“Woody put out a couple of comedy albums in the ‘60s, and a compilation of them was made when I was in my late teens. I was always a big fan of comedy; I’d watch a lot of stand-up, and I’d see a bunch of comedy movies. This album I played religiously, to the point where I almost wore it away.
“I was hypnotized by the idea of someone who could be very funny but also very adult. This record had it all – sex and death and these existential ideas. As a teenager, I hadn’t heard comedians talk about that stuff, and even though it dates back to the early 1960s, it felt way more exciting than a lot of other comedy I was hearing at the time.
“It was surreal and anecdotal, and for me, it felt illicit to listen to it somehow, because it confronted these adult ideas. Later I discovered Richard Pryor, who is genuinely alternative and naughty and adult, but those Woody Allen stand-up routines are so elegant and well presented. Later, when I saw clips of him doing it, I couldn’t believe how nervous he looked – it was distracting. But on the records where you just hear his voice and the elegance of it, the character and the persona really come through – the slightly arrogant nerd.
“Much as I wanted to make movies and narrative things, one of the reasons why I wanted to do stand-up was because I felt as though I had to pay my dues as Woody Allen had. I read the stories about how he was crippled by nerves, and his managers would force him to go on stage. Slowly he built his act and established this whole thing, and then he turned his back on it down the road. But the sheer experience of making a roomful of people laugh is sort of vital when you then walk away from the live audience and you make movies or TV, which doesn’t have a live audience.”