Gregg Gillis on Standup Comedy
Jul 19, 2011
Mash-up maestro Girl Talk (aka Gregg Gillis), is no stranger to the stage. Relentlessly touring behind his fifth album All Day, the cut-up artist commands audience attention with just his laptop and a single goal: to get butts on the dance floor. In honor of our recent Music vs. Comedy issue, Under the Radar quizzed Gillis about the surprising connections between his art and the art of laughter.
Laura Studarus: It almost seems like your music shares some DNA with standup comedy—the way you use short samples to elicit an audience response the way a comedian might use a joke.
Gregg Gillis: Yeah, to a certain degree! I watched the move Friday recently—which I love. It’s a classic and I haven’t seen it in a long time. I was thinking about how it’s a pretty subdued movie. There’s comedy and it’s really great, and the pacing is nice. There are so many comedies now where the pacing has gotten so intense. So much comedy—both in standup and on television—is just so jammed packed with content. It’s just constantly moving forward. I think that definitely relates to what I try to do in music to a certain degree. You just want to have as much as possible. Have it constantly be moving. Have various layers of things. Create many different elements that people can relate to—whether it’s the melody or the combinations.
Also on a different level, I think with music, I’m very sincere about everything I sample, and I’m a fan of all of it, and I like it—but there is definitely a comedic element to some of it. If you know the reference points, if you know the songs I’m sampling, a lot of times it’s entertaining and potentially funny to hear very intense vocals over a very sappy love song. Combining these two songs that don’t seem like they belong together in the same space—I’m not trying to generate comedy, but I think there is a humorous edge to some of the material. I think that’s part of the appeal.
It seems like when you perform live—a bit like a standup comedian—your goal is to get a very specific response from your audience.
Right! I’m always blown away watching standup comedy. It’s one of the most mind-blowing things to me. Just because of how great those people are. For me, the show I perform now, a lot of people are involved in putting it on. But how it got started, and how it evolved, it’s always just me and a laptop. I wanted to get up there and create a real show with a guy and a laptop, and make it raw, and make it feel like a rock and roll show, and make it a spectacle and all of that. So I think that definitely relates to standup comedy as well, where it’s literally a human being with a microphone talking, and they’re able to completely command and audience and entertain them. It can be a lot more entertaining than watching a band play, often times. Watching great comedians do their thing is crazy, just getting down to the details of it. It’s a guy, just speaking. He’s just making observations and talking about things, but the way he’s phrasing his observations is entertaining this entire room full of people—making it a show to watch. It’s always just such an incredible thing to me. I love watching standup comedy. It’s an amazing art form. A lot of times it’s more impressive than people getting up there and playing traditional instruments.
Are there any comedians or comedies that you watch while on the road?
It varies depending on who we’re traveling with, but the past year or two I’ve gotten really into Katt Williams. I love his stuff. The American Hustle DVD is really big on the tour bus. All of his stuff—I think he’s my favorite recent standup comedian.
Have met any of your favorite comedians?
I’ve met Aziz Ansari. That’s probably the only comedian I’ve ever met. At least well-known comedian. I do have a lot of friends who do standup locally on a smaller level. A lot of musicians I like in Pittsburg are outgoing enough they do these weird standup nights that are attended by a small number of people, but it’s very extreme. They can kind of go any direction with it. It’s such a small audience that you can be a bit more experimental or abstract with the comedy.
When they make the film of you leaving your job as an engineer to become a musician, is it going to be a comedy or a drama?
I would say it’s a comedy if I had to pick between the two. There’s a lot of drama in anyone’s life, it’s natural day-to-day drama. But I think this story is more of a comedy. It’s more absurd, and a little crazy, and unlikely. I think overall it’s positive. Maybe it could be a dark comedy at times. I don’t know who would play me. There are a lot of young nerdy actors. It’s hard to pick!