There is no shortage of new comedy specials these days, and if you’re looking for someone or something to blame, Netflix is your best bet. As much as some might want to complain about being inundated with countless new comedy hours, however, the sheer increase in volume has been great for variety. That is to say, the specials produced and distributed by Netflix are beginning to not look the same. Hannah Gadsby’s Nanette upended the genre over the summer, while Natasha Leggero and Moshe Kasher’s Honeymoon broke it into what looks and feels like a mini-series.
Bumping Mics with Jeff Ross & Dave Attell falls into Leggero and Kasher’s camp, for the special is actually a three-part program that sees the two New York comedy staples roasting each other, other comics in attendance and audience members on three separate nights. As a whole, the show operates as a deft mix of Ross’s prowess as the self-described “Roastmaster General” and Attell’s penchant for commingling with people of all shapes, colors and sizes on his early 2000s Comedy Central program Insomniac. Uproxx spoke to the two men about how Bumping Mics came together.
Bumping Mics was a tour you two did together before it became a Netflix special. Was that the plan all along, or did Netflix enter the picture later?
Dave Attell: Jeff and I had been doing it for a while. I’m sure he probably has better dates and times and whatever, but it just started as a goof. At the end of the shows, I would bring him on and we would just keep going. Then we kept doing it as we toured. Jeff is the real self-starter. He’s the one who was like, “We gotta get this to Montreal.” Meanwhile, I was pretty much like, “I don’t know, man. Let’s just do it for fun.” So we toured it. We did a lot of casinos and theaters, and then he got it in front of the Netflix people in Montreal and they were into it.
Jeff Ross: It was Netflix’s idea. We had done a run of shows in Montreal, which went really well. We had different guests every night, along with different material. The vibe would always be a different sort of energy. Netflix saw it there and thought, “Let’s make this a special that’s more like a series.” So that’s what we did. We left it all on the table and, I think, really delivered something that no one’s seen before. At least, no one watching comedy on Netflix.
It’s definitely not your typical Netflix special. Or comedy special, for that matter.
Ross: It’s kind of fun. It all sort of lays out like a double record. When I was a kid, I’d always buy those double live albums. This one’s a triple. It’s like our greatest hits, in a way. It’s our best jokes mixed in with our best friends. And one of my best friends directed it. It was really a family affair.
Attell: There’s a lot of hour specials out there, but this is kind of an episodic thing. I think that will be better and easier for the viewing public, to be honest. Who wants to sit there for a whole hour? But with this, each show is just a little over 30 minutes, but not by much. They actually had some trouble cutting stuff out. I’m not that way. These guys, the director and Jeff, they were like, “No, let’s put it in.” It was a collaboration, so I was willing to go with that. I’m excited to see what the fans think.
I didn’t realize you and Andrew Jarecki were friends, Jeff. I wanted to ask about him because he’s known for documentaries like The Jinx and not so much for comedy.
Ross: Yup, it was his first time doing comedy. It was pretty fun. He’s a very funny guy and I’ve been telling him to do some comedy for years because he always does these projects with these more serious subjects. But yeah, he really dove in. He knew me and Dave’s acts pretty well, and it wasn’t a hard transition for him at all. It actually put a smile on his face and he later thanked me for it. He seemed really happy about the experience. Instead of doing another one of his deep crime or murder stories, he covered us murdering the audience with our jokes.
It’s always good to lighten things up a bit, murder included.
Ross: It makes a difference.
Having someone from outside the comedy world come in and do this probably helps to change the perspective, too.
Attell: It really does. For example, I hope people don’t get so caught up on the material, because it’s really the flow of the show that gets me. It’s like a hundred punchlines in one go of it. I counted over a hundred punchlines in one episode. You don’t get that nowadays in most specials or television series. Or anything, really. It’s just like rapid fire and with no pause. It’s the segments in between that give the people watching a chance to breathe, I guess.
Not to mention how Jarecki and his team ultimately decided to edit these episodes and space things out. Again, I imagine it’s a much different approach than what most comedy directors will do.
Attell: That’s true. We definitely had a lot of extra material for this, and at the end of the day, everybody has their style of doing stuff. Jeff does, the director does and so do I. This is actually the first time I’ve ever had this kind of collaboration with anybody, and I would say that it’s really a win because I like my stuff to look different. Jeff has his way of doing it, and as he said, this director wasn’t really a comedy guy. He’s a serious documentarian. So he definitely brought a different force to it. A much different look and style.
Dave, I was a huge fan of Insomniac, and I found myself thinking about it again when watching Bumping Mics, especially the segments you mentioned.
Attell: Yeah, there was some of that, but I didn’t want to do a reboot of that show. There are a couple of moments where me and Jeff are out on the street, talking to people and everything, but I wouldn’t say it’s the same. That was a rough shoot all the way around, actually. It was a really hot weekend and the scheduling for those interstitials was kind of up in the air. We honestly didn’t know what we were going to do for them. That’s why I think editing is so important for shows like this, especially comedy specials. So the director gets a lot of credit for the editing and the look of this show.
True, but I’d also say that you and Ross deserve just as much credit. Not just because you two are performing, but because the basis for Bumping Mics is your friendship. What the audience sees you two riffing about on stage together.
Ross: I’ve known Dave much longer than he knew me, because he was hosting the open mics I was going to. He was sort of my hero, and I used to watch him dazzle at these open mic nights. He was the funniest comedian in the amateur circuit where I started. As soon as he started to have a career, I would always sort of shadow him as best as I could. So if he was going up at the Comedy Cellar, I would go and watch him. He’s the guy the other comics would always go watch. I basically adopted him. I really wanted to be part of his life, and I always thought, “Well if Dave thinks I’m funny, I must be funny because he’s the funniest one of us there is.”
We’re both New Yorkers, so it just made sense to do it at home, both at this particular club and in and around the city. For most specials, people go on the road and try to make it a big, spectacular event, but I wanted it to seem like we were just doing another pop-up, improvised set at home — because we are. Plus, we didn’t have to worry about blocking, makeup, ticket sales, wardrobe and stuff like that. When you watch the show, you’ll quickly realize it’s basically just us walking onto the stage the way we would on any other given night.
Attell: I’m pretty sure I’m older than Jeff. I’m the old man and he’s the young kid. But yeah, I hope people come away thinking we’re actually good friends, because we are, and that we enjoy riffing on that a lot. It’s not as scripted as people might think. It’s really touch and go, and even though we did six shows over three nights, and what you see is the best of everything, we had no idea what was going to happen or who was going to be in the crowds. We didn’t really know who was going to actually show up, because the special guests really give it that extra pop. They were all just doing us a huge favor, really. And maybe there’s too much of that. Maybe there’s not enough of that. Either way, I think it’s better with all the Michael Ches and the Bob Sagets and the Gilbert Gottfrieds and the Michelle Wolfs and the Amy Schumers.
Most of these specials seem to treat the crowds as if they’re furniture. But in real, live stand-up performances, the crowd is really important, especially when you’re performing in a club. The Village Underground is a legitimate place. We all play there. It’s a good venue for something like this because it only fits around 200 people or so. You can really feel that when you’re there, and when you’re watching this at home. You don’t know who’s in the crowd at first and it’s great. It keeps you off balance and I like that.
It’s also a great way to showcase talent. General audiences will recognize folks like Che, Saget and Schumer, but you two invite a lot of comedians to riff with you who aren’t as well known. I mean, comedy fans know them, but general audiences might not.
Attell: I love doing that. It’s definitely one of my favorite parts of this, bringing up comics like Joe Machi or Wil Sylvince and bouncing around with them. That’s what we really do at these shows. There are so many good New York comedians who were hanging around watching us do this. Whether we’re doing it at the Comedy Cellar or we’re performing on the road somewhere, there’s almost always a crowd of comics who want to come and see the show and, maybe, take part. I guess they’re watching these two old guys — though Jeff doesn’t like being called “old,” so I’ll say “seasoned performers” — just going at it. It’s fun.
‘Bumping Mics with Jeff Ross & Dave Attell’ is now streaming on Netflix.