When I get on the phone with Todd Glass, he’s at the gym, ready to work out. He lets me in on the plan: he’s going to to talk with me and use the elliptical at the same time. If you’re skeptical that this could produce anything close to a listenable interview, you’re wrong. Not only is he present and engaged, but it doesn’t even sound like he’s working out. If he hadn’t told me, I wouldn’t have even known.
Glass says he’s often using elliptical time to get stuff done.
“For the first 45 minutes, it goes so fucking quickly,” he says.
He’s rarely at a loss for things to do, especially these days. He’s been in standup comedy for over 30 years, since he first took the stage at 16 years old. Since then, he’s navigated the shifting world of L.A. comedy and become a beloved name in standup.
More recently, he released The Todd Glass Situation, a memoir covering his time in comedy, growing up as a Jewish boy with ADD and dyslexia in Philadelphia, PA, a heart attack in 2010 and his decision to come out on WTF with Marc Maron in 2012. He also has a podcast, The Todd Glass Show, that’s been running for over three years at Nerdist.
As we’re talking, Glass is mentioning how much he can get done at the gym using his smart phone and voice activation. Todd Glass is performing tonight, Thursday, November 6 at the Conexus Arts Centre for the Just for Laughs Comedy Tour with Demetri Martin, Jon Dore, and Levi MacDougall.
Prairie Dog: When you were writing your book, were you using speech-recognition software?
Todd Glass: No, I actually had a ghostwriter, and what he would do is get me into certain areas. “Expand on when you were in second grade and you went and did a special class”, and when I was home, I’d record my thoughts and e-mail it to him, and he’d get it down on paper. I’d read it and send it back to him, saying, “I wouldn’t use that word”, or whatever it was and we went back forth like that.
Did that help you get to a first draft without being self-conscious of the subject matter?
It was a great. I couldn’t have done it without the ghostwriter. It’s all in my words, but it was still someone else pulling it out of me. I’m not embarrassed. Some people hide that they were using a ghostwriter. But anyone who reads the book knows that it’s in my voice, and I couldn’t have done it without him, without Jonathan Grotenstein. It’s in my words, but to get it out of my head and onto paper? I couldn’t have done it without him. Most of the time, I would send him a voice memo, he’d put it on paper and I’d e-mail him back and say, “I fucking love it because you get it out of my head so good.”
Both the book and your podcast are collaborative projects to some degree. What’s it like going from that to going back on the stage when it’s just you and the audience?
After a while in your career, everything becomes one. The book helped my standup, my standup helped the book and the podcast definitely helps my standup. The best thing about standup comedy can be the worst thing, if you let it. The best thing about standup is the audience, the instant gratification of a great audience. Most audiences are overwhelming the best. They’re why you do it. If you didn’t want to perform in front of people, you’d write books or you’d make pamphlets. The audiences are overwhelming great, especially at good comedy clubs. The danger is a group of people in the audience can sway your comedy in the wrong direction. But in a podcast, there is no audience. Sometimes, it forces you to trust your own comedic instincts. That can make you be better. You take some of that and apply it to your shows.
In a podcast, you’re not looking to hear them laugh. You can’t hear them not laughing.
You can’t hear them not laughing, and you can’t hear them laughing, either. In print, it always sounds like I’m complaining about these things, but I’m not. It’s all my bad-doing when I let it happen, when you let a few audience members or a few chatty people mess with the show. The podcast gives you the confidence. It’s like when I used to listen to Howard Stern and I would be in the car punching the door because they were just in there, trusting their instincts. If they wanted to beat a bit to death, they would just do it and do it and do it. That’s because there’s no audience in there, in that studio. They’re doing it because it’s making them laugh. Taking that back to the stage has definitely helped me. My podcast has definitely made me a better performer.
This interview has been edited and condensed for length and clarity.