Matt Lieb and the Sunshine Fortress of Solitude.
Matt Lieb is a thirty-one year old comedy powerhouse: writer, actor and street musician/Bone Thugs-N-Harmony cover band. He was named “one of my all-time favorite Bay Area performers” by the award-winning SF blog Courting Comedy and described as “extremely talented, charmingly dark and genuinely pleasant.” He won 2nd place at the 2004 KZSC Comedy Competition, but the guy who won 1st place no longer does comedy so Matt basically won 1st place. He also won 1st place at the 2013 Rooster-T-Feathers Comedy Competition, which was very validating for him. Matt Lieb has opened for many legendary performers including W. Kamau Bell, Gilbert Gottfried, Jeff Ross, Rory Scovel, Ryan Papazian and 3rd Eye Blind. Web commercial character actor and viral sensation: http://www.mattlieb.com/2012/07/hello-world/ Lieb writes for Filmdrunk and has written for Yahoo!’s Broken News Daily and is poised for comedy domination. (Interview by Anna Nelson)
SUSC: When did you first start doing comedy?
Lieb: I first tried stand-up at UC Santa Cruz. They had a stand up comedy class, so I guess I was 18 years old. It was basically just an open mic.
They didn’t really teach you how to do stand-up. It was just a bunch of students all together in the theater department in one of their stage rooms. Every week we would have to have a new three minutes, four minutes on whatever theme that was assigned. This week was about family, next week it’s about politics – you just kinda try out material in front of your other classmates. There was about 40 people in the class. And that was my first time trying it.
Who did you come up with? Who were your crew of comedians?
Well, it’s interesting — well, maybe it’s not interesting. But, it kinda starts in like two halves. First it was me trying it when I was 18 and started with Mary Van Note who’s a comedian who also took that class. Emily Heller. I don’t know if Jesse Elias took class, but he was definitely doing stand up around the same time. Grant Lyon was another Santa Cruz person. Although, he might have started earlier. This was just around the local comedy scene. I’m not sure how much comedy many of them were doing at the time, I think Emily was doing it for real and Grant was doing it for real.
What’s for real?
For real like going to open mic nights, going up to San Francisco to get some stage time. You know, really pursuing it. Rather than just doing a set for one quarter [at UCSC] and then not doing stand up until someone three months later decided to put on a show. There was all these one-off shows on campus at Kresege Cafe, Baobab Lounge, or the Namaste Lounge. You know all these hippie-ass lounges. So, I was doing it about every three months at one of those lounges and then me and some friends from the class including Mary Van Note started a sketch comedy group.
What was the name of the group?
It was called, “Sunshine Fortress.” Yeah, not bad. And, it was a lot of fun. It sort of took the place of stand up just because it involved hanging out with friends, and not being a loner. It was mostly for fun, we would perform every three or four months.
Is that who you produce your YouTube stuff with? Do you still run in that group?
Well, this wasn’t pre-YouTube, but it was at a time before everyone realized that you should just make YouTube videos what are you doing doing live sketch. So, we maybe had one or two YouTube videos at most, but mostly it was just live. We would write sketches and set a date for when we’d perform them. We’d tape the show, but we wouldn’t sell that or put it online. It was just for ourselves.
It seems like that’d be better though right? Because you actually have to deal with timing and all that where as on YouTube you can just edit it really well.
Right, and also it allowed for a lot of mistakes and improvisation and feeling out the audience – what they like and what they don’t like. It’s interesting to me because there was a time when it seemed like a lot of the big comics, stand up comics in San Francisco, had sketch comedy groups that they were also a part of. So, they weren’t putting out YouTube videos, it was live sketch.
Now you don’t see that at all. I mean I don’t see almost any sketch comedy in San Francisco, and the stuff that I have seen it’s not stand up comics it’s theater people. No offense to theater people, but it’s a different kind of feeling. It feels more like everyone’s doing a character or everyone’s doing a funny voice, where as like the sketches that stand up comics would write felt more natural and nuanced and not everyone projected their voices in a certain way. And, it didn’t feel like you were watching an amateur play.
So, we [the Sunshine Fortress] started performing in San Francisco, we would go up for like random shows every once in awhile.
What spots did you perform at in San Francisco?
We did a show at the Hemlock, we did a lot of shows at the Dark Room Theater which is now closed. We performed at Sketch Fest a couple of times, and we were performing with other sketch groups like there was one called Boomtime? And it had Alex Koll, Moshe Kasher and Brent Weinbach. And all three of those comics individually are amazing and yeah they had a sketch comedy group. I know all three have gone on have great stand up careers though I’m not sure they do much sketch anymore.
So, yeah. It was a very weird time in San Francisco where a lot of different stand ups also did sketch. So we did that for a few years, probably and in those two years we probably did no more than 15 sets, or shows.
And what about in Santa Cruz? What spots in Santa Cruz did you perform in?
It was mostly on campus. I’m trying to think if we ever performed off campus. I stayed up on campus most of the time if I was performing. Once I lived off campus I stopped performing or doing any comedy for the most part and pretty much was just dedicated to doing a lot of drugs. Which was also fun, but not as creatively stimulating. So, yeah then I didn’t do sketch or stand up. I hadn’t been doing stand up really at all, that was something that lasted maybe a year when I was 18, 19. Then sketch for a couple of years. And then, you know, nothing forever.
What were you doing in the “Nothing Forever” Period?
I was just doing drugs. I was really into drugs. I was a fan. I was a big fan of drugs. I was like, wow, these are good.
It’s almost like drugs make you feel good or something.
Yeah it’s weird. People only talk about the bad parts, but no one tells you about all the good parts. Like how you feel good. So I dedicated myself to that and trying to finish school, and I was able to finish in the four years with an extra quarter I think. But, if I fast forward a bit through all the bad times I didn’t do stand up, or perform any comedy for awhile until I was about 26 years old and moved to San Francisco. I moved back to LA for about a year to not do drugs, so you know, I got my shit together, or attempted to. And then I decided I wanted to be back in the Bay Area with some friends of mine, then applied to grad school to be a teacher, and then I was at SF State for about two months before I realized that that’s like the worst job in the world.
So I was like, I could just get any other job and it would pay as much or way more. No, education’s great. If you love it, go for it. Anyways, I just decided it just wasn’t for me and that I just really wanted to be a comedian, and decided I might as well try that again because I really enjoyed it. It took awhile before I worked up the guts to do it again. A few months after dropping out of SF State I went to my first open mic. So, that’s when I’d say that’s when I actually started doing stand up, you know if you don’t count the handful of times I tried when I was 18 and 19.
What’s the worst set you’ve ever done?
Worst set that I’ve ever had. That’s a good question. The worst set I ever had when I was first trying stand up, I entered the Rooster T-Feather’s Comedy Competition at a club in Sunnyvale, and it was my first set outside of a college campus and I was like 19 at the time. And it was about four minutes of me bombing my ass off in front of a bunch of people. I mean, I did a joke about how jesus dying was funny.
In a group full of…
Well, they were Latino Catholics. So I bombed, real real bad. And then at the comedy competition you know everyone’s there to support their particular friend. So I bombed in front of this guy’s extended family and friends and they didn’t appreciate a jew on stage, jokingly, facetiously proud of killing their lord and savior. And one of them said so outside. He basically said any of you jews…well, he made fun of yamakas which was weird because I wasn’t wearing one, but he knew of them. And I was like, alright, well at least he’s cultured and racist. So, yeah that was the worst set ever. You know you’re doing bad when someone reveals their anti semitism to you. You know you’ve bombed hard when after you’re done people say, “huh, I guess I don’t like Jews.” I guess I do see what all the fuss is about.
Seems like they’re threatened by the chosen people.
Yeah, well I probably shouldn’t have made light of the whole lord and savior thing, but it’s like part of the joke — the shitty joke. Looking back I get it. So that was the worst set I ever did, but on the plus side I did find some really great drugs on the street of San Jose that night so that was good.