How To Make It As a Comedian: Interview with Scott Rogowsky, a Millennial Comic on the Rise
Breaking into comedy is no easy task but millennial Scott Rogowsky is doing it. A 2007 Johns Hopkins grad, Rogowsky did the stand-up circuit in New York, and now hosts his own late-night show, Running Late with Scott Rogowsky, at the PIT, an improv theater in New York.
Formatted like the classic late-night TV shows, Rogowsky anchors the show with some co-hosting help from his dad. The result, is a charming and hilarious talk show with under-the-radar guests that run the gamet from R.L. Stine, to Michael Showalter, to Amber Tamblyn.
I chatted with Rogowsky about how he broke into the business, and what advice he has for all those aspiring comics out there.
Elena Sheppard (ES): How did you get started in comedy? I read you got started in a college class.
Scott Rogowsky (SR): I was always doing sort of weird, funny stuff as a kid, but it never occurred to me that you could do this as a profession. Sophomore year of college they offered a class where you got to do some stand up. That was my way of being forced onto stage for the first time. I hear a lot of comics say their first experience was at some crappy open mic in some Podunk town, and it was horrible, they bombed, but somehow they got the nerve to get back up there. Thankfully, my first time on stage was in front of 300 people, and the energy was amazing. I went up second to last, and I crushed, what can I say? I have the videotapes to prove it. It was beyond my wildest expectations. A lot of it was because 20 people had gone before me and warmed the place up, but it was phenomenal.
Afterwards people were coming up to me and saying, “have you done this before?” They impressed upon me that this was a thing to do, it was such an amazing feeling to get that kind of response from these jokes that I wrote. A few weeks later, I went to an open mic in DC, and I totally bombed … with the same jokes. Within the span of a few weeks I realized the highs and lows of comedy, and how the real world is. But definitely having that first experience with all the support and adulation was helpful.
I’d always enjoyed watching stand-up, but after getting on stage, I really started watching and thinking, “What’s he wearing? How does he tell the joke? What’s the timing between jokes? Is he holding a drink when he tells the jokes? Is he holding a mic when he tells the jokes?” I was really looking at it analytically, and studying it. I spent the rest of my time in college doing that and going to open mics.
When I went home I met up with a guy in Westchester who got me open mics there, he brought me into New York City and I did my first shows here. It was an amazing experience to be 20, 21 years old and be shown this whole world that I had no idea existed before. From there, I basically realized I could do this in some capacity.
I moved in right after I graduated with two other comedians. We got a three-bedroom apartment in Bushwick, paid $475 a month and that was my real comedy career starter. I’d go out to open mics every night with these guys, doing shows, and hustling, meeting people, and just hanging out.
ES: How did you end up with your own show at the PIT? That’s pretty impressive.
SR: After hanging out with these guys for about a year, I realized I didn't really have the constitution to devote myself to stand-up per se. I love doing stand-up and I like writing jokes, but to make it as a stand-up comedian in New York you’ve got to be dedicated to that role and put everything to the wayside. I also didn’t really find myself that comfortable as a stand-up comic. I was a small fish in a big pond.
But I wanted to start a show, a sports themed show was the initial conception. It took me a year to meet someone who was interested in sharing the vision, and that guy was Neil Janowitz. I met him in April 2008, in September 2008 we had our first show at UCB. 12 Angry Mascots, was the name of that show, and it was great because it was my first time putting on a show like that. The two of us put the whole thing together ourselves and that’s when I realized, “This is what I want to do. Stand-up can go on the backburner now.”
We did a monthly show at Comix Comedy Club from March 2009 until March 2010. Then we moved to the Gotham Comedy Club, which was huge. We had great shows, great athletes, Darrelle Revis from the Jets, David Diehl from the Giants. Some baseball players … we had great guys on the show.
The new director over at the PIT heard about our show and said they wanted us at their theater. Our last show at the PIT was April 2011, it was fun but I knew it would be the last show. The sports thing was too limiting.
But, I had this idea for a name; I thought Running Late would be a great name for a talk show. I talked to the director of the PIT and I said 12 Angry Mascots might be on the backburner but can I do a different show? I wanted to do a show that I would curate, and bring guests on that maybe people didn't know about but who were doing awesome things.
Flash forward a year later and we’ve really got a great thing going. Now our shows are the first three Thursdays of each month. I’ve got two new producers helping me out and a great band that’s committed to showing up every week and playing amazing songs. No one working on the show is getting paid we’re just doing this because we believe in it, and it’s encouraging to see that these people believe in me and believe in the show.
ES: A lot of people our age who want to get into comedy don’t know how to do it financially. Have you had to have a whole slew of weird day jobs to make this possible?
SR: You know, that’s always funny. Even last night I had dinner at P.J. Clarke’s with some of my friends from college, who are in investment banking, architecture, finance, business school. I’m always the guy who’s like, “oh yeah I’ll just have a plate of fries,” while they’re having the steak. I mean, you gotta scrimp. But my friends are also in awe. To them it’s magical that I’m able to do this, when in reality it’s just a choice you make.
I don’t need to make $200,00, I don’t need to make $100,00 a year, I don’t even need to make $20,000 a year. I need to make just enough money to get by and pay my reasonable rent. I don’t shop, I buy my Cheerios two for one. Right now I’m freelancing as a producer and editor. I worked at Trader Joe’s right out of college, I was working at a temp agency. I was working at Topps baseball cards. Believe me, if I had no comedy aspirations I’d definitely still be there because that’s an amazing job; making baseball cards as the baseball card freak that I am. I’ve never been a waiter, or bar tender, but those are definitely possible jobs. There are ways to do it.
ES: What would you tell someone who says, “I want to do this but I’m terrified and I don’t know what to do?”
SR: Do an open mic, test the waters. You can do an open mic and still be an investment banker. You can keep your job, go to law school, go to business school, and do comedy on the side. Once you take the plunge to do comedy full-time, you just can't be afraid. You gotta take that jump and keep telling yourself that you can pull it off.
ES: What late night hosts do you love right now on TV?
SR: I’m not watching too many of the shows right now but Conan was a favorite of mine growing up. Fallon is an incredibly talented performer in ways that I could never imagine being, especially with regards to his impressions and character work.
I really respect Letterman a lot. Johnny Carson, I love watching those old shows. Dick Cavett, I’m a big Dick Cavett fan even though not too many people know about him, but he was more of an intellectual conversationalist. He really brought out such honesty from his guests, and the conversations they had were some of the best on TV.
Tom Scharpling. He’s not a late-night TV host, but he does host a weekly three-hour radio show called “The Best Show” on WFMU (independent station broadcasting out of Jersey City) that I listen to religiously. He’s done more to shape my sensibility in the last few years than probably anyone else.
ES: Finally, how can people catch your shows from here on out?
We only have two more shows at the PIT this year on December 6, and December 13 at 9 p.m. Chris Elliott and his daughters will be there on December 6. We'll be continuing shows at the PIT come February 2013, on the first three Thursdays of every month. Starting in January, we'll also be doing monthly shows at the Galapagos Art Space in Dumbo, Brooklyn.