Andrés du Bouchet Talks Absurdist Stand Up, Writing for Conan and Twitter Jokes

Andrés du Bouchet is a weird guy. His jokes are confusing, long and most of the time difficult to comprehend. And that’s good. He doesn’t conform to normal stand up conventions. Don’t believe me? Check out his latest album 20-Sided Guy where his strangest bits puzzle those that don’t focus on the content of the joke. He has dozen minute long monologues that center on characters or out of this world topics.

Bouchet began writing for Conan in 2008 but his career in comedy started about ten years prior. He’s a comic’s comic that commands attention. His persona overtakes the stage as he faces an audience. You would think that he’s that bombastic in real life but he’s not. He’s very laid back and carries a good head on his shoulders. Bouchet answers questions confidently, never going back on what he said before.

I recently chatted with the comedian about his type of stand up, comedy writing and writing for Twitter.

So you started in New York in the 90’s right?

Yes. By 1997, I moved to New York City and started doing this stuff. You know what, I actually did improv in New York City in like ’95 or ’96 while I was commuting from Jersey where I lived with the folks for a time. And then moved to New York City in ’97 and started doing, like uh, sketch comedy with some friends and then also, um, the stuff I sort of started gravitating to the most like solo monologues and weird sort of character pieces.

I noticed that during a couple of your sets. You have like this weird, unique almost absurdist stand up. It’s kind of like Tim and Eric but it’s a little bit toned down from Tim and Eric.

Yeah, obviously absurdity is a big part of my repertoire. Because I grew up being a huge Monty Python fan and that kind of style of humor. I generally try to keep it still within a context that a live audience can still know what I’m talking about. I guess that’s why it’s a little more grounded. I try to make everything sort of have a logical framework rather than get weird and absurdist within it so you still have to sort of pay attention and use you’re a brain a little bit to see where I’m going with things because it’s not so out of left field and random that it’s just non sequitur and stuff.

Right. So how do you choose what bits get into your set and what stays in your notebook or in your mind?

Oh geez. I think I pretty much try everything that I come up with. I’m not super prolific where there’s like tons and tons of comedy bits that are in my note boooks that don’t make it to the stage. (laughs). It’s funny, I do carry around one of those little moleskin – what do you call it – you know moleskin. These little black, hardcover notebooks. And I go through like one every three or four months. I fil it up with scribbles and weird stuff. It basically boils down to a couple of new pieces that I try on stage a year. It’s not like I’m constantly having to throw stuff out because I’m so prolific or anything like that. I’m happy to give almost anything a chance on stage that I come up with. There’s only a couple fo things where I’m like “oh this was cute but I’m not going to even bother trying it.” It might take me a while to work up the nerve to try certain things but eventually almost everything I write down gets a shot on stage. Maybe it doesn’t get more than one shot but I’ll give it a shot once in a while. If that makes sense.

No, it does. That’s what I saw during 20 Sided Guy your latest album. Everything had this stream of consciousness. Everything had its place. Especially that cat one. The cat one was one of my favorite ones on the entire CD.     

Oh thanks. Have you listened to the whole thing?

Yes. I’m almost done. I have about two more tracks to go but I loved it.

Thanks. The cat one is one of my all time favorites as well. That’s one where half the time if the audience isn’t tuned in and paying attention they might not get what’s going on. I remember when I first started performing the bit I would have people not know that I was a cat like the whole time because they haven’t paid attention. That one’s always fun to do. The last track on the album is actually one of my favorites. It’s basically poetry. The reason I like that one so much is because it’s so slow building. It’s like basically, the first two thirds of it, just seems like I’m doing regular, quasi serious poetry. That’s one where I really enjoyed the tension of the audience wondering “is this going to get funny?” “What is this guy doing?” And then springing it on them and getting…I won’t spoil anything. It’s just another example of, like…I enjoy laying the foundation for things a lot on stage. Making an audience guess where it’s going but sort of leading along step by step and hopefully they will see this logical framework of what I’m laying out and that enables me to go batshit crazy in the latter half of the bit and if they paid attention, they think it’s funny. If they haven’t, I’m just a weird guy who was saying loud, weird stuff for ten minutes. It’s one or the other. I don’t know. People tend to get it.

I think Jimmy Pardo got it. He introduced you and I heard him throughout the entire rest of the CD, which is great.

Thanks. When I chose that track to be the first track I kind of was like “oh, that’s kind of cool he’s the one introducing it  because I have a lot of respect for him.” I wanted to get his permission to use that at the top of the album because I didn’t want to be too presumptuous that I’m using Jimmy Pardo who is a successful, well know comedian and I’m using his voice to sort of set the stage at the top of the album. He was more than happy to let me use that at the top of the album.

I know he’s worked with Conan before. Is he ever there in Conan’s writer’s room with you guys?

He is the comedian who does the crowd warm up before every one of our tapings. So he’s here pretty much every day. He doesn’t sit in on the writer’s meetings but he’ll pop in and out of our offices in the hour or half hour before he does the crowd warm up. So he’s up here a lot. And an incredibly funny and nice guy to hang around so it’s great having him here.

So what’s the difference between writing for yourself, like your jokes, and then writing for Conan, someone’s voice you know pretty well?

Writing for the job, you just have to be more meticulous. I’m willing to put any dumb words into my own mouth and give them a try on stage. And be much more loosey-goosey and experimental. That’s fine. But when you’re writing for a TV show, you have to be much more efficient with your language and choosier about the words and put a lot more thought into it. You’re building something for somebody else. You want them to be comfortable. I’m willing to write shitty things for myself (laughs). Obviously, wherein you’re giving something to somebody else, you want it to be good. I put a lot more care and thought to what I’m writing for the job. Anything that Conan’s going to see or that he’s going to have to say on stage you want to be really good. Also, I said “efficient.” Efficient is key because you have so much less time to convey stuff. If I do one of my comedy bits on stage, it can take 10 or 15 minutes. That’s all well and good for a live audience but for a TV show, everything has to be really efficiently structured. And a comedy bit that’s more than a couple minutes long for our show is considered long. So everything has to be really tight. So that’s the difference right there.

So you’ve talked about long for jokes and you’ve talked about stand up. And you’ve also talked about Conan stuff. How do you feel about putting your jokes on Twitter? Because I perused your account. You’re a very funny guy when it comes to 140 characters.

Oh, thanks.

Is it easier than writing longer jokes?

I don’t know. Twitter is another strange thing. My quality control on Twitter is very low. My rule for Twitter is I’ll tweet whatever I want, whenever I want and I don’t care (chuckles). There’s no meticulous crafting of that stuff and quite often I’m drunk when I Tweet. Not quite often. But you know some of my favorite one’s were actually when I was having a few cocktails. I don’t find it harder or easier necessarily. I do think it takes a lot of the pressure off that you can only use 140 characters.  With that pressure gone, I find it enjoyable. It’s easier to fire off random thoughts and hopefully they’re funny. They’re not always funny. Whereas, to make a 10 minute monologue on stage really funny, that requires a ton more thought. A good chunk of that monologue might not even be funny but it’s there to support the overall joke or so that the jokes start flying it is funnier later in the bit. On Twitter, I really just like far that stuff out. It’s very hit or miss. That’s what I enjoy, the sort of low pressure stream of nonsense; it doesn’t matter if it’s funny or not. I guess that’s why I don’t have a ton of followers too (laughs). But Twitter’s actually one of my favorite formats to try to be funny.  

Follow Andrés du Bouchet on Twitter, check out his website and buy 20-Sided Guy.