Robert Berry looks the part of a comedian. A smiling, genial man who laughs easily, Berry seems always to be letting us in on a joke. On May 2 at the Comedy Spot in midtown, Berry will let a hometown crowd in on about an hour’s worth of jokes as he records his first full-length stand-up comedy album.
Berry acknowledges the recording marks a milestone for him in his comedy career. Just having enough material to make an album has been a process.
“You start out hoping you’ve got five good minutes,” Berry said. “I did five minutes at lots of open mikes and trashed most of it and started again.”
But he built on those five-minute segments and began stringing his best material together.
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“When you get 10 to 15 minutes, then you get good chances to be on nice comedy showcases, other people’s shows,” Berry said.
Berry had an edge in development in that he had been hosting events for years, from fundraisers at his kids’ school to raucous nights for the Trash Film Orgy at the Crest Theatre.
“I was funny but not really doing stand-up,” Berry said. He was in front of all kinds of audiences and getting comfortable with that type of pressure and attention. He’s now often called by comedy clubs here and in the Bay Area to host shows for other comedians. That allows him to get 15 minutes of his own material out in the world.
His longtime friend and colleague Keith Lowell Jensen looks at it as a low-pressure apprenticeship.
“He was doing comedy long before he called it comedy,” Jensen said. “He used to go to the open-mike poetry readings and he’d be hilarious. The stuff with Trash Film Orgy was also very funny.”
Jensen, with several albums to his credit, including last year’s “Atheist Christmas,” will open the show for Berry with his own set. Jensen said Berry didn’t so much change what he was doing but rather the context of it.
“All of a sudden he’s saying, ‘I’m going to call this stand-up and do it in a stand-up venue,’” Jensen said. “Then I’m seeing him at open mikes and seeing him at places where I hadn’t before.”
Jensen, who like Berry got his comedy start by hosting onstage events such as the Spike and Mike Festivals of Animation, also knows the difference between being onstage and telling a few jokes and going on as a comedian.
“That is an intimidating step of saying this is stand-up – the stuff I’m going to say now I’m actually telling you it’s going to be funny. You’re pretty screwed if it’s not,” Jensen said.
Berry’s specialty is the quick-hitting, short joke that he likes to string together, finding a rhythm with them.
“One of my favorite ones is, ‘I’m working on a TV show for the Animal Planet where I get really cute animals – cute, adorable fluffy animals – that are dead, and I try to figure out what killed them. It’s called “Awww … topsy” – so you can check that out.’ I like a pun,” Berry said.
Berry knows that a lot of these jokes are groaners, but people still like them.
“Sometimes you can get into this great dynamic with the audience where it’s almost like call and response. It’s very churchlike, and it’s very quick,” he said.
“If you listen to Steven Wright or Mitch Hedberg, one of their records, it’s a hundred jokes. Back in the day, going way back into comedy history, old vaudeville, Jack Benny and Henny Youngman, it was tons of little jokes,” Berry said.
Berry has longer stories in his repertoire. The longer set allows him to explore all his influences and comedic interests. “I grew up with classic Bill Cosby records, Bob Newhart and Robin Williams. I’ve always enjoyed stand-up comedy since I was a kid, and just soaked it all in,” Berry said.
“It takes time for a comedian to find his own voice and certainly the idols influence you a little bit.”
He has had a track record of engaging and entertaining people particularly with his retroCRUSH website, podcasts and events related to his pop-culture obsession.
“I would write about old video games, movies, commercials, toys, nostalgia as a whole,” Berry said. The website was getting up to half a million readers a month when Berry was active with it. “I made a list of the top 100 worst cover songs of all time, and the New York Post commented about what our choice was.
“I thought it would be a great way to interview some people that I idolized, and I have a big collection of those interviews on my website.”
His live quarterly retroCRUSH events have become like variety shows featuring comedy, music and even burlesque performers.
But Berry has decided to focus on his stand-up. To that end, he hopes making the album can push him toward headliner status with an identifiable persona.
Call The Bee’s Marcus Crowder, (916) 321-1120. Follow him on Twitter @marcuscrowder.
What: Taping of a live comedy album
When: 10:30 p.m. May 2
Where: Sacramento Comedy Spot, 1050 20th St., Suite 130, Sacramento
Information: (916) 444-3137; saccomedyspot.com/