“We only roast the ones we love.” So says the gloriously uncompromising Eddie Ifft, who comes from a long line of successful US comics born in the Comedy Cellar in New York City.
Ifft’s talking about the US tradition of ‘roasting’ comics in front of their peers, a kind of public scorning we in Australia are far too nice to do to each other. “It really is ugly in America,” Ifft notes. “It’s hard. We’re so callous. We’re not sensitive at all.” When Ifft started out in the Comedy Cellar he’d be number 20 in a lineup that might include Jerry Seinfeld or Louis CK amongst others. Ifft can laugh now but it was a baptism by fire. “One night the MC said ‘we’d like to thank all the comedians and Eddie Ifft for coming here tonight.’” Ouch. “I said ‘I think I want to quit’,” recalls Ifft. “Friends said ‘Are you kidding? They mentioned your name! They only do that to friends.”
Train Wreck is Ifft’s new show for Sydney Comedy Festival, about the previous year of his life. He reckons he’s something of a reformed character these days but that’s not what audiences want. “People want to know about the fuck-ups,” he says. “They want to hear about the time I got tackled by a midget, had a snowball thrown at me, when I set off a fire alarm or got into a fist fight or when a guy nearly pulled a gun on me.” A gun? Well, that’s the United States for you. “It happened in Australia,” says Ifft. “I was doing a show in Jindabyne and this out of control guy, who was mad at the act before me, said he was going to get a gun. I asked his friends if he was really going to get a gun and they said yes, he was serious. I was ‘show’s over’ and out the back door.”
The early years at the Comedy Cellar were good training, Ifft reckons. “We’re lucky in the US ‘cos there’s so much stand-up. You can do 11 shows in one night. It gives you a lot of practice. You can write a joke a night and by the end of the night you’ve got your joke crafted. I feel bad for comics in countries where you don’t get as much stage time.” Being up against massive names at the Comedy Cellar helped Ifft form his own brand of comedy. “When you go on with those guys, who are the best comics in the world, if you’re last in line, the audience has heard everything. People say ‘you’re so rude and mean. Your material’s so offensive’ but it was the only thing I could do to elicit a response.”
Ifft says there’s a big difference between the US style of comedy and what our comics do here. “I’m a big fan of Aussie comics,” he says. “It’s a different style. In the US we have 500 TV channels and no attention span. We don’t tell such long drawn out stories. You have to have a laugh every 20 seconds. The challenge is in writing a good show, with about a 100 laughs. Boom, boom, boom.”
Ifft says the best advice he can offer aspiring comedians is not to take advice. “You don’t want someone else’s creativity,” he continues. “The guys I’ve heard of who’ve succeeded didn’t take advice from other comics. Do what you think’s funny … I never sit down and write with anyone.” Though now that Ifft is married he might be responsible for single-handedly bringing back the mother-in-law joke. Literally. “My mother-in-law thinks she should be my writer.”