Ari Shaffir strives to make themed material actually funny

Ten minutes in, Ari Shaffir pauses from the conversation in an attempt to break wind into the phone.

Nothing happens.

“It was going to come out real strong and solid,” Shaffir says, expressing a disappointment that eludes the person on the other end of the line.

And so it goes when speaking with the comedian on a recent afternoon ahead of some weekend gigs in Florida.

“I get it now,” he says of that state’s reputation for headline-generating weirdness. “You’re like, ‘Oh, yeah, you’re all strange.’ ”

Shaffir’s just getting started.

Playful, puerile and cerebral at once, he’s a deep thinker with a dirty mind, his intellect as pronounced as his fondness for fart jokes.

His stand-up follows suit.

The 45-year-old Shaffir’s most recent special, Netflix’s two-part “Double Negative,” is his most ambitious and accomplished work yet, divided between 45-minute “Childhood” and “Adulthood” shows.

With his sleepy eyes widening to a dinner plate’s dimensions as he hammers home a point, Shaffir riffs on the efficacy of adoption versus giving birth to kids of your own (“Why would you try and build a new team through the draft when there’s quality free agents to get picked up?”), the pleasure principle of prophylactics, and the ins and outs of soiling oneself, among other things.

Showing them how it’s done

“Double Negative” marks Shariff’s first forays into themed material, with “Childhood,” for instance, spanning a running narrative about one of his friends getting pregnant on a Tinder date.

Shaffir was inspired to try his hand at this style of comedy by frequent appearances at Scotland’s annual Edinburgh Fringe Festival, a massive gathering showcasing a variety of performances, where comedy comprises a central part of the programming, especially acts with themed sets.

“I started to see how they did theme hours, and it kind of rubbed off on me, but I always thought the biggest problem they had was the lack of funny,” Shaffir says of watching comics perform in the Edinburgh context. “I’d see these guys doing themed stand-up, and it was interesting, to hold on to a topic for an hour, but then I was like, ‘Why do you guys get not funny when you’re talking about a theme?’

“So I came up with a plan to show them,” he continues, “over like two different Edinburgh spring festivals, where one year I was just going to do a regular American hour of just jokes and then do this theme thing to try to show them how they’re doing it wrong. That’s what I did last year at Edinburgh. I invited every comic, ‘Come see it. I want to show you guys what I’m doing, what you can do.’ I was like, ‘I’ll let any comic come in for free so that you can just see this.’ ”

Despite the success of “Double Negative,” one of 2017’s best comedic offerings, Shaffir says he’s been laboring over his next special.

“This one’s been torturing me,” he notes. “It’ll almost be three years by the time I record it, which is longer than normal. At some point, it was just like, ‘I don’t think I can do an hour to an hour and 15 on the topic. I think I (messed) up. It’s OK, I’ll start over.’ And then it’s like, ‘No, no, no. Get back to it. Work harder.’ Then you just eventually find a way to make it all funny.”

West Coast come-up

Like his running buddy and fellow sharp-witted stoner Joe Rogan, whom Shaffir has toured with on a number of occasions, he honed his craft at L.A.’s storied Comedy Store, finding his voice in one of stand-up’s greatest incubators of talent.

“There’s this sign on the booth for the open mic, it says, ‘You don’t have to be funny in three minutes, but you have to be yourself in three minutes,’ ” Shaffir says of the club in question, where he worked answering phones and manning the door for years before breaking out as a headliner. “It’s weird, but it’s actually really difficult. It’s harder than being funny. You can just repeat (stuff) that you heard at the water cooler if it’s funny.

“To be yourself is way more difficult,” Shaffir adds. “Early on, I had a girlfriend come see me, and she was like, ‘Yeah, it was good, but you were funny at a dining hall at the University of Maryland.’ That’s when I realized I was contrived. I was reciting jokes. So I really worked on — no matter what — sounding like I was just talking to the people. That was a big step.”

Shaffir has maintained this looseness ever since.

The key?

Focusing on what makes him laugh first.

And then who knows? Maybe you’ll follow suit.

“Once I started getting more successful, I just stopped caring completely — ‘I’ll just do exactly what I want. It doesn’t matter,’ ” Shaffir says, “I’ve justified all of this in my head. Come with me on this trip if you want; don’t if you don’t. It’s up to you.”

Contact Jason Bracelin at or 702-383-0476. Follow @JasonBracelin on Twitter.

Entertainment Videos
Brownie sundae at VegeNation in Las Vegas is completely vegan
Donald Lemperle, chef/owner of VegeNation in Las Vegas and nearby Henderson, NV, makes his sundae with ice cream made with coconut and almond milks, a brownie made with coconut flour and oil and organic sugar and cacao, and fresh fruit. (Heidi Knapp Rinella/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Taste of the Town: Henderson Booze District
Those who like to support local businesses and sample local products will find the best concentration in an unlikely spot: a Henderson industrial park.
Founder of theatre talks about a favorite play
Ann Marie Pereth, founder of A Public Fit Theatre Company, speaks to the Review-Journal about which play she would see every day if only given one option. (Rachel Aston/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
New Avengers S.T.A.T.I.O.N interactive exhibit
The new exhibit features original and recreated props and plenty of interactive features. (Rachel Aston/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
The Writer's Block and Lucy are open in Las Vegas
The Writer's Block and Lucy are open in Las Vegas (Janna Karel Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Las Vegas ice cream shop offers everything in the kitchen sink
Have you ever wanted to eat an ice cream sundae out of a kitchen sink? Who hasn't, right? At Sloan's, located inside the Venetian, you can do just that. (Mat Luschek / Review-Journal)
Maxie’s in Las Vegas puts eggs Benedict in a box
Chef David Mangual at Maxie’s in The Linq Promenade in Las Vegas makes his eggs Benedict in a brioche “box” layered with spinach, bacon and tomatoes and topped with poached eggs and hollandaise sauce. (Heidi Knapp Rinella/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Caviar Twinkie Served at Stripsteak in Las Vegas
Stripsteak Executive Pastry Chef Vivian Chang and Chef Gerald Chin create a novel savory food item that looks like a familiar sweet treat at the restaurant in Las Vegas. (Heidi Knapp Rinella/Review-Journal)
NAB attendees battle to qualify for Fortnite event
NAB is sponsoring an online video game event with Epic Games’ Fortnite allowing attendees to qualify to go head to head with top players. (Michael Quine/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Arctic Shrimp Sandwich at Saga near Las Vegas
Chef Gert Kvalsund, a native of Norway, founded Saga Pastry + Sandwich in Henderson to give Scandinavians a taste of home. (Heidi Knapp Rinella/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Guy Fieri and Sammy Hagar talk UNLVino
Guy Fieri and Sammy Hagar talk about the upcoming UNLVino vent. (Al Mancini/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Christie Brinkley at Smith & Wollensky
Christie Brinkley, in town for her run in “Chicago” at the Venetian Theatre, paid a visit to the Grand Canal Shoppes’ still-under-construction Smith Wollensky on Monday for a ceremonial first toast at the bar. (Al Mancini/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Two artists create a mural for peace in Las Vegas
2 artists create a mural for peace in Las Vegas (Janna Karel Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Inside Kaos nightclub and dayclub
A look at new club at Palms.
CinemaCon Brings Theater Professionals To Caesars
CinemaCon is not just celebs, it's also a place where theater owners can browse the latest in seats, projectors and concessions. (Mat Luschek/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Las Vegas restaurants provide a taste of ballpark food
The Las Vegas Ballpark, home to the Las Vegas Aviators, will serve food from Giada De Laurentiis and a team of favorite local restaurants. Heidi Knapp Rinella/Review-Journal
Taste of the Town: Bobby Flay Opens Shark at the Palms - VIDEO
Bobby Flay opens Shark at the Palms; his first high-end restaurant in 15 years.
Chef Marc Marrone at T-Mobile Arena
Chef Marc Marrone has opened a bao cart at T-Mobile Arena. (Al Mancini/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Bellagio fountains celebrate 'Game of Thrones'
A medley of the theme for HBO’s “Game of Thrones” and the song “Winter Is Here” from the show premiered at the Bellagio Fountains water show on the Las Vegas Strip on Sunday, March 31, 2019. The new number will run in rotation through April 13. The series premieres its eighth and final series on April 14. (Mick Akers/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Las Vegan Aunt Chippy talks about being on Jimmy Kimmel's show
Concetta Potenza, Aunt “Chippy” to Jimmy Kimmel, talks about her first time being featured on her nephew’s show. (Rachel Aston/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
The "Flight Unknown" At Bar Centro at Bazaar Meats Las Vegas Features 5 Innovative Cocktails
The "Flight Unknown" At Bar Centro At Bazaar Meats Las Vegas Features 5 Innovative Cocktails (Janna Karel Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Cotton candy crowns pancakes in Las Vegas
At Maxie’s at The Linq Promenade in Las Vegas, executive chef David Mangual fills pancakes with fruit and cream cheese and piles on pastel cotton candy, which is melted in a stream of chocolate syrup. Heidi Knapp Rinella/Review-Journal
Bananas Foster Pancakes go up in flames at The Stove near Las Vegas
Chef Antonio Nunez at The Stove in Henderson, near Las Vegas, flames the pancakes tableside for a fiery presentation. Heidi Knapp Rinella/Review-Journal
El Loco Rollercoaster at Circus Circus' Adventuredome
The El Loco rollercoaster opened at the Circus Circus' Adventuredome in February 2014. It features a 90-foot ascent, followed by a drop that produces a negative 1.5 "verticle G," a 180-degree turn, and reverse 240-degree roll that turns into an inverted drop. The coaster reaches a maximum speed of 45 mph and is the only indoor coaster of it's kind in the U.S., and is the second indoor El Loco coaster in the world, according to MGM Resorts.
Bartending flair competition at the Nightclub & Bar Show
Highlights from the ten contestants who competed for the Shake It Up Flair and Classic Competition at the Nightclub & Bar Show at the Las Vegas Convention Center. (Rachel Aston/Las Vegas Review-Journal) @rookie__rae
Justin Kingsley Hall shares details on his next gig
Chef Justin Kinglsey hall shares some details about the newArts District restaurant he's developing with Kim Owens. (Al Mancini/Las Vegs Review-Journal)
Film prompted Carrie Hogan to found 2 farmers markets in Las Vegas
Carrie Hogan founded Fresh 52 Farmers and Artisan Market in Las Vegas after realizing she had to do something about the influence of factory farms on the food supply. (Heidi Knapp Rinella/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Seafood dishes being made at Pasta Shop near Las Vegas
Executive chef Edwin Martinez incorporates fresh pasta into Lobster Salmon and Saffron Shrimp Sauté at Pasta Shop Ristorante & Art Gallery in Henderson, near Las Vegas. Heidi Knapp Rinella/Review-Journal
Andrew Carmean will be the only local participant in upcoming demolition derby
Andrew Carmean, a demolition driver, will be the only local participant in upcoming derby at the Plaza Hotel. (Bizuayehu Tesfaye/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Masso Osteria first anniversary in Las Vegas
Scott Conant was in town Tuesday to host a one-year anniversary party for his Red Rock Resort restaurant Masso Osteria.
Home Front Page Footer Listing