John Ross and Jesse Jones, comedians behind Stab!
Roughly three-and-a-half years ago, the Sacramento Comedy Spot hosted one of its 48-hour comedy marathons. To fill time, comics John Ross and Jesse Jones came up with STAB!, a comedy panel show and podcast. As host, Ross issues local comedians—including the always-present Jones—absurd writing prompts to then perform in front of a live audience. In honor of its upcoming 100th episode, SN&R talked to the STAB! comedy scientists about character voices, cheese shivers and the future of comedy consumption.
Take me through STAB!’s evolution.
Ross: We were like, “Hey, let’s call it Fire because it’ll make a cool poster,” and the idea of it being a rapid-fire show. And then Comedy Central immediately copied us—no, I’m kidding. They had a show called The Burn with Jeff Ross and ours would have been Fire with John Ross.
Jones: We sat down like, “We want a single-syllable active verb.”
Ross: So we came up with STAB!, which also fits in the most cliché way possible, which is everyone takes a stab at the same prompt.
Jones: Everyone’s different voice interpreting the same thing.
Ross: Like the Bible. We should call it The Bible.
Has anyone totally bombed?
Ross: We have a blacklist—we will never reveal the names—of people we will never let back on the show. It’s a writer’s show and if people don’t prepare … or you just plain suck at the show—but even that, we’ve given second or third chances to people we like. So many people want to do it. I always get this comment: “I love doing this show because it takes me out of my set.” It’s a creative expression that they really never get to express. It’s just a different format.
Jones: That was a big draw for me because I’m not a stand-up. I do improv, sketch, other comedy writing. I don’t really interact in the stand-up world and this show is a way for people from all areas of comedy to come together.
John, how do you come up with prompts?
Ross: There is a rhyme or reason but I don’t know how to quantify it. … I’ll just turn on the TV or the radio—what does that first word I hear make me think? I used to get prompts from a sign language dictionary, where I’d just flip through it and be like, “OK: cheese, shiver. How can I apply that to a prompt?”
Jesse gets some real crazy ones.
Ross: I know what’s gonna fuck him. I might be like, “OK, write the online dating profile from the perspective of a piece of quiche.” Like, good luck, motherfucker. And I have that relationship with a lot of the comics. I’ve been part of the stand-up scene for about 12 years here. I know people. I know this person can write this way so I know the prompt that can push them.
Jesse, do you have a finite number of voices?
Jones: I don’t think I have that many that are actually that good. I’ve got like two shades of British, one is sort of foppish and one’s catch-all. I’ve got some Southerners. I was told at an improv show by Mark S. Allen—oh, look at that name drop!—during a scene that my default, sort of Southern-y red neck-y voice … sounded just like his brother from Texas.
Any idea how big your audience is?
Jones: No idea. Stitcher and iTunes don’t really give you any sort of numbers. I listen to the show at the gym because I feel like somebody should listen to the show. The podcast world is so deep, it’s hard to rise above the din.
Goals for next year?
Ross: We would like to break out and do TV. We’ve already done some episodes at Davis Public Access, cut three or four episodes, put them on YouTube. For us, that’s the next step. We like doing the live show. The best is the live show. If we could do this as a live show all the time and put cameras there—that’s the new focus after the 100th episode.
In the future, will all comedy be consumed via video stream or podcast?
Ross: Fuck, man, I sure hope not. Maybe I’m in denial, but there’s nothing like going to the live show. … You know those YouTube clips? You know where comics get their energy from? From the live crowd that paid to see them.
That’d be hard on the ego, right?
Ross: Yeah, for sure. What other than your ego drives the need to get in front of people and say stuff? Ego isn’t totally bad as long as you keep it in check. I enjoy watching comics that know what they’re doing. I want my doctor to have an ego. (Laughs.)
Jones: I still think there’s never going to be a period when people aren’t going to want to get together in a room and see something.
Ross: I don’t know, man, I think people are already doing it. Maybe VR.
Jones: Gotta get ahead of it. We’re gonna open a virtual reality comedy club.