UPROXX Interview: Comedian Ari Shaffir Has One Rule For Storytelling: Don’t Name Your Mushroom Dealer

Senior Writer
01.21.15
Ari Shaffir This is Not Happening

Comedy Central

If you’ve never watched Ari Shaffir’s Comedy Central web series This is Not Happening, you have a lot of catching up to do. While it’s not your basic stand-up show, it shares some similar qualities – well-known comics making people laugh in a dimly-lit club. However, that club is actually Los Angeles’ “most distinguished gentlemen’s club” Cheetahs, and the comics that have joined Shaffir are telling true stories instead of jokes. Fortunately for everyone involved, it just so happens that most of those stories are absolutely hilarious and almost too ridiculous to believe.

As of this week, though, Comedy Central is finally removing the word “web” from the description for This is Not Happening. Shaffir’s absurd exercise in storytelling is officially a Comedy Central series, debuting at 12:30 AM ET on Friday morning, and he’ll be joined by a variety of his comedy friends, including Rob Corddry, D.L. Hughley, Keegan-Michael Key, Marc Maron, Steve Rannazzisi, Joe Rogan and Paul Scheer, during the show’s first season. All of this comes hot on the heels of his stand-up special, “Paid Regular,” which debuted last Friday, so it almost seems like Shaffir is Comedy Central’s new comic of the moment.

Not quite, he told me when we spoke about his series getting the ultimate upgrade, but it’s going to be hard for people to not want more stories once they’ve given This is Not Happening a shot.

UPROXX: This is Not Happening has already been a hilarious web series for the last year or so. When did Comedy Central decide that it was time to bring it to TV?

Ari Shaffir: I’m an unproven commodity, and after we were doing the show for a while, they wanted to do a web series. Then they finally wanted to make it a TV series. We were pitching it as a show a few years ago, but they didn’t want me as a host because they didn’t know me. They were like, “Let’s get Sarah Silverman to host.” I didn’t care that much, because it takes time and it’s just a fun show to do.

UPROXX: When did you decide to turn storytelling into your own series?

Ari: It started with me and my friend Eric at a Thanksgiving party, and we were telling mushroom stories. I was telling my stories and then he told a story about Bonaroo or Coachella. He was doing some improv at the time and I wasn’t doing anything, so I thought, “I can do this.” So I did this show with a bunch of comics and we told stories about doing mushrooms. Nobody showed up, just a few people, but it was such a fun show that we were like, “We should do that again.” It’s just fun to watch, so we had comics like Joey Diaz, Steve Rannazzisi and Marc Maron come in and do shows about sex, psychadelics, heartbreak, and family stuff. We just kept doing it.

UPROXX: Has anyone ever told a story that made you say, “No, that’s just too much”?

Ari: No. I don’t think that way. The only rule I’ve ever given was at the first show and I said, “Listen, we all get our mushrooms from the same guy, so don’t say who you get your mushrooms from.” There are no rules. What’s somebody going to tell me, that he killed somebody? I know people who’ve killed people. “Rowdy” Roddy Piper did a show once, and he told us the story about Mr. Fuji reacting to the WWE hiring another Asian guy. Mr. Fuji invited the guy and his family over for a nice barbecue, and he was like, “By the way, you know that burger you just ate? That was your dog. I took your dog when you left your apartment and served it to you. You ate your dog. Get out of the WWE.” So there are no stories that go too far.

UPROXX: Who is one comic that you’ve worked and shared stories with who just always has the best stories?

Ari: There are a lot of guys who have really good stories, but Joey Diaz always has great stories. He’s a good one.

UPROXX: Now that This is Not Happening is graduating from web series to its own show on Comedy Central, have you had random comedians or just people in general who stop and tell you, “I have the craziest story”?

Ari: No, but I have had it happen where I’ll be in a room with comedians and they’ll say, “Let me just tell one story…” and then they tell more and more stories. You’d think more people would try to tell me stories but they really don’t.

UPROXX: You’re basically Comedy Central’s Man of the Moment right now. You had the special debut last week and now your series is launching. How does it feel to have that focus?

Ari: They made me hire a bodyguard… I’m joking. There’s no pressure, though. I’m just constantly writing material and working it out, trying to make it better all the time. All of the stories and the show are cool and all, but that’s just second place to standup, which is the most important thing.

UPROXX: Do you worry about this new wave of so-called comedy activists who key in on one joke from a comic, try to make a huge deal out of it, and capitalize on it by piggybacking on that comic’s fame?

Ari: It’s a problem what they’re up to, but you can’t worry about it. They create this online fervor and all it takes is one person to say, “We should all be against this” and they go for it. There’s no rhyme or reason to it, so you can’t worry about it. It’s all dumb. They’re saying, “We don’t like this thing that you’re doing, so we’re trying to get you fired.” So that means every other comic will think twice about crossing a line. But if you don’t have a line, they’re saying you should still worry about it. Just don’t watch it!

I get it from a company’s standpoint, though. If a thousand people are Tweeting at Reebok, “Why did you hire a murderer or a rapist?” they’re going to be like, “What? No, we don’t want to hire a rapist. Let’s not use this guy anymore.” But some guy who wrote something as a joke and said it in front of his friends, it’s just dumb. What should happen is every comic should find out which joke offended someone and try their best to offend that group and go overboard. It’s like, you got a problem with this guy? Well, you know what’s going to happen? The opposite’s going to happen and we’re all going to make fun of breast cancer now.

UPROXX: In your special, “Paid Regular,” you tell the story of the time you went to a UFC event in Atlantic City while on mushrooms. Did you even notice all of the crazy and belligerent fans around you?

Ari: I went once when I was on acid and did. Forrest Griffin was making his way to the octagon and he’s playing some Boston-Irish music [Dropkick Murphys’ “Shipping Up to Boston”], and everyone was going crazy and cheering. I was like, this is a coliseum. They should be fucking fighting lions, it’s the same shit. The way the lights went down on the octagon, that was really cool. It’s really fun, and if the fight is boring and the people are just wrestling, you can leave and walk around and look at stuff.

UPROXX: Where’s the craziest place that you’ve ever taken mushrooms?

Ari: I don’t think the places are crazy. They’re all normal. I just take them. My friends took mushrooms at a casino once, and they separated at one point and found one of the guys just staring at a video poker machine and laughing. So a guy asked him what he was laughing at, and he followed his eye to figure out what he was staring at, and then he started laughing, too. There was nothing funny about it. The places aren’t crazy, the mushrooms are crazy.

UPROXX: Are there any comics or celebrities that you really want to come tell a story for the show?

Ari: There are a few that I really want back and then there are other guys I think would be good, but I don’t really know if they would or not. I’d really like to get a musician, so I think Dave Grohl would be pretty cool. But Jim Jefferies and Bill Burr have already done the show and they’re great, so I hope they do it again.

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