“You should use this in your act.”
There are few phrases more dreaded by comedians, according to Adam Ruben. A molecular biologist by day, Ruben has been moonlighting as a comedian and storyteller for more than 15 years – so it’s understandable that his neighbors and co-workers are perennially pitching their most banal of interactions as the basis for new material. Trusting his own sensibilities, Ruben’s comedic chops have led to stints writing for National Lampoon, teaching stand-up at John Hopkins, and opening for big names like Jim Gaffigan and Dane Cook.
Despite these bona fides, his essential earnestness and humility exude through his one-man show, “I Feel Funny: True Misadventures in Stand-Up Comedy.” Ruben may now be relaxed in front of a crowd, armed with nothing but a microphone and the obligatory black t-shirt, but his gigs have not always gone as smoothly. He first tried his hand at open mic night as a lark in college. He found himself delivering zingers on calculus and Transformers to a crowd of six rednecks trying to enjoy their food in peace at a Jersey dive bar.
After surviving what he described as the longest ten minutes of his life, Ruben assured himself on his drive home that he at least knew what rock bottom looked like.
Or so he thought. Ruben walked the audience through a breezy recounting of the ten worst gigs he endured in the years since his initial on-stage bombing; empty performing halls, overzealous hecklers taunting him for his ”dad sandals”, drunken bachelorette parties, sadistic club owners – and of course, that most terrifying sound of all: crickets from the audience. Ruben has seen it all – and is still left standing up.
I Feel Funny: True Misadventures in Stand-Up Comedy
Written and directed by Adam Ruben
Details and tickets
Ruben was well attuned to the sensibilities of the sold-out room, warming up with extended riffs on the pomposity of Baltimore calling itself “The Greatest City in America”, the annoyances that plague DC residents (traffic and protests), and some potshots at his native Delaware. Like Jerry Seinfeld, the only comedian who was name checked throughout the evening’s show, he never depended on swearing as a crutch (with the possible exception of “crap”, which he learned the hard way was considered a big no-no by the faculty at one high school he played). His essential decency doesn’t preclude him from still venturing into some risky ground, including extended riffs on the Holocaust, while never losing his ability to bring the audience back from the brink
George Carlin famously threw out all of his material each year in order to stay fresh (inspiring Louie CK to do the same). Having not seen the full range of Ruben’s material, there was a lot more I’d like to hear about his day job in science. I could have taken less of a detour through his prankster high school years in favor of learning more about what life is like playing at clubs out on the road while also raising kids.
Ruben doesn’t provide a wealth of insight on what motivates him to continue to slog through such an arduous job – until toward the end of the evening, when he hints at the ways in which laughter might not be an accessory to a full life, but a necessity.
He never quite blows the roof off at the joint at the end like you would hope. But his talent remains on full display – not to mention his generosity. On opening night, Ruben used his closing moments not to plug his myriad other projects, but to turn the spotlight on others in the audience to give them an opportunity to talk up their own Fringe productions. Truly a stand up guy.