Known for describing his stand-up comedy as "a puppet show, but way filthier and without the puppets," Ari Shaffir isn't afraid to bluntly offend any sensitive people who accidentally wandered into his performance. After pursuing comedy for almost two decades, the New York native and longtime LA resident finally managed to concoct the exact recipe for his live shows.
"I think I summed it up this year," Shaffir says. "It's either going to be shitting on children, promoting the violent revolution to overthrow the government, or stories about travels."
While those may seem like very different topics, they all flow together during each of Shaffir's sets. No matter what he's discussing on stage, Shaffir excels at comedic storytelling — so much so that Comedy Central moved his show, This Is Not Happening, into its late-night programming after it dominated the Internet for nine months. The series, a raw production of various comedians sharing their tales centered around a specific topic, is now in its sophomore season, and Shaffir doesn't see any point in changing it anytime soon.
"It's just comics telling stories, so it's just the same shit with new people and new stories," Shaffir says. "We have a good model that works, so we're not going to fuck with it. Anytime somebody thinks we should do it in New York or somewhere else, it's like 'Why would we do that?' Sometimes people change things just for the sake of changing things, and that doesn't make sense. Like you break up with your girl because you want something different, but you got a good girl, man, why would you do that? The show is going fine, so we're not going to change it."
While This Is Not Happening is about as live as a TV show can get, it's still very different from performing a live stand-up act. For one thing, Shaffir can cover nearly any subject on stage, but restricts it to one per episode on television. As simple as that may sound, it means a little more work and production on his end, but it also leads to a result enjoyed around the world rather than a few hundred people in a comedy club.
"For the TV show, I come up with a topic like travel or something, and then I have to think 'Well, what road stories do I know?'" Shaffir says. "Then I have to work a joke into the story to make it funny or whatever, and then there's a bunch of editing. It's cool because you can just ask comics about jokes on specific things, and if they don't have one then you can just use them next time."
It's that last part that's made This Is Not Happening such a success. Through its evolution from the Web to cable, Shaffir has done an excellent job of getting some of comedy's biggest names to share personal stories on the program. And if someone doesn't have a good story, they wait for a topic that suits them better, no matter how well known they are.
"I asked Marc Maron to do one about hookers one time, and he said he wasn't really a hooker guy, which is fine," Shaffir says. "I'd rather a comic tell me they don't have a story than try to do one they don't have something good for. Then we did one on heartbreak, and I didn't even have to ask him if he had a story, I just asked him if he was free that night."
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As for his live shows at the Tempe Improv this weekend, Shaffir knows that most of his fans will know what to expect for his performance. Instead of advising them on what they should know for the show itself, he's got far more important wisdom to spread about getting to and from the venue.
"Try to fucking take an Uber because the drunk-driving laws in Phoenix are the harshest in the country," Shaffir says. "Also, if you take an Uber, you don't have to worry about getting your car back if you want to hook up with a chick, when you're kind of forced to go to the same spot after. If you're looking to fuck, don't drive."
Ari Shaffir will be performing at the Tempe Improv March 31 through April 2.. Tickets cost $20 and are available through the Tempe Improv website.