NBC's Last Comic Standing is like The Voice for stand-up comedians: it exposes these folks, who have been grinding for years if not decades just to make us laugh, to a national TV audience. The show has made a splash in its return, and one of the comics it's introduced us to is Jimmy Shubert, who called up BFTV recently to chat about competing on LCS and his career to date.
Why would he be willing to put himself into the reality TV machine? "Just because what I read about what they were trying to do this season," he told us. "Wanda Sykes, who's a great comic, brought the show back after a three-year hiatus. [There are] great judges...I thought that it was going to be done differently this year and they were respecting the art form."
Stand-up comedy is an art form: it's writing, pacing, delivery. Jimmy knows that after a career spent in the business; he's toured with the legendary Sam Kinison and headlined his own shows both at home and abroad. Clearly he has something that works - but when it comes to performing on Last Comic Standing, where you have precious few minutes on stage and you're getting notes from Standards and Practices, everything sort of goes out the window.
"I'm really kind of winging it," he said. "It is a competition [and] to win a competition, you have to be one of the best people in the competition. The big challenge was coming up with TV sets week after week after week, and being able to deliver them...That was what got me excited about it. Trying to put together verbal precision."
"You think you know, but you really don't until you get inside the belly of the beast," he continued. "You're not allowed to watch any of the other comedians. They keep you sequestered. It's different. Other than that, there's a lot more pressure on these spots because there's cameras everywhere. There's cameras in your face before you walk out. There's cameras in your face when you walk off. You're in front of these judges.
"I'm a working professional comedian. I pride myself on being a pro," he added. "I like to make people laugh. Obviously, I have a passion for it and I do it at a high level. Sometimes it gets so pressure-packed it almost takes the joy out of it for a second until you get through it. There's a lot of stakes."
But if it sounds tough, Jimmy also points out that the rewards are worth the headache. He has tremendous respect for the judges - Roseanne Barr, Keenen Ivory Wayans and Russell Peters - and he enjoys the opportunity to learn from their feedback. "These guys are all amazing in their own right individually, but together as a panel of judges, that's a lot of star power," he said, telling us he aims "to be able to impress those guys, with all the work they've done."
He also knows that Last Comic Standing can hopefully open some future doors for him. "It's a springboard. A lot of people have done it in the past that have launched their careers," he told us, hoping to add his name to a list that includes the likes of Alonzo Bodden, Kathleen Madigan, and Amy Schumer. "I'd love to ride this into an hour Showtime special. I'd love to play a cop; I'd love to be the comic relief in a cop drama. Or have my own sitcom."
Who is Jimmy Shubert beyond reality TV, though? Like many of the hard-working comics out there today, he's a man of many talents. In addition to his stand-up, he's appeared in film and television, and has his own podcast called (what else?) The Jimmy Shubert Show, where this down-to-earth guy gives other folks the spotlight.
"It's really cool, because I'm showcasing other comedians and people from other walks of life. I'm really proud of it," he told us. "I get to interview some great people. I'm doing a whole Last Comic Standing series, starting with Debra DiGiovanni. Some people from the current season, some people from past seasons." You can listen to Jimmy's podcast via his website or on iTunes.
What would he call some of his favorite accomplishments? "I thought I did a pretty good job in the movie Go that Doug Liman directed. I was proud of that," he said. "I was really proud of the fact that I went to do shows in Afghanistan with Drew Carey for the men and women of the military. I loved that I was able to do something like that. I toured with Sam Kinison; I pulled it off without losing my mind. That was kind of cool."
Kinison was a mentor to Jimmy as well, and one person on the long list of people that he enjoys as a fan. "I love George Carlin. George Carlin is my absolute [favorite]; he's my number one. Charlie Chaplin [and] Jackie Gleason were some of my early influences," he told us. "Brian Regan, Bill Burr, and Doug Stanhope do it at a very high level. [I like] anybody who makes me laugh, really, because I know how tough it is to do it."
Approachable, unpretentious, and bluntly honest, Jimmy is the kind of guy you'd want to grab a beer with after work or invite over to your summer party. Just don't expect him to be constantly firing off jokes. "The one thing you say with comedians, if you just let me be who I am, I'm always going to try to find the humor in most situations," he said. "But I'm not one of those guys that's always on. That would just be annoying!"
Last Comic Standing continues tonight at 10 PM ET/PT on NBC. For more on Jimmy, to find his upcoming show dates and to check out his podcast, visit his website (jimmyshubert.com) and follow him on Twitter (@JimmyShubert).