Neil Rubenstein is a subculture lifer. From his time as vocalist in Irony of Lightfoot, Sons of Abraham, This Year’s Model, and These Enzymes to tour managing lots of bands to even cutting his teeth at umpire camp, Neil loves the unusual life. I mean, this isn’t even his first feature at No Echo (check out his awesome Record Collector interview).
But these days, Neil seems to have found his groove as a touring comedian. He brings a deadpan sarcastic vibe to his comedy, offering up jokes that are layered and really fucking funny. And he recently released his first full-length comedy special, Have Some Dignity, via Equal Vision Records.
He and I chatted about his comedy special, writing jokes, hardcore, and life outside the box.
How did the Taking Back Sunday intro for the comedy special come together?
I was talking to my pal (and mentor) Liz Miele about putting together the special, and she suggested to do something unique to show more of what I’m about. And you’ll see Sarah Silverman do a sketch intro before her specials. So I hollered at the homeboys to see if they would be down to do something fun and they just ran with it.
The coolest thing for me is that those dudes are fun and silly, so that’s just them being goofballs. Mark asking if he’s Adam Lazzara cracked me up. It was just as perfect as I could have hoped.
Another thing Liz stressed to me was not to waste the time during the credits. Use that time to continue to tell your story. Like how at the end of “Speck of Dust,” Sarah Silverman shows real life footage of a bit she does during that special. So I thought it would be fun to ask some of my more recognizable friends if they would do intros too, and toss them together in a montage under the credits.
And of course, so many of them brought heat. Some of those end credit intros had me cracking up.
Umpire, band dude, tour manager, comedian… You’ve worn many hats. What keeps you so focused on creative outlets and ‘unusual’ professions?
Well, let’s clear that umpire thing up. I went to MLB Umpire school for a 6-week program. I never made it beyond that. And that was mostly a midlife crisis. I just wanted to play baseball all day, so I went to what essentially amounted to a summer camp for college pitchers that blew out their elbows.
As for unusual professions, I just wasn’t ever gonna be a Nine to Fiver. I can’t do a desk job or stand behind a counter. It was just never gonna go like that for me. From an early age - between being raised by wolves, my mental illnesses, and my interest sets, it was clear I was never gonna hold a real job.
I’ve tried. And I’ve always failed.
What is (if any) the intersection between comedy and music as you’ve experienced both?
Dude. It’s the same. Everything I learned growing up punk/hardcore and touring with bands and building fanbases and making friends, applies word for word to what I’m doing now in comedy. I’m out there on the road, meeting people, sleeping on couches, blurring the lines between fans and friends.
If there is a modern equivalent to grass roots, that’s what I’m doing. I’m just doing 100% the same exact things we all did in bands back in the day. Asking everyone I meet to tell all their friends about me.
How did the Equal Vision Records deal come about?
I am still absolutely in shock that this happened. This Year’s Model met Dan and the EVR folks back in the early 2000s. Nothing ever happened, but we stayed in touch, as hardcore kids do. And Dan started following my comedy career. And it seemed like he was paying more and more attention. He even pitched in to the GoFundMe for the special. And I knew I was going to put out vinyl for it, like I did with Enjoy the Ride for the first 7".
My first choice was EVR. We started talking about it. And I’m a firm believer in partying with the people that want to party with you. He wanted to party. I was going to party.
It’s a risk for both of us. Trusting my comedy career to a punk label. Them spending money on a comedian. I’ve always done everything differently. This is different. It’s gonna be cool.
As much as it doesn’t make sense, it makes perfect sense. If that makes sense.
How did the comedy special itself come together? What was production like?
Mike Dubin and Steve Pedula took complete ownership of this project. I can’t take any credit for this. I woke up one day and said I need to record this shit and threw up a GoFundMe. And they did the rest.
I spoke to Steve at that pop up show we did together after When We Were Young got canceled. He’s seen me perform for years. He has seen me perform in the back of restaurants and under pizza places. He’s an OG friend and supporter. And he was super down to be a part of this.
And then Dubin is a no brainer. We love each other and trust each other with everything. I knew they would do something amazing. And they did. They enlisted other people we are lucky enough to be in orbit with, like David Genova & Eric Feldman and Mikey Kennerty pitched in on audio.
It was all them. Takes a village they say. It doesn’t hurt if Dubin and Pedula are two of the villagers, I’ll tell ya that.
Thinking about your “Fat fuck” “airplane” jokes. Do you aim to consciously address bullying experiences to help others cope?
Thanks for noticing, by the way. I just like pointing out the hypocrisy in our culture right now. We all say things that are hurtful. But I’m sick of people acting righteous and indignant and then making some antisemitic remark that gets ignored.
We’re all dicks.
Places will be all cocky about how they are all about diversity and then not have a handicap ramp. So like, how inclusive are you? Or these craft beer bars with BLM signs in the window leading the charge to gentrify a neighborhood and price out the working class. So black lives matter, but not their livelihoods? Listen, I’m not perfect, I’m just Civ. But I’m not acting like I’m helping when all I’m doing is exactly what everyone else is doing. /endrant
The “Birds, monkeys, bats pandemic to turtles and straws” joke. How does something like that develop?
Starts with, again, the dumb hypocrisy in our culture. Corporate polluting is responsible for something like 97% of all marine wildlife dying. But we pass laws to ban plastic straws. Are you kidding? Pass a law to limit pollution. To limit toxic waste dumped in our drinking water. Sure, every little bit helps. But like, what the fuck?
So I make a joke. We can’t have straws. Dump all the cups and lids in the ocean. No straws though. And then it builds from there.
From the craft side, the school of thought I’m from is to build bits one line at a time. So each joke starts as a one liner. And if it works on its own, you can build on it with more one liners until no one notices you’re telling one liners.
What goes into choosing your closing bit?
I mean, what can I possibly do after that Lumineers bit? Some people say they choose their closers, but my closer chose me. Or whatever assholes say.
What’s it like performing at music shows as a comedian? Best and worst experiences?
It’s the best. Absolute best. I’d open for bands forever. It’s the fucking best. I’m not gonna front, it’s hard as shit and most of the time it does not go how I’d like. But I’ll take a bomb opening for a band any day of my life. Best would have to be Denver Fillmore opening for Motion City Soundtrack. Just the absolute coolest show. Insane crowd. Hanging on every word. So many friends in the building to witness it. I was tour sharpened. Firing on all cylinders. Just felt better than I’ve ever felt.
Worst is easily that When We Were Young Festival pop-up show for PBR and Eyeball Records with Thursday and Bayside. Kids were just too amped up. And I wasn’t announced. All the obstacles. It was impossible to talk to them. I don’t hold it against them at all. I get it. I’m a guest in their home.
But it was tough. Almost hurt-my-feelings tough. I probably bailed about halfway through. And I would do it again in a second.
Any newer hardcore bands you’re into?
Pain. Of. Truth.
There are so many great bands right now. I really feel like we are experiencing a bit of a hardcore resurgence. Drain. GEL. The HIRS Collective. Ground. No/Mas. Truth Cult fucking rip, might be my current fave. That Walk the Wheel album is on constant rotation. Edict. Koyo obviously.
Incendiary aren’t newer, but fuck it I’m including them. Extinction AD, not hardcore but snake as fuck. MSPaint. Stand Still. Heavy Hex. Dead Last. Soul Glo. Regulate. Militarie Gun. Harm’s Way. Dazy. Zulu. Gods Hate. Mannequin Pussy. Vein.fm. I can go on forever.
Have Some Dignity is out now via Equal Vision Records.
Upcoming Neil Rubenstein shows:
9/21 – Huntington, NY @ Spotlight
9/22 – Richmond, VA @ Funny Bone
9/23 – Richmond, VA @ Funny Bone
9/28 – Bay Shore, NY @ Tullulah’s
9/29 – Wilkes-Barre, PA @ Wisecrackers
9/30 – Wilkes-Barre, PA @ Wisecrackers
10/5 – Cincinnati, OH @ Funny Bone w/ Ben Bailey
10/6 – Louisville, KY @ Louisville Comedy Club w/ Ben Bailey
10/7 – Louisville, KY @ Louisville Comedy Club w/ Ben Bailey
10/8 – Columbus, OH @ Funny Bone w/ Ben Bailey
11/24 – Baltimore, MD @ The Port
11/25 – Baltimore, MD @ The Port
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