"Robbie Pickard says doing stand-up comedy is a lot like pledging a fraternity."

College has always been the place where people find themselves in terms of what they want to do with their life. When comedian Robbie Pickard realized he couldn’t play soccer professionally, he turned to stand-up comedy. With the help of his fraternity brothers, Pickard is living the dream as a quote unquote comedy nerd.

Q – When did you start doing stand-up?

A - My first time onstage was May 11, 2007 at The Ice House in Pasadena. It was the graduation show from a class I took. I was so nervous that I drank a tall can of Coors Light in my car by myself before the show. In hindsight, that’s one of the saddest things I’ve ever done. I killed, only because I had about 40 of my overly supportive friends in the crowd, which gave me the biggest false sense of security ever. A week later did the exact same five minute set at a dive bar in Pomona, Calif. and bombed miserably. I’m talking absolute silence. I’ve never heard anything quieter than that. Stand-up is very humbling that way; it doesn’t allow you to get cocky.

Q – Why stand-up?

A - I played college soccer for UC Irvine, and as soon as I found out that I’d never be a professional soccer player, I knew I wanted to do something with comedy. I waited tables at the Irvine Improv my last two years of college, and saw comedy shows 4 nights a week. I went from comedy fan to comedy nerd. I’d quote my favorite comics relentlessly, I’d ignore the customers I was supposed to be serving because I was watching the show, and I’d keep a little notebook in my back pocket and write down jokes I liked. I wasn’t trying to steal their material or anything; I was trying to understand their thought process and how they came up with it. Stand-up is the most pure art form there is. There is one rule: be funny. In 100 years, technology will make movies capable of things we can’t even imagine; they’ll laugh at the special effects we think are so amazing today. But stand-up comedy will still be the comedian, a stool, and a microphone - probably a much fancier microphone - but you get my point. The rawness of stand-up makes me love it so much.

Q – Describe your act for those who have yet to see you perform.

A - In all honesty, I wouldn’t even call it an act. I just try to be me up there. I don’t use a different voice, I don’t wear clothes I wouldn’t normally wear, and I don’t write jokes that aren’t at least based on truth or my real opinion on something. My jokes come from my actual life. I’m a 25-year-old guy living with two of my old fraternity buddies in a 3-bedroom apartment in Santa Monica. I’m too old to still be a frat guy, and too young to be a real adult yet. I think audience members of all ages can relate; because even if they aren’t my age now, they remember what it was when they were. People come to comedy shows to escape for a couple hours - they worked a 9-5 job or had class all day and want to let loose, have a couple drinks, and laugh. I just try to lead the party, have a couple drinks with them, and provide those laughs.

Q – When I was in college, frat guys were mostly known for keggers and sports. What’s it like being a frat guy that now does stand-up?

A - Becoming a stand-up comedian is actually a lot like pledging a fraternity. You have to go through a lot of humbling, embarrassment, and hazing before they’ll let you be a member. To join one you have to swallow goldfish and drink absurd amounts of beer, and to join another you have to get on stage night after night in front of drunks at open mics, dive bars, and bowling alleys and try to make them laugh - I’m not sure which one is worse. Part of me can’t wait until my comedy pledgeship is over, but another part of me is enjoying the ride.

Q – Do any of your fraternity brothers come to your shows?

A - Yeah, I was lucky to be in a great fraternity (Sigma Alpha Epsilon… phi alpha) where we all really support each other in what paths we’ve decided to take after college. In college we were all so similar - we played sports, drank a lot, and chased girls. It’s really cool to see how we’re all growing up… except for me, because I write poop jokes for a living.

Q – You have a BA in Literary Journalism. What types of writing do you do other than stand-up material?

A - I do a lot of sketch writing with my comedy friends, and we try and film them as much as possible. I’m also working on a pilot from an idea I’ve had for a long time, and hopefully by some miracle it will end up on TV one day. Trying to write a TV show by myself is one of the hardest things I’ve ever attempted. You have to create these characters and develop them so deeply; it’s a lot harder than I anticipated. I’ll bring my laptop to a coffee shop and “write” for hours, and barely put any words on the page - I’ve been brainstorming the whole time. I also started a blog called Robbie Has Diaryhea (get it? It’s a diary!).

Q – In previous correspondences, you told me that you wrote scripts and went to auditions. It seems that a lot of comedians parlay their stage time into screen time. Do you really want to go into television or film?

A - Absolutely. As much as stand-up means to me, it’s ridiculous to try and think it’s going to be my only source of income for my life. I don’t want to have to do the road my whole life just to survive. One day I want to have a family and kids and be home for them. I also don’t want to limit myself to one thing. I love creating and writing comedy, and that can mean stand-up, movies, sketches, television, etc. I just want to create things that I’m proud to have my name on.

Q – You come from a family of performers, with your sister being a musician. Was performance art big in your household?

A - It’s funny because it really wasn’t. We have a very talented family, but no one before me or my sister had really done live performance. My mom is an amazing artist and graphic designer, and my dad is an incredible writer - there’s no doubt they were huge influences on our creative abilities. My sister and I have both been lucky enough to have incredibly supportive parents. They are in the front row, embarrassing us because they’re taking pictures and videos and all of that, but we wouldn’t have it any other way. A lot of parents would freak out having one child chase a dream that’s so uncertain and hard to attain, let alone both children. But they’re genuinely proud of us, they legitimately believe we will succeed, and it means the world to us both.

Q – What would you want to accomplish before you call it quits in entertainment?

A - I feel like I haven’t even started! I guess when it’s all said and done, I just want to be able to look back and be proud of the things I’ve done - stand-up, television and movie scripts, and anything else I end up doing. I want to be respected by other comics as someone who was a great writer and comedic mind, pushed some boundaries, and stayed true to himself. Above all, I’d like to help inspire the next generation of comedians in the same way my heroes have inspired me. Is this too long to fit on my headstone?

BYLINE:

Jason Tanamor is the Editor of Zoiks! Online. He is also the author of the novels, "Hello Lesbian!" and "Anonymous." Email Jason at jason@zoiksonline.com.

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