a feature act, you’re only making five, six, seven hundred bucks a week. And that includes getting yourself to another city, sometimes housing yourself, finding a friend to stay with. Then you have to find transportation. Then you have to get to the club and you have to do the right thing with the manager and the headliner. There’s a lot of do’s and don’ts to learn. It’s real life. It’s not like being in LA: you drive your car to a coffee house, and you schmooze with your buddies in the back, and you do ten minutes, and you crack up some people like you. This is the real world, on the road. You have to learn to do morning radio, get up at five o’clock in the morning and sit in the studio with a bunch of shock jocks while they are trying to be funnier than you are. And are you going to drink too much or are you going to write material. It’s a bunch of dynamics in place that go way beyond the material and the crowd.
You started around the comedy boom. You write about doing eight sets a night, which isn’t really how it works now. Do you think that environment, doing that many sets, might have created a certain kind of comic we don’t see anymore?
I have to always be careful not to compare comedians starting today with how I started, because I was extremely fortunate to start right in the sweet spot when legitimate clubs came up in a lot of cities and the pay-scale was good because there was almost more demand than there was product.
Doing that number of spots is pretty specific to New York City. When I was in Boston, I would maybe do three sets a night, which is all I could do because I would drive from place to place. And in New York, I just did Letterman last week, and I ran out on the weekend before, and I did five, six, seven sets a night at the club, just doing my five-minute set. It’s still possible, and it still comes down to, again, a demand.
If you are a comic and you’re just starting out, but you can consistently go onstage and keep an audience’s attention and close strong, you’re going to get work. You’re going to get sets. You’re going to start out doing it for free in places with ten people, but you’re going to be meeting people. Like when I came up, I was struggling, and I was coming up at the same time as Jim Gaffigan, Sarah Silverman, Greg Giraldo and Jeffrey Ross. And we were just telling each other about coffee houses up by Columbia University where you can do a set. We would tell each other about places that would let us get on. That was it.
And you can form a bond with these people that, to this day, I can call these people to come in and do my podcast or my radio show and we still compare notes. Again, it’s not always what goes onstage, but when you’re doing it and you’re coming from the right place, the love of stand up, you find like-minded people and that’s a big part of what supports your career.
Is it different now that people are starting to have families and having kids among the people you started with?
We don’t see each other as often, but it’s very meaningful when we do. Giraldo dying is something that impacted us almost as much as a family member. Because there’s that piece of your life and that shared history. It’s hard to understand that it’s just gone. I will never have a history with a group of people like I did with the ones I came up with.
It’s very hard when you have a family, you don’t have downtime to hang out. When I do a set now, like at The Improv, I’ll get there five minutes before my set, and I will literally get offstage and put my head down and walk through the bear area, because I just don’t have time to hang out and talk to people. I need to get home, because I’m on the road so much that if I’m going to do a set in town, it’s just do the set in town.
That’s why I love benefits, because you’ll go and you’re helping out a good cause, but you’re with your peers. When you’re on the road, it’s with an opener you don’t know and a feature act you may or may not know. But when I do a benefit, I’m there with Dave Attell and Louis CK and people that I cherish every moment that we’re hanging out and talking together.
You’ve mentioned that being edgy to you isn’t just being racist, it actually comes from being honest and saying things you’d be embarrassed to say.
I think there’s shocking and I think there’s edgy. Edgy to me seems against convention. It’s not caring about the rules, including like when I started talking about my kids, when Louis CK started doing jokes about his wife and kids. People didn’t do that, because that was considered old school. It wasn’t cool. It showed your age. It showed you not being edgy. The truth is, the only thing that matters is you’re talking about what’s going on in your life. You’re sharing your embarrassing moments, and you’re exploring your discoveries in life as you’re having them. Whether or not you think people will relate to them doesn’t matter. All that matters is you’re going as deep as you can into your own reality. And at this point, having the skills to make a connection to an audience. So edginess to me means, every time I go onstage, thinking, “What can I talk about that I would be embarrassed telling my best friend?” That’s my criteria for where a good joke is going to start.
Not that every joke is going to start with that. Some of the thoughts are like, man, no one has ever talked about this. Like I was doing a bit this weekend about the NAACP calling the Tea Party racist. Which, it is, but I think the Tea Party missed an opportunity to say, ‘Wow, we feel really bad about that. Let us make it up to you by writing a check to your organization. How do you spell ‘colored’ again?’
And saying the word “colored” onstage in front of a mixed audience, that’s edgy. It’s not shock value, because there’s a specific and truthful intent, which is, I hate the word police. I don’t think semantics should be on the table in terms of race relations. I think the people that put it there are the ones creating the real problems. And deciding what groups can say what about who and when a term changes from negro to colored to Afro-America to African American to black. It’s like they should have a website where every thirty seconds, you can go look and see, “Can a Latino say the N-word? Well, yes, but only if they’re urban but not an immigrant. And an immigrant needs to be called Latino, not Mexican. But not Hispanic, because they’re not all from Spain.” And it’s bullshit.
A comedian’s job is to say their first thought. When I see a black guy with an Asian woman, what’s my first thought? “Well, maybe they met during war time.” And that’s stupid and simple, but I thought it. If I thought it, I can say it onstage, and I can explore my reaction to what I said. But I realize that’s stupid, but in saying it I’m probably expressing something that other people also thought but never had the guts to say.
There’s something edgier to you admitting to having a racist thought over making an ironic racist joke.
It’s very safe to make an ironic racist joke. It’s very wink-wink, I’m playing a character, I’m exploiting this, as opposed to, here’s a very real thing that I see out there. When I see an Asian guy, I feel like, “This poor bastard.” Because Asian woman are dating white guys and black guys. It’s very, very rare to see an Asian guy out with a black woman or a white woman. Now that’s something we see and how much we process it really depends on how often you see it. But there is a level to which everyone has seen that. And I know that because when I say it, people laugh. And when I say it, the Asian people in the audience laugh the hardest. I’m not in the business to change people’s minds and to make the world a better place. I’m just in the business to have original thoughts and to find a creative way to express something and to hear laughter. That’s it.
Do you think there’s a bit of a tension breaking there causing that laugh?
I think when a guy in a wheelchair is in the front there because that’s the only place they can place him, at some level, that guy has to be aware people are looking at him, not just as a guy, but as a guy in a wheelchair. So when I walk out and go, “Wow, you have the beast seat in the house, because if you don’t like where you are, you can always move,” that’s something acknowledging the reality of what’s happening in a room. That’s what good comedy is. It’s like good acting. It’s being in the moment. It’s being truthful.
At the end of the hour, I can take a crowd that may have a whole different bunch of dynamics going on; someone’s on a first date, there’s a bachelorette party, there’s a mixed-race couple, and everyone has a different agenda for what’s funny—but if I can go and break apart things and be honest about things, I can feel them gelling and becoming one group for the hour. It might take me five minutes, it make take me forty minutes to try to break those walls down, until it’s almost like a herd of cattle. And you have them all moving in the same direction as a group. And it carries you. There’s nothing I can say that won’t get a laugh or keep their interest, because I’ve broken the walls down, and I’ve done it in a way that broke the tension. Now they trust me and they trust that I’m going to go to some uncomfortable places, like death, AIDS, 9/11 and topics not discussed, where tension is buried in. And by confidently bringing them through and getting a laugh with it, the trust keeps building and building. So by the end, it’s an amazing feeling. Almost like diving into a crowd and having them pass your body around. That’s what it feels like by the end of it.
USA Today’s Pop Candy – By reader Andrew M. in Rochester – August 09, 2010
2. The Greg Fitzsimmons Podcast. Now I have him ranked above Stern for one reason: It’s a podcast. I can pause him, rewind or even fast-forward if I need to. Sometimes on a Monday morning a stop for coffee is needed, and being able to pause Greg is a must. He gets A-list guests and has an incredibly entertaining way about him. Check it out — it’s free!
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From The Palm Beach Post – By Al DeGaetano – October 29, 2010
At The Improv in West Palm Beach, Greg Fitzsimmons did his best to engage an enthusiastic Thursday night crowd. He used the opportunity to try out new material to see what might work for the weekend. It was actually fun to be part of the experiment …
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