I met comedian Seth Herzog on the second floor of Sean’s Bar and Kitchen on 48th Street and Sixth Avenue. He wanted to get a quick bite to eat before heading to his daily gig as the warm-up comic for The Tonight Show at NBC Studios, conveniently located right around the corner. As our waiter stops to clear his now-empty plate, Herzog throws him the oldest joke in the book: “I’d like to send this back.” The waiter did not look amused.
“That’s one of my best bits,” Herzog deadpanned. The 13-year (and counting) host of the Slipper Room’s weekly comedy show, Sweet, is no stranger to the occasional cold audience.
But don’t let his goofy demeanor fool you; Herzog has worked with the most seriously funny people in the biz—Paul Rudd, Zach Galifianakis, and Whitney Cummings among them—before they became household names. His set at the Mailroom, where he also hosts a show twice a month, has become a must-see for those looking for a good laugh downtown. Pretty good for a guy who used to do stand-up “just for fun.”
WSWD sat down with Herzog to chat about working with his mother, living in a closet (literally), and the superhero skit that will follow him forever.
What Should We Do?!: You’re a Jersey boy. What made you come to New York City?
Seth Herzog: I was drunk, I got on a bus, and I left. No, I was born in Englewood, but I grew up in Princeton. My family are all New Yorkers, so we came into the city a lot to see theater and all of our cousins here and there.
I was always a theater kid, you know? I was doing professional theater as a kid, like fourth or fifth grade. And then I went to Stagedoor Manor—it’s a theater camp upstate. So I got really into it. Then I did a little more in high school and college. And that was never not the plan. The plan was always: I’m going to go into acting when I’m done with college. I was thinking about going to L.A., but everyone I knew was in New York. So when I moved, I was already plugged into this giant group of friends.
WSWD: And where did the transition to comedy come in?
Herzog: I always liked comedy. I was always a student of stand-up. In fact, in fifth grade, we were required to be in a talent show. So I was like, what am I going to do? I could write some stupid sketch, but then I would have to call people and rehearse. That was too much work. So I said I’ll just do some stand-up. I ended up doing a bunch of songs off side two of Steve Martin’s album Let’s Get Small.
I was burnt on trying to do plays. And then I started doing stand-up and was much happier.
WSWD: And you never looked back.
Herzog: The truth is, I didn’t do stand-up again [for a while]. I just did theater for the next 20 years. I did [stand-up] in college once for the opening party for the Women’s Studies department. When I moved to New York—even though I was pursuing theater—I started doing some stand-up on the side. After about four years of doing that, I was sort of burnt on trying to do plays. And then I just started doing stand-up and was much happier.
WSWD: I’ve heard that you once lived in what might be considered one of NYC’s smallest apartments…
Herzog: Yeah, for 14 years. I lived right in the middle of Manhattan on 29th and Broadway, where the Ace Hotel is now. It was this 115-square-foot triangle, about $400 a month.
WSWD: And then you made a documentary about it?
Herzog: It doesn’t exist anymore. It exists in the sense that people were selling it online for a while. So the only way you can see it is if you know someone who owns one. And I sort of like that. I didn’t want people to know about it. Then The Village Voice wanted to do an article about it. They bugged me until I finally said yes. This was right before the Internet, so I figured we’d do this article with them and no one would see it; it’ll be gone in a week. Then boom! Right [after] we do the article, everyone all of a sudden gets the Internet. So whenever someone searched me, the only thing that popped up was this Village Voice article on my apartment.
WSWD: When did you start your comedy show Sweet? Why do you think it has lasted so long?
Herzog: It’s lasted so long because I haven’t stopped doing it. When I started doing stand-up, Josh Weinstein, John Viener, and Ophira Eisenberg asked me to come on board to be a producer for their new show, The Industry Room. And I sort of performed every week with them. It only existed for a year and a half, but it had three homes. It was very popular and it was so much fun. When Josh and John moved to L.A., I didn’t know if I wanted to keep doing it; I didn’t know if I wanted to start my own thing. So then I didn’t know where I was going to go or how I was going to do it. Then the Slipper Room was like, “Hey, we need something on Thursdays. Do you want to do a show?” I was like, “Yeah, uh, I’ll do a show on Thursdays.” So I started my own weekly comedy show. It’s been going on since August 2004. Is that right? Yes? Or 2006? 2005? Hold, on. It’s 2005. August of 2005…. Is that right? It’s gotta be right.
WSWD: Do you remember who performed in your first show?
Herzog: Mike Showalter and Zach Orth did a bit. I grew up with Mike in Princeton. We’re old friends. Demetri Martin, I believe, performed. Ed Helms performed, but he was just a Daily Show guy at the time. And then David Wain and Paul Rudd did a song at the end.
WSWD: Do you have a favorite show?
Herzog: We do this show every other year called The Sweet Games, where we make fun of the Olympics. We just did one in February. I get young, nonprofessional performers and make them compete in comedy-related events that I make up. And then I have a panel of celebrity judges to judge them. They don’t know what the events are until I announce them onstage. And then I say this is what you guys are gonna have to do, and they all compete. Everyone does their thing, and all the judges tear them apart. It’s really funny. No one takes anything too personally. We give everyone points.
WSWD: Does each show usually have a theme?
Herzog: Sometimes. I try to put somewhat of a little theme around them. Sometimes I’ll open with a big dance number. For the Easter show, I did this dance piece as Jesus to the theme song of Fame, right before he dies. I think that it’s funny that the lyrics to Fame really match what Jesus had said as his last words. I came in with this giant, life-size cross. I was being whipped, but I Jew’d it up. I was like, “Oy! Oy! OK, enough! Oh, that’s good. Right there! Right there.”
WSWD: Is your mother still part of the show?
Herzog: She comes once a month now. We do a bit called “What’s on My Mom’s Mind?” and I drag her out of the audience. She used to call me every week and go, “I have nothing to talk about.” And I’d go, “Don’t worry about it. We’ll find something.” So then we’ll just come up with something. She can’t remember lines. We can’t rehearse anything. It’s totally spontaneous. When she can’t think of anything, I have her just talk to the audience. I have her go around with a wireless and ask people stuff, and the things she asks people are insane. And I never could have written that in a million years.
WSWD: What advice can you give to aspiring comedians in New York?
Herzog: Don’t bother. It’s not worth it. None of it’s worth it.
WSWD: But for those crazy enough to try, can you tell them something you wish you knew before starting your comedy career?
Herzog: You don’t have to bark. A lot of shitty clubs will make performers bark in Times Square to try to give away tickets. You don’t have to do it. It’s bullshit. There are plenty of opportunities to perform around the city where you don’t have to bark.
WSWD: You’re pretty famous for your Wonder Woman dance. Where did that come from?
Herzog: I was hanging out at [Adam Morena’s] apartment, and he had a CD of ’70s and ’80s TV show theme songs. So we put it on, and Josie and the Pussycats comes on. It has a great song. I started rocking out in the apartment, just going crazy, and Adam goes, “You have to do that onstage.” I’m like, “I can’t do that onstage. No one is gonna give a shit.” So I started doing a Josie and the Pussycats dance number. Just like a weird dance piece, no context, no concept. I did that for a couple of weeks. It was kind of funny and cute, but I think the window of people who knew that song was pretty narrow. So I needed a new song. I went through the disc and found the Wonder Woman theme song. And I’m like, “This rocks!” So I started opening with Wonder Woman in this funny, tight outfit. And then it became a whole thing. Now I get all these Wonder Woman gifts. People buy me mugs, cups, cookie jars, posters—I have so much Wonder Woman stuff in my house.
Then Jimmy Fallon made me do it onstage for Gal Gadot. I’d been doing it for many, many years at that point. And I did it on tour with Jimmy, so he saw it a bunch of times. And when Gal was coming on for the first time [to promote] the new Wonder Woman movie, he’s like, “We’re gonna do it. She’s not gonna know about it.” She was not told ahead of time that she was going to have to see this.
WSWD: Did she like it?
Herzog: She liked it. She was laughing. She was a little freaked out. She was nice about it.