Rhodes to somewhere: An interview with Tom Rhodes
By Matt Bellotti
US funnyman Tom Rhodes has literally been there and done it all. In 26 years of comedy he has performed on stage and television all over the world, had his own late-night chat show, his own sitcom on NBC and now he’s in KL as part of an Asian tour where he's also working on a documentary about the burgeoning Malaysian comedy scene.
Time Out KL's Matt Bellotti catches up with the funnyman himself as he prepares to perform at Zouk's Velvet Underground for the Comedy Club KL.
You did a brilliant 10 minutes for us at Time Out's Comedy Thursday a couple of weeks ago. But you have more experience than all of the rest of our performers combined! So, you’re the perfect person to ask: what makes the best comedian?
Experience. Dedication. Attitude. The kind of attitude that someone like Jenhan (Kuah Jenhan, local comedian and regular Time Out Comedy Thursday performer) has. You need to constantly be looking for jokes. I was looking everywhere - “Oh, look. It’s a tree. What’s funny about a tree?” It’s not easy. You get dips, but you’ve got to keep going.
What was it like starting out 26 years ago?
I was 17 and I was like a mascot around the place. The older guys liked me, liked having me around. But I was in this adult, nightclub world. When I was 17 I had the thoughts of a 17-year-old. My material was all about getting laid because that was what my life was about. My best joke was about being in a car with a girl and she says “If I do this with you, what will it mean?” and I say, “For you, it means a ride home.”
Is the US much harder than other parts of the world, say the UK?
The scene in the UK is okay as long as you’ve got a solid twenty (minutes). (To get that) it’s like making a sword; you get the raw metal, you craft it, put it in the furnace, beat it around, sharpen it, grind it out on the anvil until it’s ready to wield. And there’s trial and error. I do a lot of overseas gigs now because I like the challenge of different countries and trying to make it work. I have a skeleton that works just about everywhere and work around that. You lose material in some places but you gain observations as you move around.
Your actual performance is great fun. You literally dance around the stage as you deliver.
I’m a boxer! I did used to box. That’s where that’s from. I boxed when I was 13. This other kid used to box with me and he used to keep hitting me and I didn’t like that so I stopped. But I do it on stage. It’s my temple dance to honour the spirits of the universe. People have said they find it annoying but I can’t help it - it’s not something I think about. And besides, you’ve got to give the guy with the spotlight something to do.
So it’s like your...“thing”?
Kind of. I’m a big fan of John McEnroe. I got this from him: Play the net. I like to get to the front of the stage. And there’s an old comic who gave me some advice when I first started out. He said, “Sh*t in all four corners of the stage”. Simple, but what it means is that you should cover all areas of your stage, and ever since that advice I’ve always made sure in every show I...sh*t in all four corners of the stage.
How do you prepare yourself for audiences in different parts of the world?
I have confidence in my jokes that they’re strong. But watching the local guys at Time Out Comedy Thursday, I was like, “Holy sh*t!” They were killing it out there. But then I got on and it went well. I loved it.
What kind of audience do you like best?
My favourite audience is multi-ethnic, multinational. The KL audience is like everything that excites me. I was worried about the ‘My Hindu Girlfriend’ and ‘Chinese People Can Fly’ but those two jokes got the biggest laughs. I love this crowd. In Singapore they are much more uptight. ‘Chinese People Can Fly’ died so bad on the first show that I chopped it for the rest of the week. Certain things you can say in KL that you don’t have to worry about.
Catch Tom Rhodes at The Comedy Club KL this weekend. Details here.
Want more interviews? Read our exclusive interview with UK comedian Gina Yashere.