By Waves or By Road: The Comedy of Murray Valeriano
“I don’t smoke weed anymore,” Murray Valeriano told me, “but if you ever have a free afternoon, you should get stoned and watch the 1970s cartoon Hobbit movie.”
I can’t say whether or not that’s a fun afternoon, but I can say that Murray and I both hated the first two Peter Jackson Hobbit movies. (Don’t even get me started.) I talked to Murray about his podcast Roadstories and his traveling standup show Comics on Surfari while he was killing time before a Writers Guild screening of The Hobbit: Battle of the Five Armies.
Murray’s a great guy and a hilarious comedian who’s been doing it full-time since the late 90s. He’d never met Janeane Garofalo, but heard she quit her day job at a certain age. When he hit that same age, he quit his day job, too, and the rest (as they say) is history.
On Roadstories (also available on iTunes), which has been a part of the All Things Comedy network since August 2013, Murray talks to comedians “about life on and off the road and everything that happens in between.” It sounds like it could be too niche, and feature real “inside baseball” talk that only other comedians could understand. But it’s not inside baseball at all. It’s exactly the type of stories that make you feel the pain of how awful road gigs can be, and the type of stories that add to the admiration of comics who grind it out on the road in front of some truly terrible audiences.
Murray started Roadstories after a long stretch of travel dates. Sitting around the Improv with a bunch of fellow comedians, they all started sharing stories about the awful gigs they just fought their way through. Murray said, “I thought, ‘This is fun, man. I should do something with this.’” He got the idea to turn it into a podcast after listening to Never Not Funny, and recorded his first episode back in 2009.
After taking a year off – “that’s the year podcasting exploded and Maron came out”– Murray fired up the mics again and brought Roadstories back to life.
“It’s so much better the second go-round,” Murray said. “Podcasting is such an amazing thing we have going right now. It’s completely rule-less. You can do whatever you want. If I want to have Jimmy Pardo on my podcast every week, I can have Jimmy Pardo on my podcast every week. If I want to talk about dark, disgusting, sexual fantasies, I can do that. If I want to preach from the bible, I can do that.”
Murray says the whatever-you-want-it-to-be nature of podcasting is one of his favorite parts of the gig. He and I both hate late night talk shows with prepared questions and prepared answers. That’s why he doesn’t really prep his shows – he wants comics to tell stories that they’d never tell on television.
That freedom to say whatever you want has let him be more open on Roadstories, and also in real life. Murray says that’s “a double-edged sword” because it generates the comedy he likes (“real, emotional, from-the-heart comedy”), but can also sometimes “lead to a set where it feels like it’s 3:30 on a Tuesday afternoon at a therapist’s office.”
You can catch Murray’s stand-up at any of his Comics on Surfari shows. The name, a play on a 1960s term where people traveled the world and went surfing; the tour is made up entirely of comedians who surf (and Murray was quick to point out that these guys aren’t “fairweather surfers, who only surf when it’s Saturday and 80 degrees” – these guys are all out there in January in freezing water).
Comics on Surfari tours up and down the West Coast, surfing during the day and doing shows at night. Murray says the tour is built around 7 core comedians: himself, Monty Franklin, Joe Sib, Andrew Norelli, Graham Elwood, Tim Lee and Andy Wood. If you want a good show, check out one of these gigs – all 7 guys are the real deal.
“It’s headliners opening, headliners middling, and headliners headlining,” Murray said. “I think the MC spot is very important, and it gets overlooked here a lot in America. When one of our guys goes on stage to MC, that’s when the show starts.”
Comics on Surfari started when Murray was “freezing his ass off” at a Denver bus stop in the middle of February. It was 21 degrees outside, and he thought, “There are clubs on the coast. Why am I not working San Diego in February? I can surf in the morning, and do shows at night. There are clubs all over California.” He approached Graham Elwood and a few other people, and they were all on-board. Their first show was at the Irvine Improv, and it sold out.
The next Comics on Surfari is at the Brea Improv on December 10. Not a surfer? Don’t worry. The show isn’t surf-themed – it just so happens that all the comedians love to surf.
“It’s really just an excuse to surf and do stand-up,” Murray said. “That’s all it is. If you were to look at us, if you didn’t see our tanlines, we don’t fit the stereotypical surfer. I’m a stay-at-home dad. Joe Sib is a punk rocker-turned-comedian. Tim Lee is a scientist-turned comedian.”
Not only is the show NOT surf-themed, but it’s sort of amazing how poorly surf jokes go.
“I remember Andy Wood was hosting one of the first shows,” Murray told me, “and I was saying,’“Stay away from surfing jokes, because they don’t really fly.’ He opened with four minutes of surfing jokes, and found out that was true really quickly.”
You can get tickets to the next Comics on Surfari at the Brea Improv HERE. The best way to find out about upcoming shows is by searching “Comics on Surfari” on Facebook, or by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org to join the mailing list or to ask questions.
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