From Punk Rock to Comedy Clubs
WHY YOU SHOULD CARE
Because funny doesn’t usually get less so.
By Eugene S. Robinson
Success stories are always so goddamned wearisome. Mostly because the “Wow, look what happened to me!” moment — when the subject at hand finally hits — is one you can never fully believe. That it happened, yes, of course, is easy to believe. Just not that it wasn’t exactly what they had been thinking about since, well, they were old enough to be thinking about anything, really. That’s much harder to buy.
But Joe Sib? A total buy.
“It was like a spaceship had landed on my head,” Sib told OZY, thinking back to December 8, 1982. His divorced professor dad took the 13-year-old Sib to a skateboard park in San Jose, California. Not only was skateboarding something the non-jock did well, but from a huge ramp-side stereo blasted Black Flag, The Germs, The Ramones and pretty much the best punk rock playlist skate money could buy. “I was so blown away that I was actually confused by the sounds I was hearing and the emotions that were being stirred.”
Not so confused and stirred that the call to action led him anywhere but to music. And always being the business guy in every band he was in and the most sober one by evening’s end when it came time to get paid, Sib had ideas. “San Jose in the ’80s was a great time because there were so many kids who were entrepreneurs. Some were putting out fanzines, others were promoting and booking their own shows, and lots were in bands,” Sib says. “This meant learning the business if you wanted to play real shows with bigger bands.”
Which is when Sib goes supernova. In 1995, now transplanted to Los Angeles, Sib started (with partner Bill Armstrong) SideOneDummy Records, and nothing was ever the same again. Gogol Bordello, not the same. Flogging Molly and The Mighty Mighty Bosstones, not the same. And maybe most significantly, Sib’s own band Wax. On Interscope, no less. Huge.
Sib jumped with both feet into a one-man show about growing up on punk rock.
“The Spike Jonze video with the guy running down the street on fire?” says Adrian Cavlan, referring to the music video for Wax’s “California.” “May have been Spike’s idea,” adds the guitarist and co-owner of Sound In Motion, a Bay Area entertainment company, “but that was pure Sib.” Both in how he attacked the business end of things and how he still realized it was art.
From compilation records from the Warped Tour traveling rock festival to a roster of over 50 current and past bands, SideOneDummy put Sib on the map in a major way. TV show soundtracks, movie soundtracks, chart action and licensing deals with Nike completed the picture. “I have made my living off of music and co-owning SideOneDummy Records for the last 25 years of my life, which I am supergrateful for,” says Sib. “But once my time in a band ended, I still wanted to figure out a way to get back onstage.” A number of his peers were picking up the acoustic guitar, but Sib sensed that would be a nonstarter — for the simple, and honest, reason of his playing ability and delivery as a singer.
So, following in the steps of Sex Pistols guitarist Steve Jones and Black Flag’s Henry Rollins, Sib started hosting a weekly radio show in LA. A natural raconteur, his idea was to play music, interview musicians and glue it all together with some of his own stories. Which just also happened to be hilarious. Soon afterward, LA being LA, people digging it pushed it from radio to the stage — and Sib jumped with both feet into a one-man show about growing up on punk rock.
After two years of one-man shows, an invitation arrived from the mecca of mirth in Hollywood, The Improv. “Joe’s middle name should be ‘stoked,’” says Cavlan. “His California Calling one-man show had us shaking our heads in amazement because he was telling our story and really crystallizing things that were just feeling, things that were kind of hard to explain.” Not punk as anger and damage, but punk as capital F, FUN.
“Look, no sane person looks at the stand-up life and thinks this will be FUN,” says Bay Area stand-up comedian Skip Everett, aka Brian Maggi, whose recent bows at Cobb’s, the Punch Line and Rooster T. Feathers qualify him as one who knows. “But the truly miserable comics I see out there are the ones who seem to have nothing else going on in their lives. It’s like they’re down to their last chip, and they put it all on stand-up.”
Which is so not Sib, even if the past six years of comedic toil haven’t yielded any home runs, yet. “You never know what can happen,” Sib says at a remove of a happy family life — he and his wife of 18 years have two teenage kids. “But for me, stand-up is the thing that drives me as a performer, and I nerd out on stand-up the same way I did as a kid with punk rock. I get to perform at 49 years old with comedians I love and respect. Way more than anything I ever set out to do.”
Joe Sib’s first comedy record, Nowhere Near the Top, on 800 Pound Gorilla Records, comes out April 28.