EXCLUSIVE: Comedian John Roberts Talks New Podcast, 'Bob's Burgers' And Tracy Morgan Controversy (VIDEOS)
John Roberts has been a viral video star since before "viral video star" had entered the lexicon. His sketches, starting with 2006's "The Christmas Tree," show off Roberts' impressive variety of characters.
Roberts, who currently voices Linda Belcher on "Bob's Burgers," has found a new outlet for his comedy: podcasting. He and some special guests will perform and record "John Roberts' Podcast Theater" at Caroline's this Thursday, and we had a chance to catch up with the busy comic. Stay tuned to Roberts' Twitter for news on the podcast, and if you're in New York, go to Caroline's to get ticket info for the show.
HuffPost Comedy: Why did you decide to do your live podcast recording as an old-time radio ensemble?
John Roberts: Well, it's kind of in the spirit of that. We're not going to have those cool microphones. I like the idea of listening to theatre on the radio, and it's fun to hear what translates, hearing it and seeing what's still funny and what's not. I hope it'll all be pretty funny.
HPC: How long have you been working on this show?
JR: It's a combination of the stuff I've been doing in the past with all my character work. I love music, so there's going to be some musical bits with Eugene Mirman and Jenny Slate and Heloise & The Savoire Faire -- she's the musical guest -- and I'm going to have some song stuff as well. This is just kind of dipping our feet in the water. When we're done editing I'll have a better idea of what works and what doesn't work. What's fun about Caroline's is that you try and work out some things and see what sticks.
HPC: Do you think the podcast medium is really taking off right now? Why were you drawn to that?
JR: I always had a home recording studio, and I love the idea of mixing music and radio theatre, and having that ability to promote friends and do things on the spot and have it not be so performance-based, but more laid back, and seeing what you can find in those moments.
HPC: You said that it's going to be characters from your videos as well as some new stuff. What mix do you think it's going to be? Is it going to be mostly original material or mostly stuff that you've released before?
JR: Kind of a mix. I always bring out the theatre characters. I've been shopping for some new wigs, and I have some things that I want to try out. I have a stand-up comedian character, so I'm looking forward to doing that. I think it'll be a nice mix so the audience won't be disappointed--they'll get their favorite stuff, and I won't be disappointed because I'll be trying out some new stuff. I think overall we're going to be having a good time.
WATCH: Roberts' first viral video hit, "Mother's Day."
HPC: I want to ask about "Bob's Burgers." Did they cast your character with you in mind, or was the character was created and then you came in and brought a different spin to it than what they had envisioned?
JR: Loren [Bouchard, creator of "Bob's Burgers"] actually created that character with me in mind. Before he pitched the show we had met and he had seen some of my live stuff and all of my videos, and I think he actually wanted to get me involved in "Dr. Katz," but saved me, luckily, for "Bob's Burgers."
HPC: Do you ever perform in your own voice? At what point did you realize that you were more drawn to doing these outlandish characters than just doing John Roberts?
JR: I definitely love to explore character work. I think it lends itself to other things for me, like writing scripts, and I'm able to explore the characters on stage. And whether they end up with me doing [the characters], or I'm exploring them for someone else as that character, that all ends up being my voice. As for talking as myself and doing traditional stand-up, I think I'm suited better for character stuff, and that's what people like, so that's what I go with. Maybe at some point I'll find a voice for myself, but I just have a lot of fun doing characters and that's what people respond to.
WATCH: Another one of Roberts' most popular videos, "Jackie & Debra."
HPC: The divide between where the character ends and where the person begins recently got Tracy Morgan in a lot of trouble, and Louis CK came to his defense this morning on Twitter, saying that he thinks comedians should be able to work that stuff out on stage. Where do you fall on that divide?
JR: I think in the case of Tracy Morgan, I wouldn't necessarily think he's a homophobic monster, as maybe he was doing some really bad drugs that day. I don't know. I think comics are all pretty crazy anyway, and working out material is not an easy thing to do, if you don't have a punchline. Tracy Morgan didn't have any punchlines, so it came out as hateful. But I think Michael Richards seemed a little more real to me. That wasn't part of his routine. You always want to give comics a little bit of leeway because the really great ones like Louis CK and Sarah Silverman are people who are able to take those things and really turn them around, and the world definitely needs that. It's a great skill, and it's not easy.
For me, I have some darker characters that I've done and they haven't been received as well because maybe they've been too realistic, but that doesn't mean that those types of people aren't funny in a weird, darker way, and shouldn't be laughed at, or [have] attention being brought to that moment. It's up to the performer to get that point across--sometimes it doesn't always happen--and it depends on the audience, if they're willing to go along for the ride. There's a lot of sickos out there, so people do like to laugh at tragedy and stuff like that.
HPC: Have you ever had any situations where you've been severely misunderstood by an audience as to what you were trying to do?
JR: Well my stand-up character Paulie P. isn't always so politically-correct, and I remember doing a Patrick Swayze joke right after he died--it was in Tennessee, actually--and it didn't go over that well, but at the same time, it was Paulie P, that wasn't me.
HPC: So really, just don't push the boundaries in Tennessee.
JR: They were a great crowd, though. I had a lesbian character that kind of soothed them down.
HPC: Finally, do you think you're funnier than our current Chief Justice on the Supreme Court?
JR: Yes, but I bet when he has a seizure it's probably funnier. Just kidding--I think I'm a lot funnier.