Today I’m interviewing Ray Ellin. Ray was honored as one of New York’s “Best Emerging Artists 2009” and “Ten Standout Stand-Ups Worth Watching” by Back Stage Magazine. Ray is a comedian, television host, actor, producer, writer, and filmmaker. Ray is the host of LateNet with Ray Ellin,, the first live comedy/variety show to combine both in-studio and interactive online audiences. The show features A-list celebrities, top comedians, and musical guests including Chevy Chase, Hank Azaria, Leonard Nimoy, Paul Shaffer, Fran Drescher, and many more. You can find it on DailyComedy.com/latenet. In addition to LateNet with Ray Ellin, Ray has also been the host and writer of the syndicated television shows The Movie Loft, Premium TV, and currently BrainFuelTV. Ray executive produced and directed the film The Latin Legends of Comedy. Distributed by Twentieth Century Fox, the movie received the Best Documentary Award at the Boston International Film Festival.
1. How are you using the internet / social media to promote your career?
After live shows, there’s always people who add me on Facebook, DailyComedy, MySpace, Twitter or just Google me. They want to find me and keep tabs on me, let me know they liked my show, or see if I have any merchandise available. It’s a great tool to stay connected.
Before social networking, you would have a sheet, and people would fill out their name and phone number or email address if they wanted to know about upcoming shows. Now, mass numbers of people can find and follow you fairly easily. It’s really been an invaluable tool. And it allows you to connect with people globally. I once did a TV interview and within three days, there were hundreds of Facebook requests. That’s incredible. In the past, if you did an interview, and someone seemed interested, hopefully they’d remember your name and if you did a show in their town hopefully they’d come. Now, they can keep tabs on you and to some extent you can keep tabs on them.
2. Have you noticed the payoff yet?
Yes. I find that now when I’m traveling through a specific city, it’s easy to target the people who live in that area. The nice thing about it, most of the time it’s people who looked for me on the websites, so that means they already have an interest. As opposed to me randomly saying, “Hi I’m a comedian, I’ll be in town.” These are people who saw you and chose to seek you out.
3. How does your show ‘Late Net with Ray Ellin’ use the internet?
‘Late Net with Ray Ellin’ really incorporates social media and social networking really well. We have done it in a unique and entertaining way. I have a monitor set up on my desk, and in real time, whoever has a webcam, can ask questions and communicate with me or the guests. It’s a live video feed – we can’t beam them into the actual studio. It’s not Star Trek (although Leonard Nimoy, the original Mr. Spock, was a GREAT guest on the show). It would be cool if you could teleport people, right? Anyway, my guest is sitting next to me, and on the monitor you see people watching the show from their homes and we can interact with them.
Late Net started as a late night talk show format: monologue, comedy sketches, celebrity guests, performances. I have a live studio audience and an interactive online audience. We have people watching all over the world, literally. I communicate with people from Belgium, Israel and Wichita, Kansas. The audience is really spread out. They can all interact with each other too. It’s a cool way to integrate technology into the talk show format. Right now the show has been airing and is archived on DailyComedy.com. DailyComedy.com has become the largest comedy specific social networking website with tons of original content. When people search for me, DailyComedy pops up. I’ve gotten an enormous amount of mileage from being a part of that community. People go there specifically for comedy; to find jokes on every topic and to learn about different comedians. From a social networking perspective, it’s been super valuable and allows me to showcase my content.
We also recently licensed the show to AOL. So it’s been broadcast on AOL’s Asylum.com. It definitely grows the audience.
We’ve had up to 100,000 people watching the show at once without it crashing. It slowed down, but it kept going. DailyComedy has crashed – when Michael Jackson died, it went down because everyone wanted Michael Jackson jokes. Tiger Woods jokes. Billy Mays jokes. Yesterday people were looking for Sandra Bullock jokes, and that brought the site down for a few minutes because it was huge traffic. But as far as Late Net goes, it didn’t crash yet. And when people watch the show archived, there’s no danger there.
4. How did you use the internet for The Latin Legends of Comedy?
In the past, before the web, you would make a movie, try to get it in the theatre, hopefully get a DVD deal, get it on TV, and that’s the end of it. Which is fine, it worked for years. With the web, just having a website is incredibly valuable. When people are searching for Latino comedy, having a MySpace and being able to interact with fans, it was incredible. And it was helpful with DVD sales. Just going on message boards, it helped. You could go on the message boards and let the people who might be interested in the movie know about it. It’s social and it’s networking, you meet people with similar interests and let people know about you or your film. You don’t just have to hope the studio will do a big marketing campaign anymore, you can take it into your own hands and spread the word. Even if it’s just with your friends, “My movie is done, take a look at the trailer.”
5. What do you think about posting videos of your sets online?
I think it’s okay to put some of your set or material online because you want people who might not really go to a live comedy club to learn about you and discover a little bit about you. And you want others to come out and see you in person. But you don’t want them to think, “I’ve seen him, there’s no need to come out.”
I don’t think you should put everything you’ve ever done online. At the end of the day, stand up is best when experienced live at the club. I think it’s the same with music, but especially with comedy. It’s best in a group setting in a theatre or comedy club. Hands down. But having a presence on the web is really great because someone can become a fan from watching some of your clips online. And by the same token, when someone goes to see you live, they then look you up for more. Let’s say they see a clip of something you just did at the live show, it’s like they have a souvenir from that. “Oh yeah, I love that bit, that’s so funny.” In some ways, for people who saw you live, it’s like a memento from the show. It’s additional material for them to reinforce why they enjoyed you.
However, online videos can also be very misleading, you might have someone post five decent minutes of stand up online, and that might be all they have. In those five minutes you’re like, “Wow this person is funny.” Then you go see him live and are like, “From minute six on, this is just awful.” It can really trick people. That’s why a web based following can sometimes be like the emperor’s new clothes.
6. How do you think digital tools will change comedy?
I think comedy is best live, in person. I think at some point, people will start doing more stand up experiences where it beams live into people’s homes. I don’t think that will be really popular though. At the end of the day, people want to experience it in person, not as a hologram. Late Net is actually a great example. We have a way to reach people who can’t make it to a show because they live in the middle of nowhere, so they can tune in and become part of the audience through the web. It’s an example of how it can expand your audience and bring them together at the same time.
I think digital tools will change comedy more in the sense of letting people keep tabs on you and allowing the artist to stay connected to their fans even when they’re not doing a show. With twitter, people can stay connected to their fans just while sitting on the toilet. They can sit there and send out a tweet, brush their teeth and send out a tweet. You can keep your fan base entertained and engaged from your living room.
But it’s a catch 22, because you also have to get people to know you’re on Twitter. They might see you live or on TV and wanna follow you, but they gotta know about it.
Digital tools are a great way to further the relationship you already established. I’ve had people who came to New York, and then they continued to see what I post on Facebook, and are always coming on Daily Comedy and seeing what new jokes or videos I put up. That’s incredible, to maintain that relationship, the comedian-fan relationship; that doesn’t exist in the club. That being said, if you post something really stupid, you can sorta bomb online. But you can send out links to stuff you did.
I was actually just in the Bahamas at Treasure Bay in Freeport, and this national uproar existed because I had people in the audience and they were infamous in the Bahamas for some illicit activities, and I didn’t know who they were, I had no idea, and it ended up being really funny. That show was taped and clips were spread digitally all over the Bahamas. People stopped me at bars, at the casino, at the airport – the customs official asked me about it. Totally serious. Now it’s been posted to my Facebook page and I did follow up interviews in the Bahamas about it. Because of the internet, Daily Comedy and Facebook, people who weren’t even at an event can suddenly experience that event. And now people will say, “Oh wow let me keep tabs on this guy and see what he’s up to next.” That’s how the internet works, people are gonna Google me, and the interview on BigBenComedy will come up. They’ll be like, “Wow let me read what Ray had to say when he was talking to Ben. Ooh, that Twittering in the bathroom thing was fascinating insight.” And now people looking for me also discovered you, and we might share the same magnificent fans.
7. How much information do you tend to share on the social networks?
It’s a mix. It irks me when people write completely boring minutia. Like, “Just flossed my teeth.” I doubt anyone will go, “Wow, I didn’t know Tony flosses his teeth. Look how hygienic he is. That is riveting.”
People wanna be entertained or given some valuable information. If someone posts a news story about a medical breakthrough or a funny anecdote, I think that’s what people enjoy the most. I post real things about my day, but put a funny spin on it. I never put, “Just bought a new pillow,” and that’s it. Why would you do that? No one gives a shit about your bedding. For some people it works for them, because they want to feel connected with the rest of their friends and that’s how they do it. But for the most part, people want to be entertained, interested, engaged. And a new pillow story isn’t gonna do it, unless it was a pillow filled with cash and you are giving it all away.
You want to post something ideally that will be interesting or informative or funny. In the Bahamas I posted something about swimming with dolphins, without anything funny, just how much I enjoyed it. But to me, that certainly was interesting, coming from an NYC boy. And the follow up posts and photos were funny and fun. It’s not just, “About to turn off my lights and go to bed.” I tend to share some humorous stuff that’s based on my own life or an observation about something else. Like healthcare, I’ll post something funny about that. Or maybe about a good charity or cause. I’ll also let people know what’s going on, if I have a certain show, or where I’ll be performing. I just posted, “Doing 3 shows at Dangerfield’s Saturday night, stop by if you want.” It’s both self promotion and an invitation. Basically, I probably do it the same way as every other human being on the planet does it. Except that people in Bombay aren’t promoting sets at Comic Strip.
8. What’s your weirdest online experience involving your comedy career?
Once I did a show, and someone who had been in the audience looked me up on DailyComedy and posted a couple of comments to my wall on DailyComedy. I replied “Thank you.” Then from that, she learned about Late Net, so she started tuning into Late Net. One night we had a contest, a “Send in a funny video” thing. And this girl proceeded to make the dirtiest videos I’ve ever seen in my life. Like filthy. And in the videos she’d hold up hand written signs like, “This is for you Ray.” The videos were totally pornographic. This girl could’ve made a fortune in amateur home videos. It was bizarre. I’m getting these emails thinking it’s just another video entry, and she was basically getting fully naked and had an arsenal of not just sex toys, but also various household objects that she incorporated into this video. Like a dildo, a flashlight, and an ice tray. Unreal. And every once in a while, the handheld sign would say “Hey Ray” then another sign would pop up, “Do you like this Ray?” It was so bizarre yet fascinating and entertaining at the same time. I never realized a clock radio had so many filthy purposes.
I read somewhere that the number one purpose for the internet is for porn, and even when it comes to a comedy show, that purpose can also creep up and happen. That experience was pretty out there. I get plenty of emails but that was by far the most interesting one I ever opened. I was flattered but slightly unnerved. I’m thinking, “If this girl is willing to do this, what will she do if she ever comes back to NYC and goes to a show. What will happen in the show room?” But as long as it’s not violent, it will be an interesting and welcome addition to the show. And at the end of the day, people are more comfortable doing outrageous stuff on the web, from the comfort of their own home. They can pull a candle out of their butt without anyone yelling at them or throwing them out of the club. Exactly the purpose Al Gore had when he invented it, right?