#Editors Note; This is a re-jig of a chapter in my book Standupworld Essays on the greatest art form in the world. Which you can get free for signing up for our newsletter. A lot has changed since I wrote this, Tony has moved to Austin, he’s gotten way more successful, his show has become, I believe one of the most important podcasts in stand-up comedy. One of the most original, that’s for sure. A breakout platform that has something that very few comedy shows have, a sense of never knowing what will happen. That and his smart chess move to follow Joe Rogan like a little puppy dog down to Austin has paid off well for him and truly made him the Crown Prince of American Stand-up. It may be that he’s the archetypical evil little prick of a prince, but everyone has to play a part in life, and the bottom line is, Tony is funny. Really funny.
STANDUPWORLD – CHAPTER 12
Tony Hinchcliffe is a hilarious little dude. A hard-working guy from Youngstown, Ohio. He’s got it all going for him. He’s another bet I’d place my money on because more important than all of the above, he’s not afraid to say a damn thing onstage. He’ll say whatever he wants as long as he thinks it’s in service of a joke and a laugh. He understands the point, premise, and purpose of the comic and the stage. Something so many others have lost.
I relate to Tony because as a kid he left home and came out to L.A. from Youngstown Ohio and got a job at The Comedy Store and worked the door and the bar and grabbed stage time whenever he could get it. Almost the same path I took from Detroit twenty-some years earlier than he did. He hung out and wrote roast jokes for Jeff Ross and opened for Jeff, and Joe Rogan and learned the craft through the back halls of The Comedy Store and on the road with some seriously funny and wild guys that gave him a lot of shit and I’m pretty sure he flung a lot of it back at them.
Now, if you don’t enjoy, or appreciate, or, I’m going to say, understand, this lane of comedy, then maybe skip this essay. But if you loved Rickles, if you love Chappelle, Burr, Gervais, Joey Diaz, Joan Rivers, Bill Hicks, Kinison, and Richard Pryor, you’ll relate to what I feel about, Tony.
I love freedom of speech up on that stage. I like comedy that’s raw and offensive because I think it’s supposed to be shocking and surprising. You’re not supposed to know where a comic is going. It’s supposed to blindside and shock you. The comic’s job is to say the things you want to say, the things you were thinking or maybe didn’t think you wanted to say until they said it for you. If comics only play to what the crowd feels is in good taste, they aren’t going to be truly funny. Not pound the table funny. They’ll just be good. They’ll be packaged funny. Polished, polite, pros and, yeah you’ll laugh, they’ll get applause. They’ll be entertainers. They’ll be like great Apple products. You’ll appreciate the hell out of them. That’s not what Tony’s doing. He’s a rule breaker. You can’t buy anything even resembling AppleCare on this brand of comic. There are no guarantees.
Photo courtesy Tony Conrad
SUPER CONFIDENT OR A GREAT ACTOR
Tony stands on the stage, hardly moves, and just stares a crowd down. He’s either super confident or great at acting it out, it doesn’t matter, he’s fine with what he’s doing. If it doesn’t go over, the problem is going to be you, not Tony. He happens to be a great joke writer having honed the craft on the roast battle and the celebrity roast writers room, he’s an expert at writing one-liner jokes with a harsh, razor’s edge. He also happens to know it.
“I can’t say anything anymore these days. Unless I want oohs and aaaahs, want to get boos. Can’t say a damn thing because ‘you know who’ will get mad. So many words I can’t say anymore. One word I can’t say anymore because ‘you know who’ will lose it? I’ll give you a hint, it’s not men, men will be fine. It’s the ‘C’ Word. Yep, I’ll tell you who else will be okay with me using that word? Women with a sense of humor. ‘You know who’ will go nuts if I use this word? Cunts. Cunts’ll go nuts if I say that word. Cunts They go ape-shit.”
Laughter is the greatest thing in the world. It’s better than orgasm or great food when it comes out this high octane, yet it only hits this hard when it’s really pure and it only comes this uncut these days in a few very rare places.
Society has done a good job of making sure of that.
Tony’s part of a new vanguard that’s keeping this lane open. Some think it’s ‘vile’ or ‘cheap’ or ‘dirty’. “Poor taste’, or even ‘easy’. Trust me, they don’t know what they’re talking about. No one rocks a room like the edgiest guys. It’s a whole different brand of laughter, and the ‘cleaner’ acts would all trade their routines, mansions mothers, and kids to be one of the few acts that dance at the edge and produce it. What Dave Chappelle, and Ricky Gervais are doing in comedy is what The Stones, Led Zeppelin, Michael Jackson, The White Stripes, Jimi Hendrix, Pearl Jam, Miles Davis, and Prince all did in music. Constantly pushing the envelope. Testing, teasing, scraping, leaping, and pushing themselves forward. Tony Hinchcliffe is in the league with very, very, few others coming up behind that group.
A SECRET WEAPON
He has a secret weapon too, Tony. He’s reinvented the Variety show, the Talk show, the Podcast, Talent night, and the Roast Battle and rolled it all into one insane bouillabaisse of an entertainment program that’s never been done before. It’s called ‘Kill Tony’, and when it works, it’s a hell of a lot of fun. He does it with his Co-Host, Brian Redban who is really an unsung hero. The Ethan Allen, of the revolution of stand- up comedy’s modern era for freedom and liberty.
Redban’s the guy, and a major force behind Joe Rogan’s podcast in the early days and so many others. Tony’s partner in crime in this wacko cavalcade of sadistic self-immolation as amateur comics put their names in a bucket for the chance to come on stage and do one minute in front of a packed saloon, theatre, or nightclub audience as well as a huge audience streaming live around the world.
This post-modern variety show was lab-grown by Tony and Redban in The Comedy Store’s tiny Belly Room and eventually, Peter Shore let them put it in The Main Room which is the old Ciro’s showroom on Sunset Blvd. one of the most historic nightclubs left on the planet. He gave it over to Tony and Redban on Monday nights and they turned the place into complete comic madness. Every Monday a line would form all the way down Sunset for eight or nine blocks with people waiting to get in to see this crazy mishmash of music, stand-up, and a dereliction of decency. It’s a simple premise. Potluck-night put on in hell.
Tony, Brian, and usually one or two well known comics such as Bob Saget, Tiffany Haddish, Joe Rogan, Ron White, or Ari Shaffir, join Jeremiah Watkins and the ‘Kill Tony Band’ to listen to the lucky three newcomers that had their names drawn from the bucket come up and do one minute of stand up. Now, sometimes these newbies will surprise the hell out of everyone and be transcendent. They’ll make you just love humanity and the spirit of creativity. It’s wonderful when it happens, and it’s a sight to see. So I’m told was the Lindberg flight, but look how long people had been waiting for it to happen? The wait was excruciating. And the next flight? Two years.
For the most part, these contestants suck and the good ones are few and far between, so yeah, the entertainment lives in and around the failure that breeds at the bottom of the bucket.
Tony lays in wait for his turn alongside the bucket when this happens. He can be merciless. He interviews the comics after each of the one-minute sets and basically wants to know what the f#*k they were thinking? The professional comics, the band, and the audience, basically then pile on in what’s then part ‘Gong Show’, part ‘What’s My Line?’
NOT FOREVER PLAID
It can get mean, but that’s not the overall vibe. It really isn’t. The crowd, and Tony, and the comics want the contestants to win. They do, and when they’re good, they go nuts for them which is spot on because it’s obviously genuine. The best thing about this show is its reality. It’s here today and someplace else tomorrow. It’s always live and on fire. You have to go see it. Ten, twenty, thirty, years ago you’d have a night out and go see ‘Forever Plaid’ or maybe if you wanted to be wild you’d head over to a late-night gonzo showing of ‘Rocky Horror Picture Show’. This is even wilder, funnier, riskier, and crazier. It does hit the rails sometimes, you need to have pretty thick skin for it, and it’s fairly obvious that the people that choose to hop up there do choose so. If they don’t, they don’t come back.
The funny thing is it’s not them that most times get the most piqued by Tony and or his show. It’s usually either audience members, or worse, other comedians that can’t handle it. Some of them think the show and Tony come off too harsh, too condescending to the challengers. I can see why that is.
There is a kicking down element to it, and it’s definitely the show’s weakest moments when it goes too far, but it’s a gladiator event and it has to have that dramatic element to it or the show wouldn’t be as electric as it is. Wanting it to be ‘nicer’ is sweet. I get it, ‘everyone needs a trophy’, but that makes for shows that are all the same. One thing that ‘Kill Tony’ isn’t is ‘the same.’ The other side of it is that Tony is an easy guy to want to have a grudge against. He’s cocksure, opinionated, adamant, and uncompromising in his ways and beliefs. On one hand, it’s tough to be around someone like that, on the other it sucks to be in the presence of those that are his opposite. Who have no opinions, or worse, only hold the beliefs of others. Who don’t know what they want, where they want to go, don’t have a plan or a purpose, or where they want to end up, or what’s important to them. Tony has rock-solid answers to all of those questions which is rare right now. He also goes with his gut instinct which I respect. It’s a rare thing anymore. It can lead to trouble.
Last May Tony was playing a club in Austin, when a comic that he knew pretty well, an Asian comedian, a pretty funny guy, a comedian that had been on ‘Kill Tony’, who had opened for Tony a couple of times, went up before him at this club on the line-up that night and did a whole riff on ‘White people vs. Asians’. It was okay. It was stock stand-up stuff. Been done forever.
‘New York whites eat this way, New York Blacks eat this way. LA Blacks walk this way. New York Blacks walk this way. LA Whites walks this way’ kind of shit.
These days it’s all supercharged like everything else in the world is. He was going on about how Asians invented gunpowder and how White people don’t know the guy’s name who did that, and we never even thanked him. How Asians never ask for credit for anything, how they’ll give you anything you want, ‘more soy sauce, no problem’ It went on and on about how easy-going Asians are and how rude and fucked up Americans are. How much nicer we need to be to them. He closed with the bit. It got laughs. It was funny.
Then he brought Tony up. Tony did a ‘Tony’. He used the moment. Played the room. Owned the stage. Was ‘in the now’. He asked for a round of applause for the ‘filthy fucking little chink that was just onstage before me’ Then broke into a wild rant about how disgusted he was with the audience;
TONY; ‘I don’t even think I want to make you fucking people laugh. You sat here and took that shit of his’? (Asian accent) ‘more soy sauce, we invented gun powder, you never said thank you….’
He let them have it.
TONY; ‘You should be ashamed of yourselves. Letting that little fucker talk to you that way.’
He went on and on, and the audience, a very progressive Austin audience, by the way, laughed their asses off.
They got the joke. It was smart, purely because he took the ball and ran with it. He played the extreme. Owned the moment. Used it in a bold, gutsy way that only they there in that room would ever really understand.
Well, the other comic didn’t dig it. I understand it was in the middle of a lot of Asian hate that was going on in America at that time, which I personally was upset about myself, but it wasn’t from guys that looked like Tony and it wasn’t what Tony was selling or leaning into at all. That’s for sure. And the type of evil that is so disgusting hasn’t been going on on comedy club stages, but this guy wanted to use it to get some Twitter heat or belated credit for inventing gunpowder, or something, so he decided to squirt digital soy sauce all over, Tony Hinchliffe.
He posted a video link of only Tony’s opening rant onto Twitter, nothing else, no context, none of his own act, no setup, not a stitch, and, BOOM, just like that there was all kind of ‘Cancel Tony’ talk. It worked.
Tony lost gigs, his agency dropped him, other comics were tweeting about ‘Tony finally getting his just rewards.’
It was sick, sadistic, and sad. It made me nauseous.
Finally, Ari Shaffir smartly aired both sets back to back on his YouTube channel so people could see it in full value so it was obvious what it was; A comic using the energy of the moment. Yes, he went after some low-hanging fruit the guy set him up with. But low-hanging fruit is still fruit. Fuck that guy. I’m sorry his feelings were hurt, but he’s in a comedy club. When he’s on the stage he owns the stage. When he leaves, it’s the next guy’s throne. It was Tony’s throne. The little evil demented skinny prince’s throne. If his feelings were hurt he should have talked to Tony afterward like a gentleman. I’d be railing against cell phones and new tech here if this was an audience member who put this one- sided garbage up, but it wasn’t. It was a desperate attention- seeking comic who stabbed another comic in the back. Pure and simple.
The good news is, despite Tony’s persona, and his hard edge, something tells me one day he’s going to give this yud- yud another shot. I wouldn’t do it, but my gut says up the road, not too long up the road either, Tony will have him on ‘Kill Tony’ or help the guy out somewhere.
I have no insiders knowledge on this at all. I just feel it. Offstage, Tony’s not a killer. He’s just a good dude from Youngstown.
EDITOR’S NOTES; ONE; Since I wrote this piece, I don’t know if Tony ever did give the Asian kid another chance. I believe his name was Peng Dang. I’ve heard both that he did, and he didn’t. I tried to call him for an answer but couldn’t get one . Two. He has moved his whole operation down to Austin with Joe Rogan and he and his show have gotten bigger than ever and a very important piece of stand-up culture. *See the piece on the site here on the Mothership, THREE I was wrong, as far as I can tell he’s not that much of a ‘good dude’ from Youngstown. He’s become a bit of a little prick, hence the evil prince moniker. The act has become a reality. Shrug. It’s show biz. I still wish him well.
KILL TONY EXCERPT FROM COMEDY STORE DOCUMENTARY
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