I kept my husband up late the other night raving about Matt Koff’s new comedy album, Who’s My Little Guy? “Stop everything!” I told my husband. “Stop getting ready for bed! I have to tell you about Matt Koff’s album! He’s hilarious talking about Jewish identity! Brush your teeth later. You have to hear how he got fired writing for the Newlywed Game!” And then I went on and on until about 1 a.m. because there are so many excellent reasons to go get Matt’s album right now.
This Emmy Award-winning Daily Show writer who wrote for Jon Stewart and now writes for Trevor Noah, begins his album by tackling the way Jewish identity shaped his outlook on Christmas with his girlfriend’s parents and on friends' casual anti-Semitism. He then segues into hilarious marketing proposals for his predominantly Jewish town’s incongruously named karate school “Tiger Schulmann.” This bit sent me running to my computer. Given Daily Show writers’ ability to turn truth into award-winning comedy, could there actually be a Tiger Schulmann School of Martial Arts? Yes, there is. But has the real-life Tiger experienced the blaze of glory that sparked Matt’s advertising ideas? Nope, that was all Matt’s black-belt creativity.
One of the best attributes of the best comedy is that it’s specific, yet universal and non-denominational, and that’s true of Who’s My Little Guy? You don’t have to be Jewish to understand what it’s like to assimilate, yet never completely fit in. You don’t have to be an overprotective mom to laugh like crazy at his bit about what we hoverers sound like to our children. Matt also has wonderful insight into the pitfalls of job interviews by Skype, baby names, and office banter (I’m now dying to be a fly on the wall in the halls of The Daily Show). He sprinkles unforgettable one-liners throughout the album. He’s even crafted a string of aggressive slogans for his possible new business venture “The Marmalade of the Month Club.” In sum, Matt is entirely original and entirely hilarious. Who’s My Little Guy? has the best attribute that any comedy album can possess: you’ll want it on repeat-play.
Matt kindly spoke to me by phone about his comedy, the secrets to building an Emmy Award-winning writing career and about how – yes, it’s true – he got fired from The Newlywed Game. Who’s My Little Guy? is available for purchase here.
Teme: How did you get started in comedy?
Matt: I moved to New York City in 2005 and I started taking improv classes and doing sketch and improv. Then I moved to stand-up and veered more towards the writing side of the spectrum, but I always loved performing. So when I got a job at The Daily Show in 2013, I made the decision to keep doing stand-up even though my full-time gig was as a writer.
Teme: I love that you talk about Jewish identity on your album because we don't hear that so much. I'm Jewish, too, and I really wish more comedians would talk about it. How does being Jewish influence your comedy?
Matt: A lot of people I looked up to are Jewish, like Larry David. It's kind of a sour sensibility that has always infiltrated my world view. Even when I'm not talking about being Jewish, I feel like you could still kind of tell that I am.
Teme: I know what you mean. It's a certain outlook and perspective.
Matt: Yes. It doesn't come up that much in my day-to-day life, but I feel like I would be a very different person if I was another religion. Probably happier.
Teme: Ha! Yes, I understand that.
Matt: I do think that being Jewish has contributed to me being funny, you know? Maybe it's something about spending 40 years in a desert. Everything else seemed like a joke.
Teme: We had to entertain ourselves somehow in all that sand.
Matt: Exactly. That's the perfect time to start writing, too.
Teme: I love the ads that you came up with for Tiger Schulmann and I was wondering if you've heard from the actual Tiger Schulmann?
Matt: No, I haven't actually. That's a funny question. I assume that they will be suing me just because “Tiger Schulmann” sounds like they’re a law firm. I haven't heard from them. But then again, the album hasn't come out yet. I'm hoping I can get free karate classes if they like it.
Teme: They should be thanking you. That was great material. How did you come to write for The Newlywed Game?
Matt: I had been working for free in the city and I was involved in Channel 101, a monthly video festival that Dan Harmon started years back. I met someone through Channel 101 who recommended me to write for this antiquated game show that was apparently still on.
When I tell people I wrote for The Newlywed Game, they assume I'm talking about the 1960's version. And I'm like, “How old do you think I am?!” It was a reboot. So at the Newlywed Game, they heard that I had written for The Onion and they wanted somebody who could bring some edgy, maybe darker material. So they hired me and then they were like “Your questions are too weird. Sherri Shepherd isn't going to read any of these questions!”
Teme: Are the questions on your album some of the actual questions you wrote? I would watch The Newlywed Game if they asked those questions!
Matt: They’re pretty close. Actually, some of the ones that I wrote were weirder. I had one that was, “If you were a flesh-eating bacteria, which part of your wife's body would you like to feast on?”
Teme: Oh my god. Ratings would skyrocket!
Matt: I think so. The thing is, I was writing for The Newlywed Game, but I had never at that point so much as lived with a woman, much less be married to one. So a lot of the questions came out of my weird imagination. I wasn't really the person to ask for questions for this game and the producers were like “This is not good.” I was not asked back for the next season, but it was definitely a fun experience.
Teme: How did you start writing for The Daily Show?
Matt: It was through another person I met working for free in the New York comedy scene. An old writing partner of mine, Dan McCoy, recommended me to The Daily Show and to Jon Stewart. I submitted some work and they liked it and I went in for an interview. Jon Stewart was about to go make his movie Rosewater and he needed to hire someone fast. And I was there so I got the job.
It was very surreal because I was not used to seeing Jon Stewart's head in a three-dimensional space. I kind of thought he was just like a billboard or a screen. Apparently, he has a back to his head and everything else. An entire body.
Teme: Ha, that's so cool! How are Jon Stewart and Trevor Noah different to write for?
Matt: They definitely have different voices, different rhythms, different areas, and different things they get excited about. Jon had been there for like fifteen years when I signed on, so he was, I think, a little bit burned out by talking about government and the gross things that were going on.
With Trevor, it's like a fresher perspective because he's newer to the whole thing. Not so much fed up, as curious and mystified by what goes on in this country.
Teme: Was writing during the Obama administration different from writing during Trump? What is that like?
Matt: It’s interesting and it's strange. People will say, "It must be so easy to write for The Daily Show with Trump in office." It's actually not that way. Even though Trump is doing all these crazy things, if you're watching it every day it becomes almost predictable. He's going to say another crazy thing. He's going to do another crazy thing. He's going to provoke people. It becomes, “I’m going into work … How is democracy being ripped apart today? Okay, he tweeted something about a Muslim politician …” and then I go and get coffee. I’m trying to think how to say this in a succinct way. Basically, I think that it's a more fascinating time, but it's also just more exhausting, you know?
Teme: I can only imagine!
Matt: I feel like I’m aging at the rate of Obama. When I came to The Daily Show, I was this young 31 year-old guy and now I'm definitely a very old 37.
Teme: How did you decide on the title Who’s My Little Guy? for your album and the beautiful cover design?
Matt: "Who's my Little Guy?" is a line from the album. The joke is how sad it is when you find yourself making a can of tuna for yourself and you realize it's like you're making food for a pet, but the pet is you.
I also liked the sound of the phrase, “Who's my little guy?” It reminds me of something that Dean Martin would say in a song or hanging out with the Rat Pack. Like, "Hey, who's my little guy?" So it's fun, but it's sad, which kind of describes me.
As far as the cover art, I thought it'd be funny if there was a larger me holding a tinier version of myself dressed up as a little pet. I had a great photographer at The Daily Show photograph me. His name is Sean Gallagher and he photographed me both in the mouse costume and as myself holding the smaller me.
Joe Dettmore in the graphics department at The Daily Show, helped me out and turned it into this Roy Lichtenstein beautiful illustration. I was always a fan of the comic book aesthetic, so I thought it was very awesome. I wanted to do something that wasn't the typical “here's a photo of my face on a comedy album.” I wanted to do something that was a little weirder.
Teme: It's a very moving, funny and wonderful design.
Matt: Thank you. I appreciate that. This might be a less interesting answer, but I had gone through a number of titles for the album and they were all very jokey and I didn't want the title being too jokey. So "Who’s My Little Guy?" jumped out to me as a fun title.
Teme: Absolutely anything else that you would like to add?
Matt: I’m having an album release party in Queens, New York. A fun thing I'm excited about is that I'm going to have a neuroscientist named Dr. Heather Berlin listen to the album at the release show and then come out and psychoanalyze me based on the contents of the album.
Matt’s album release party and show is on Friday, November 1, 2019 at 7:30 p.m. at Q.E.D. Astoria, 27-16 23rd Avenue, Queens, NY, with special appearances from Ronny Chieng (The Daily Show, Crazy Rich Asians), Jo Firestone (The Tonight Show) and Brendan McLaughlin (Best Week Ever) and an analysis by Dr. Heather Berlin. Tickets here.
More about Matt Koff at http://www.mattkoff.net/
Follow him at https://twitter.com/mattkoff