Rob Delaney's Moment of Comedic Clarity

Comedy Features Rob Delaney
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By the time he got behind the wheel of his car, Rob Delaney had long since blacked out. At his friend’s apartment in Hollywood, he’d drank beer until the keg went dry. Then he switched to wine, then bourbon, then vodka, transitioning to a new booze each time the previous one ran out. Delaney, 25, was a pro drinker at this point, having started at 12, and having found more and more opportunities to imbibe as his lifespan doubled in the subsequent years. It was never really novel, though, just something that was a part of his life, up to and just past the moment where he passed out on the floor of his friend’s apartment when the booze and his fellow revelers had finally disappeared. He was fine with this end to his latest night out, and his life’s path so far, until, later that morning, still blacked out, he put his car through a Los Angeles Department of Water and Power building, breaking his right arm and left wrist, ripping open both his knees to the bone. He’d end up wheelchair-bound and behind bars.

“When the cops told me I hadn’t hurt anyone else, I relaxed a lot and resolved to get better, whatever it took,” Delaney says. “I had been at peace with the fact that my drinking might kill me, but once it was no longer possible to ignore the fact that my drinking could—and, eventually, likely would—kill others, via automobile, I couldn’t do it anymore.”

Delaney’s uncle Steve—who’s been sober for 25 years—flew out after the accident to help his nephew through the difficult times to come. Those times included several months in rehab, followed by a sober-living halfway house. After surgeries on each arm, Delaney, who weighed 40 pounds less than he does today, was slowly moving toward a healthy life. He eventually moved into an apartment with a friend, and during a visit from Steve’s son, Dave, the trio went out for a night on the town, but not like the ones that led to Delaney’s jailtime.

“We went to see a show at [Los Angeles improv company] the Groundlings,” Delaney says. “It was like being struck by lightning, and memories of the hundred or so times I saw Upright Citizens Brigade while at NYU came flooding back to me. I thought, ‘I must do this,’ and immediately enrolled in classes at the ImprovOlympic. That moment takes a windy-but-wide path to this moment right here. I’m misty-eyed thinking about it.”

Growing up in middle-class, suburban Boston, Delaney’s early exposure to comedy came through MAD magazine and his dad’s Bill Cosby albums, but comedy had yet to really take its hold on him. He sang, and acted in plays and musicals, but his upbringing was pretty normal in most ways. His parents owned an insurance agency while Delaney attended public school in Marblehead, Mass., a relatively small town he’d later jokingly refer to in an interview as a “delightful little fishing village.”

“Many years ago, the actor/singer Jamie Walters, who also grew up in Marblehead, called it that in an interview,” Delaney says with a laugh. “His younger brother, Adam, and I thought that was so funny. Perhaps more accurate would be ‘sailing town.’ It has a huge harbor, filled with boats. I sailed a lot growing up, and my first jobs were teaching sailing.”

After high school, Delaney moved to New York City to study musical theater and French at NYU’s Tisch School of the Arts. He spent his junior year in Paris, where he studied French liberal arts, making good friends in a place he’d return to for years to come. After graduating, he gigged around in theater and television in New York, before heading for Los Angeles in hopes of more work. Fast forward a few years, past the accident, past his comedic immersion, and Delaney would give Twitter a shot). It wasn’t long before IT Crowd director Graham Linehan retweeted Delaney a few times, effectively alerting the masses to the burgeoning Twitter talent.

“Like everyone else ever,” Delaney remembers of his initial resistance to the social network, “I thought it was exclusively for saying things like, ‘I’m eating a sandwich,’ or, ‘I like dogs. Dogs. I like them.’”

Luckily, he grew to love Twitter, and vice versa. (At the time of publication, he has 358,971 followers.) Eventually, the 140-character witticisms would influence his stand-up material, get him jobs, and ultimately take him to the next level, comedy-wise. Not everyone likes the outsized persona he uses to foist sometimes-very-lewd, albeit-tiny jokes onto the Internet (“My mom has seen my tweets, and I think she’s slowly becoming desensitized,” Delaney says. “At first, she hated it, and even called me on the phone to discuss a tweet she particularly hated.”), but in a scant three years, he’s become Twitter royalty. Simply put, he wouldn’t be where he is today without it and the sometimes-disgusting things he tweets.

“If you’re writing a sketch, to get progressively funnier, you compress and heighten,” Delaney explains. “With Twitter, you only have 140 characters, so you sort of have to hit the ground running. Thus, caricatures work well on it. And if you look at a bunch of my tweets, they don’t all come from the same comic point of view. My only rule for tweets is ‘Be funny,’ and, failing that, ‘Be interesting.’ While I may have a ridiculous amount of followers, I’m grateful to each of them for reading my nonsense, so I try to respect that and tweet stuff that will elicit some type of reaction, be it a laugh or a gag or a boner or a panty-moisture.”

Between his stand up (his shows run just more than an hour these days) and his many daily tweets, you wouldn’t be faulted for thinking that maybe he’s creatively tapped out most days. And yet, he’s working on a book, the first draft of which he’ll turn in to his editor soon. “It’s memoir/propaganda,” Delaney says. “It’s like a cross between Henry Miller and Mitt Romney’s No Apology and stand up. I mention the Romney book because you know how a couple of years before they run for office, politicians put out shitty books disguised as their ‘story,’ but really it’s just their thinly veiled manifesto for their ill-conceived plans? My book is like that, but rather than foist my moronic plan for America’s future, I’m packing it tight with jokes.”

Following the book and his seemingly-always-expanding tour schedule, Delaney plans to work on a television script and then prepare to record his debut album later this year. He’s modeling his career after Chris Rock’s in the hopes of one day being able to do stand up internationally while writing and producing TV and movies, and when you consider what that he can tweet an off-color joke one moment, only to spin on his heel and craft a quick, thoughtful essay on the atrocities of war the next, it kinda feels like anything is possible. Contradictory interests? Sure, but what is every single human being on this planet if not a complicated mix of emotions, pressures and anxiety, a mix to be struggled with and defeated now and then, if all goes according to plan?

“I’m very lucky that any success I have came when I was a little older, sober, married and a dad,” Delaney says. “So I know this is ephemeral. And I’ve been through enough to know that being kind is quite helpful in combating the shit-parade that life can throw at us. Also, even though I love it, comedy is also what I do for a living, so when I ‘clock out,’ I do find peace in just acting like a regular, boring dude.”