Aaron Karo, Stand-up
(Fri., Jan. 10, 2003)

The great thing about going out in New York is that there are so many bars. The bar to me is Vietnam. Getting past the throng of people to get to the bathroom, it’s like sneaking through the jungle. (Sneak around, pause, look at that chick’s ass.) Then you knock into someone with a vodka cranberry and you’re like “Am I hit? Am I hit?” You see the red splotch on your white shirt and you’re like, “Noooo!” Your friend says, “Don’t worry, you’re gonna be OK.” And you’re like, “No man, there’s no way this is coming out … Tell the dry cleaner … I’m sorry!”


Laugh It Up, continued


Aaron Karo:
“A Diversified Entertainer”

About an hour into my interview with Aaron Karo, he offers to share his secret. “I literally have a thousand jokes—a database of comedy,” he says. “It’s online, so I can access it from anywhere.” Online? “Oh yeah, I can show it to you if you want.”

He leads me into his bedroom, where five-odd years of humor are stored neatly on a laptop, in the form of an Excel spreadsheet. On the walls hang a full-page, framed article from The New York Post reviewing his first stand-up gig and an 8x10 photo of Karo dressed in cap and gown giving the Wharton Commencement address.

“About a year ago, when I said I want to concentrate on writing, I had all this stuff in a notebook,” he says, scrolling through the text. Then, a friend wondered, “God forbid there’s a fire, or you lose the notebook. I said, ‘Crap, that’s my whole career.’ … So I created this whole complex spreadsheet, where I put all the jokes in, categorized by topic and the date I came up with them.”

A few items catch my eye—“Do Britas do anything?” “My roommate can tell the difference between 1% and 2% milk.”—mostly of the Seinfeld, observational-humor genre. “Whenever I do anything —stand-up, speaking—I literally can go here,” he says. “If I want to make a joke about mom, I just search for ‘mom’ in the family section, and I have all these jokes about her.”

At the New York Comedy Club, the “mom” entries come in handy. She’s seated close to the stage, understandably aghast at Karo’s raunchy stand-up set. He’s just finished a routine about the hookers in Rio de Janeiro, and he says, “OK, Mom, you can uncover your ears now, the sex part of the show is over. I was just kidding about the hookers, by the way.”

Karo is headlining back-to-back, sold-out shows in the dingy, cramped space. Though it’s only his second stand-up outing, he’s introduced like a starter for the New York Knicks: lights go out, techno music blasts, the announcer booms his resume, and a spotlight follows him to the stage. Five accomplished comedians have already performed, and they linger in the back, watching this display of pageantry. It’s easy to feel sympathy for them. Though Karo’s only a beginner, these veterans have essentially become his warm-up act.

Karo’s ascension to comedy-star status happened almost by accident. During his freshman year, he embraced the finer, extracurricular aspects of Penn: imbibing large amounts of alcohol, enjoying fraternity hospitality, and learning how to do laundry. A mild insomniac, he would lie awake nights, often hung over, and reflect on his new collegiate lifestyle. One Sunday he dashed off a stream-of-consciousness e-mail, and sent it to 20 high-school friends. Karo dubbed his observations “Ruminations on College Life.”

Karo’s friends began forwarding his letters to their new college buddies. People posted the e-mails in dorm bathrooms. Karo continued churning out regular editions for the next four years. And, by the time he graduated in 2001, the newsletter had over 11,000 subscribers.

Karo concluded his last college-era installment with a short note, asking if any of his readers could help him turn “Ruminations” into a television pilot or movie. He was deluged with replies, including a note from “the sister of Spielberg’s cousin’s dog-sitter.” Another came from a man named A.B. Fischer C’97, a fellow Penn grad and literary manager. Fischer’s idea was to turn Karo’s writing into a book.

Simon & Schuster published Ruminations on College Life in paperback, with an initial printing of 15,000 copies. It quickly went into a second printing, and, even more important, it was backlisted—meaning it won’t immediately go out of print. Empowered by the book’s success, Karo left his job on Wall Street to pursue comedy full time. The primary goal, he says, is to develop a television sitcom, loosely based on his new “Ruminations” column about life as a twentysomething in New York (www.aaronkaro.com). Between stand-up gigs and book signings, Karo’s been flying back and forth to California to pitch the idea to production companies.

On one recent visit, to Happy Madison Productions, he ran into a longtime idol, Adam Sandler. As usual, Karo was prepared. “I have my one-minute elevator pitch, in case I ever meet anyone like that.” After sharing his Cinderella story, and then giving the Hollywood-mandated “blank-meets-blank” show idea (“Sex and the City meets Seinfeld, in their early twenties”), Karo says that Sandler was impressed. “That was so awesome.”

While he continues to troll for a TV pilot, Karo has also launched a speaking tour called, surprisingly enough, Ruminating. For his first paid gig, he was hired to talk to a sorority in California. Preparing an hour-long talk was difficult—until then, Karo’s longest speeches had been for the Wharton Commencement (five minutes) and Stand-up New York (eight minutes)—but, with the help of his trusty database, he was able to cobble something together. Now, with a proven long-form routine in his arsenal, Karo’s been inundated with offers. “I’ve now got 25 colleges and organizations that have inquired in the past four days. This high school wants to have me as their graduation speaker!”

Despite his recent success on stage, Karo doesn’t plan to limit himself to one comedic discipline. “I don’t see myself as a stand-up comedian, per se,” he says. “More a person who also does stand-up—a diversified entertainer.” Still, he plans to continue performing, as it affords him the opportunity to try out new material and, more important, enjoy the rush of a live audience. “Comedy is like sex,” he says. “Beforehand, you’re a little nervous; during, it’s the greatest feeling in the world; directly after, you’re thinking I’m never doing this again—someone get me a hoagie.”


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2003 The Pennsylvania Gazette Last modified 02/28/03