Comedian Todd Glass has this way of keeping audiences smiling and feeling good, even in the moments when they’re not laughing uncontrollably.
I’ve sometimes wondered how Glass, who comes to the Santa Cruz Comedy Festival this weekend, pulls this off, despite working in a field where artists are constantly poking and prodding, always pushing the envelope—especially since playing things safe often comes off as uninteresting. Glass has some thoughts on this. He tells me that he puts a lot of thought into how he treats those at the other end of his punchlines, as well as who he’s picking on.
“Make fun of what people do, not who they are,” he says. “If someone decides to chew their gum like a cow, OK, that’s not how they were born.”
“I’m not talking about clean comedy. Fuck clean comedy,” Glass adds. “Comedy can be no curse words and be egregious.”
The comics who Glass most admires share this outlook. They don’t throw barbs at overweight people or make fun of someone’s sexuality, for example, he says.
The idea of ticking off audience members doesn’t worry Glass much, however. He figures that that someone at a show is bound to find a couple of jokes offensive, although he won’t target just anyone. “Offend the right people,” he says.
The standard that Glass uses to figure out what material works—and what doesn’t—is to think about what types of jokes will age well, compared to the ones that might make him cringe if he were to watch the footage years later. For instance, if someone pulled up footage today of a stand-up routine from the 1990s and the comic was making crass gay marriage jokes, many viewers would find that difficult to take in. But if they were to see someone taking on anti-gay marriage activists head on, “that’ll weather better,” he explains.
“You’re allowed to verbally punch anybody on the planet,” Glass says. “I want to pick the people that need it.”
The sixth-annual, laugh-filled festival runs from Friday, Oct. 4 through Sunday, Oct. 6. It swings into full gear Saturday night at 8pm. That’s when comics, including headliners like Glass, will start pinballing across shows at various bars and impromptu comedy venues, most of them free. All 15 headliners will perform the “All-Star Show” at DNA’s Comedy Lab. At 10pm, Glass will perform his own late-night show at the Lab.
Audiences may know Glass—who hosts a podcast called the Todd Glass Show and has a new Netflix special out—from his time on seasons two and three on NBC’s Last Comic Standing. They may also know him from what’s probably my all-time favorite clip of a comic shutting down a heckler.
In 2008, Glass was performing at a club in Davis, where a woman in the room had been hassling comics and staffers all night. Before going onstage, Glass leaned forward to her, put a finger to his lips, and offered a quick “Shh” with a polite shrug to let her know it wasn’t a huge deal, he says. She responded by flipping him off.
Standing at the back of the room, Glass realized that the woman likely thought he was a waiter, which frustrated him. He felt her response likely said something about her attitude toward those in the service industry more broadly. Once Glass got onstage, he told the brief story—none of which the woman denied. He continued calling her out, even while she proceeded to climb onto the stage herself. “And don’t ever treat a waitress or a waiter or anybody in the service industry like that again!” he exclaimed, as security escorted her out.
In letting anger get the best of him, Glass did use a word that he now regrets to describe the woman, who he did not know. And he’s considered taking down the popular video because of a sexist undertone in many of its comments.
Other than that, he feels good about the onstage moment.
“I was angry about her disrespecting comedy, so go off on that,” Glass says. “Be as volatile as you want, but volatile to what she did that bothered you. That night, I remembered to do that, and I did not feel guilty putting my head in my pillow at night or driving home.”
The Santa Cruz Comedy Festival runs from Friday, Oct. 4-Sunday, Oct. 6. Venues include DNA’s Comedy Lab, the Poet and the Patriot, the Food Lounge, Tabby Cat Café, Bookshop Santa Cruz, Santa Cruz Mountain Brewing, Rosie McCann’s, 99 Bottles, Callahan’s, and Abbott Square. Shows range from free to $25 ($30 at the door). For more information, visit standupsantacruz.com.