Part two of an epic conversation between Ashok Kondabolu of Das Racist and Comedy Central comedian Sheng Wang.
July 19, 2012
It might be locked out so hard you can’t break in right now. You feel like stand-up comedy gets all your juices out?
To me, that’s where my interest is, where my passion is, where I feel like I can make improvements in. I feel like a lot of comedians at my level are trying to be more ourselves on stage. One element of my personality that I want to bring into stand up is that I feel like people take me too seriously. I want to maintain the silliness that I have in regular life that my friends see. I want to incorporate that into the stand-up somehow.
It’s probably a comfort level thing.
I feel like my comedy is dry, but it doesn’t have to be that monotonous or low energy. So I have a lot to learn and grow.
Do you ever perform high?
Yeah, but not often.
How does that change shows?
It can take you out of everything, out of the moment. So you’re in your head, you’re not engaged, you’re not into the show. You’re thinking about yourself doing the show instead of doing the show. But sometimes it can put you into the moment. It can lock you into, “I’m here. I’m going to tell you guys this story.”
More cognizant of my power.
I feel a better connection somehow. So I’ve had good and bad experiences. There’s a show that they do at The Creek and The Cave called Midnight Run. They get the performers super high. Sometimes they do mushrooms. And you perform. And the first time I did it, I felt completely disconnected and alienated from humanity. It was the worst experience ever. I left the show thinking no one there wanted to be my friend ever. I rode my bike back home and I just went to sleep. The next morning I woke up, got Excellent Pork Chop House to go, came home, ate that, watched “Up in the Air”’—which I rented on iTunes—and then I just cried.
That was a low.
Yeah that was a New York low, I think. That was before I got the special. I was, like, “What am I doing?” Definitely a low. But I’ve done that show since. All I had to do was tell that story, and it was OK.
Yeah, that’s why stand ups are great because they just incorporate stuff. Just, like, if you fuck up at shows, that’s the joke.
You got to embrace those things, the vulnerabilities and insecurities.
So basically, you want to become a very, very good standup comedian.
Right now, that’s my plan. I still think it would be cool to make other things. I want to grow as a stand-up, as a person. I want to be the best comedian I can ever be. That’s definitely my goal right now. What are my other goals? At The Business, I’ve also experimented with doing a slideshow while I kind of riff and tell stories related to the photos somehow.
Maybe the photos are random, and you have to riff off them?
Sort of. They’re my photos, pieces I’ve taken. I just line up things, combine my favorite photos, and put a little slideshow together. I’ve done it two times, and they weren’t very organization. I just kind of drag a couple of photos I really liked and put them on the screen and get drunk and high and talk about them.
What do you take photos of?
Random stuff—cityscapes, textures, colors.
Real art shit.
I kind of like painting, composing. I don’t do a lot of people unless they’re my friends. I would love to do street photography, but I don’t think I have the social, kind of, whatever to navigate that whole interaction. I love street photography. I love when people take pictures of random strangers in perfect moments, or whatever. I like everything else. I like that too. But I’ll do everything else from detailed minutiae—closeups—to composing the shapes of the window, the wall, the light.
Composing means you’ll manipulate these things?
No, I’ll frame it. So, I don’t know, I love taking photos. I like going to a new town, getting high, and going outside and start taking new pictures.
It creates, I bet on the road, it creates a new level of interest because, when you’re not doing stand-up… like when I’m touring with the band, I’m like, “What the fuck am I supposed to do for these eight hours? They’re wasted.”
It’s nice to go out and take a walk. It’s a good way for me to take in the city, to experience a new place. I feel like when I get high—I don’t want to sound like a brat—but it helps me see the visuals better. It’s just a more sharp sense of…
Yeah. Everything. Lights, textures, colors. I just like to put it into a photo.
Do you think there are any parallels between photography and stand up?
Yes, yes, yes. Good question. It’s a context. It’s framing your ideas. In stand up, you have an idea but in order to present it—the punch line—you have to have the right setup, the right context. I think Chris Rock said it—Louie told me. He quotes Chris Rock a lot. Chris Rock said punch lines are easy; it’s the setups you got to figure out.
But basically I think the parallels between photography and stand-up is that you take a little observation—a little something from your daily life—and then you frame it. And you present that to the audience in that context.
And then that slice will have some larger meaning.
A larger meaning or just a more focused…
Yeah. You bring more attention to it just by focusing on that one thing.
And maybe decontextualizing it, even.
Yes, and decontextualize it. So you won’t know what this whole thing is about, but you’ll know this little corner and how this curves into this shadow here and catches some light at the end. I also do that in stand-up where I keen in on one little act of life that people overlook.
If something weird happened to you at a McDonald’s bathroom, and you didn’t do stand-up, that would be gone. But when you do stand up, you can express what happened to you and frame it in a certain way, and it’s there.
And you can share it with people.
And in photography, you might not pay attention to it, and it might not ever look that way again. But hey, it’s here.
Yeah. There’s definitely a strong parallel. I can’t articulate it very well, but I think we got the gist of it.