New York City audiences have not seen much of Tom McCaffrey's stand-up in the past year, but they have seen quite a bit of him rapping, either in live shows or online in music videos.
That's because McCaffrey decided to produce his own rap album. "Get Rich or Move Back in with My Dad" came out Sept. 21, 2010, and he and his friends -- many of whom contributed to the album -- celebrate the release with a party/concert Sunday at Pianos in the Lower East Side. You can buy the CD then, or here via iTunes:
Several of the 17 tracks already have music videos. Previously I posted vids for "How To Make A Hip Hop Hit 101," "Less Money, Mo Problems," and "How to Rob Comics." Here's the video for "30-Something," featuring Rob Cantrell. Roll it!
Sure, the lyrics may be funny. But it seems as though Tom McCaffrey wants to be taken seriously as a rapper, too. So, which is it? Or can you be a comedian who raps, without necessarily being a rapping comedian? I asked McCaffrey to explain himself.
You went to performing arts high school here in New York City. Were you a musical stand-out back then? If so, what kind of musical training did you receive? I actually don't have any musical training aside from playing the trumpet in 5th grade. At Performing Arts HS I was a drama major. I studied acting. I did have a lot of friends that were musicians and are now professional musicians. But I was really into hip/hop music when I was in high school. Way way into it. I was basically a Beastie Boy in High school. I had gotten into rap when I was about 11 with Run DMC's first album. And I was always rapping back in those days, not my own raps but rap songs I liked. I memorized all the ones I liked and would constantly do them. I never even thought about actually doing it myself even though most of my idols were rappers.
But wait. This is not a joke, right? I mean, we know it's a joke in that the songs are funny, but this decision to become a rapper is not some sort of Joaquin Phoenix performance art prank? Or worse, like when Garth Brooks pretended he was a rock singer named Chris Gaines? Why do I know that? Did you know that? I definitely don't want to be like Chris Gaines. This is where it gets interesting. It is a joke but it's not a joke. I mean I love rap music and rapping but at the same time I realize its ridiculous that a comedian in his thirties would begin pursuing a career as a rapper. But the fact that I'm a comedian makes it a bit easier for me to get away with doing this. When I first started doing it I only did it because it felt like an unfulfilled dream and I really wanted to be in a rap video. It was supposed to be over the top and funny but I also wanted to look cool and be a skilled MC. I think rapping is like the coolest skill to have so I didn't want to make a mockery of it. When I first did it I had no idea what I was going for I just did it and I feel like a lot of times creatively you have to just dive in and see where things lead. When the Lonely Island's album 'Incredibad' came out that helped me figure out the direction I wanted to go. That album is really good and really funny and they clearly love and know hip hop and were honoring it in a way. The tone of what I'm doing I think is similar to Tenacious D. Those guys are extremely talented musically and love making music but at the same time they're in on the joke too. I figured I had to own what I was doing and go all out and it's a joke but at the same time I want to be awesome.
Are you still doing stand-up, or do you want to be known as a legit rapper now?
This is a real movie, with Tom McCaffrey as the DJ at a rave, and former MTV VJ Matt Pinfield also involved, in this film that's executive produced by Abel Ferrara, who directed Bad Lieutenant. I'm as confused as you are. It's Happy Life. Roll it.
Here's a little message that you may already have known, but never quite as clearly or as melodious as when Tom McCaffrey, Carolyn Castiglia and Mara Herron drop rhymes over the strains of the Oasis song, "Wonderwall." They're letting hip-hoppers know they're onto their game. Roll it.
Signs say the national economy is starting to turn around. Tell that to many comedians. You think you're broke? There are many of us, and some of us are broker than others. Just ask rapper TMC (Tom McCaffrey), who raps about how less money = mo problems in his world, with backing vocals from Miss CKC (Carolyn Castligia. Roll the rap.
What happens when comedians Tom McCaffrey and Carolyn Castiglia imagine themselves as gangsta rappers? This happens. It's a music video for their rap, "How to Rob Comics." Stuckey from Stuckey and Murray helped direct, and among the many cameos: Janeane Garofalo, Paul F. Tompkins, Aisha Tyler, The Whitest Kids U Know, Leo Allen, A.D. Miles, Nick Kroll, John Mulaney, Amy Schumer, Jackie Monahan, Roger Hailes. Since they rap, they do drop some NSFW language:
Tom McCaffrey's first full-length comedy CD, Lou Diamond Phillips?, was recorded on 4/20 at Pianos in New York City and opens with a bit about doing drugs. Despite that coincidence, you don't need to be a stoner to enjoy McCaffrey's observational humor and sometimes low, lazy drawl, which includes an odd verbal tic, right? Right? In fact, if you enjoy Todd Barry, you'll probably also enjoy how McCaffrey smartly takes a small observation and turns it by finding an outrageous counterpoint. Case in point: His take on when someone says they've heard a life-changing song. First McCaffrey notes how the people who say this never changed because of the song. You never hear, he says: "I used to work in a deli. Now I'm a Navy Seal, all thanks to Gloria Estefan's 'Rhythm is Gonna Get You.'" Then he finds the more outrageous example, with lyrics dispensing medical diagnoses. "Hey man, you heard that song, Steve Johnson's 'HIV Positive'? They'll be like, yeah, yeah...that song changed my life. My life is totally different ever since they released that. I thought it was a weird way for the doctor to break the news to me. But my doctor is Dr. Dre, so...I knew that going in. That's what you get when you go to the hippest doctor in the world..."
McCaffrey also pokes fun at people being afraid of ghosts or movie serial killers, the phrases "tossed salad" and "keep your shirt on," advertising slogans, groupies, and of course, Lou Diamond Phillips. Although that titular joke is really more about Pamela Anderson, right?
A New York City native, McCaffrey studied drama at the LaGuardia performing arts high school and went to college at Southern Methodist University before initially trying stand-up comedy in Los Angeles. He returned to Manhattan right around 9/11, appeared on Comedy Central's Premium Blend, has contributed to The Onion, and has a track on the Invite Them Up CD/DVD. This 53-minute CD is not only McCaffrey's first full recording, but also the debut for the Brooklyn-based label ItTakesALotToLaugh Records. If their goal is to give a voice to underrated comedians, then this is a good start.
Why would anyone mourn a venue that's essentially a dive bar with inconsistent air conditioning, horribly horrible bathrooms, a movie screen that had a massive tear in it (until, ha-ha, this past week!) for a place that still had a sign outside boasting it was Cinema Classics, and really, all of the fun that the East Village had to offer? Then again, the independently-produced comedy community of New York City has been through this before, whether it was last year at Mo Pitkins or years ago with Luna Lounge. So there we were, after an abrupt email sent out in the wee hours yesterday morning, trying to figure out if it really would be the final hours for comedy at Rififi. Spoiler alert: It was.
While rumors flew about what made July 30 the last night for Rififi (a month-to-month lease that finally found someone willing to pay the increasingly high East Village rents seemed to be the leading speculation), the indie comedy scene hastily recast the weekly Gelmania show originally scheduled for this Wednesday night. The hosts from Thursday's Totally J/K (Joe and Noah) and Friday's Greg Johnson and Larry Murphy Show certainly would be there. So, too, would many others come to pay final respects. The Whitest Kids U Know, Andy Blitz and Todd Barry showed up as spectators. The final bill would see Joe Mande and Noah Garfinkel take over first-half hosting duties, with one final "List of Nothing" and a joke Mande had uttered earlier in the day via Facebook, that the current Rififi owner would be fleeing on Thursday and taking all of the Glade air-fresheners with him to "Molester Town." Gabe and Jenny (Gabe Liedman and Jenny Slate) returned to host the second half. The final schedule will show that Adam Newman, Pete Holmes, "John McCain," Baron Vaughn, John Gemberling, Slightly Known People, Hannibal Buress, Tom McCaffrey, Chelsea Peretti, Greg Johnson and Larry Murphy, Jon Glaser, John Mulaney, Leo Allen and Eugene Mirman took part in this last Rififi effort. There was a one-woman lip-synch effort to Les Miz with Pez, or is that called Pez Miz? Mirman shouted out requests to Glaser to "do some oldies!" Mulaney even used the opportunity to try new jokes! The show began auspiciously late (?) at 9:11 p.m. and lasted past midnight, with Mirman taking the stage at 12:01 a.m., getting all rock 'n' roll by play-real trashing the stage, and Leo Allen rejoining him onstage for some last-minute banter that was odd and appropriately poignant for the occasion.
Among the quips I quoted...
"Rough week, first Bennigan's, now Rififi!" -- Pete Holmes
"I like how the owner never learned our names," Jenny Slate said. "And we had a show here for two years," Gabe Liedman replied. "Well," Slate said, "He only knew me by who I was sleeping with."
"So, Rififi's closing...ninth time's the charm, right?" -- Tom McCaffrey
"I only saw the last episode of Seinfeld, if that makes you feel any better." -- Chelsea Peretti
"I could stand up here and tell jokes that I've told 5,000 times on this stage, and I think I might." -- Greg Johnson
"Greg Johnson and I tried to save Rififi once." -- John Mulaney, adding that they discovered at a city meeting that, at that time, Rififi didn't even have a license to host live events such as comedy. Rut-ro!
"I like Rififi because you could do things that you thought were funny, but most audiences would disagree vehemently with you." -- Leo Allen
"When you leave, take a door with you!" Eugene Mirman said, then made some banging noises on the ceiling. "Oh, wait. The neighbors will complain...to the next landlord."
I have video of the final 13 minutes of the show, after the jump. You may think it a bit anti-climactic, but remember, comedians and fans didn't really have much of a chance to plan this out, even though we all knew this night would be coming sooner or later. Perhaps all of those false closing rumors of Rififi made some believe the dive would never change hands. This night proved us wrong. So now where does this scene hang out and perform now? Suggestions and thoughts encouraged in the comments. Don't be shy.
Tom McCaffrey will record his first comedy CD at 8 p.m. tonight at Pianos in NYC, something made more newsworthy by the fact that McCaffrey is doing so for a brand-new record label, It Takes A Lot To Laugh Records (which takes a lot of space on the side of a CD).
The label comes from Scott Rogowsky and Travis Sluss. Sluss, the president/founder of Crazy Hair Productions and CHP Management, previously has worked the music side of the business with Regina Spektor, Paolo Nutini and The Spin Doctors, among others. Rogowsky is helping Sluss extend his brand management into comedy. "We hope this works," Rogowsky told me over the weekend. "It's an experiment for all of us."
McCaffrey, a native New Yorker, spent a brief time early in his comedy career in Los Angeles before returning home in September 2001. He was a finalist in the 2003 Comedy Central Laugh Riots contest, and featured on the Invite Them Up CD compilation. Here is a brief interview, recorded under the shadow of darkness outside Rififi in the East Village on Friday night, to talk a little bit about his CD recording.
Good friend Greg Johnson will host the show tonight at Pianos. After the jump, listen to Johnson's own interviews with McCaffrey.