Comedian Rick Martinelli has had an interesting journey in the world of entertainment. He first got on our radar years ago as hip hop artist Reason The Citizen, who we’ve seen rock huge crowds with some of hip hop’s biggest acts like Brother Ali, Lupe Fiasco, Joyner Lucas and many more. With the pandemic and subsequent quarantine we hadn’t heard much from RTC, but as the world opened up and we started going back outside we learned that the sharp emcee had re-emerged not as a rapper (for now) but as a stand up comedian under his given name Rick Martinelli. Carrying his intense work ethic over to the new medium, Martinelli has performed over 200 shows, open mics, and gigs around the Los Angeles area in the last year, and he’s headed into the new year with that same energy. We chopped it up with Rick about his career transformation, as well as hip hop, comedy, and more. Check out the interview below!
Get Em High: 2022 was your first year doing comedy. You really hit the ground running doing over 200 performances. How has your set evolved from show #1 to show #200?
Rick Martinelli: 2022 was a wild ride to say the least. The evolution from my 1st set to my 200th set was pretty substantial. I’d say the biggest difference was my ability to connect with my material. My early sets consisted of me really figuring out who I was on stage, trying out as many different jokes as possible to learn what worked best for me. In the very beginning I was focused on quick bits and maximizing laughs, but I realized I wasn’t really giving the audience a sense of who I was as a person and I didn’t quite get that connection with the audience that I was looking for. About 100 sets in I started to break down that barrier and connect with my material in a way that helped me illustrate who I am as an individual through longer more well thought out bits that made me more comfortable on stage.
GEH: What’s been your worst ‘bombing’ moment as a comedian thus far?
Martinelli: Where do I begin? There’s been so many. Bombing is part of the process and it helps you learn how to get better and where your jokes can improve. But the first bad bomb always hurts the most. I’d had my fair share of less than amazing sets before I really bombed bad, but the first time was exceptionally bad. It was at an open mic in a backyard in North Hollywood, it was my first time at this mic and I went by myself. I had some jokes prepared that had been working for me, but when I got up that night every single word I said fell flat and I didn’t get a single laugh the entire set. At the time it was soul crushing and I didn’t sleep well for a few days. Now I’ve bombed enough times to know that nothing is guaranteed and statistically it’s bound to happen sometimes. But nothing hurts worse than the first time.
GEH: When it comes to writing jokes, what’s your process like?
Martinelli: I try to write jokes every day about news stories, headlines, trends, etc. just to constantly exercise the writing muscle. But when it comes to writing material for my act, I usually say something randomly that I think is funny or have an unusual interaction and I’ll make a quick note that I revisit later to develop into an idea. Then I’ll take those ideas and go try them out at an open mic to see what works and what doesn’t. I’ll edit down the material based on what kind of a response I get on stage, and then keep working it out at mics and shows until I feel confident that it’s a joke worth keeping. Once I’m comfortable with how it’s performing, I’ll rewrite it and try to extract anything else that I think could be funny and repeat the process. A good joke is almost always a work in progress.
GEH: So you originally got on our radar as the hip hop artist Reason The Citizen, it’s been cool to see you switch lanes and have success. What are some of the similarities and differences between performing as a comedian versus a musician?
Martinelli: There are actually a ton of similarities between performing as a musician and a comedian. I think most importantly is that they both rely heavily on the response the crowd gives you. As a comedian, you’re constantly working to keep the audience engaged and laughing, and as a musician you’re working to keep the crowd moving and excited. Slightly different goals but in the same vein. The biggest difference is that in comedy you have no music to hide behind. In a live music performance, there are moments where you might not be speaking into the microphone, but the music is there to carry the energy forward without your voice. In Comedy, if you’re not speaking and the crowd isn’t laughing, that silence is very real. But beyond that the basic elements of being on stage to entertain a crowd are very similar in both fields.
GEH: Which business is tougher as an up and comer in your opinion?
Martinelli: Personally I think it’s tough to say because for me, I started pursuing hip hop as a teenage kid. I didn’t have much life experience so everything I learned in that journey I was learning for the first time. I began my comedy career much later in life with over two decades of entertainment experience. I’ve been able to use that experience and apply it to a new realm of entertainment where many of my peers are brand new to being on stage in front of people. I learned how to be visible and get booked on shows as a hip hop artist a long long time ago, so navigating a similar environment isn’t foreign to me, even if the field of entertainment is slightly different. I’ve had much quicker success in my comedy career, although I still have a long way to go and a lot to learn, but I think an important distinction to point out is that the accessibility to stage time is very different between music and comedy. I can get on stage at a comedy show 10-15 times a month, in music you would need to tour constantly to get that kind of stage time. It’s tough for me to say with any certainty which path is more difficult, but both paths are damn near impossible. I should have been an accountant.
GEH:Are you still creating music and/or planning to continue that part of your career?
Martinelli: At this point in my life I’m definitely more committed to comedy than music, but that’s not to say that I’m done making music by any means. The need to create is always inside of me and having a variety of outlets to feed that desire keeps me moving forward. I still write music occasionally but not as often as I have in the past, but that journey is never finished. For me personally it has always been about the pursuit and not the destination, which is exactly what musicians who never made it say, and now I get it. That being said you can catch me live performing both music and comedy sets at BIG Winter Classic in Calgary, AB on January 28th!
GEH: Ok as far as inspiration goes…Top 5 Comedians? Top 5 Rappers?
Martinelli: Top 5 Comedians…Dave Chappelle, Sam Morril, Chris Rock, Bert Kreischer, Ari Shaffir. Top 5 Rappers…Kendrick Lamar, Blu, El-P, Aesop Rock, Notorious BIG.
GEH: There definitely seems to be a natural crossover in the worlds of comedy and hip hop. You’ve got comedians like Hannibal Burress dropping whole rap records, T.I. was recently spotted working on his material at a small comedy club. The list goes on. In your experience, who’s more fun to hang out with comedians or rappers?
Martinelli: COMEDIANS. BY FAR. There’s a lot of posturing and bravado in hip hop, everyone is expected to be the biggest and the loudest, the toughest and most flashy. Down to earth is not typically a quality you find in a lot of rappers. Plus there are varying degrees of success in music that allow certain rappers to not need to perform live. If you have a great song or a great music video, you don’t necessarily need to get on stage. In stand up, every comedian is playing the same game. It’s you and a microphone in front of a crowd. There’s unification among comedians in that shared experience. And ultimately, comedians are funny people and hanging around them means you will always be laughing. Rappers are too serious.
GEH: What would you say is your biggest takeaway from your first year doing comedy?
Martinelli: My biggest takeaway from my first year of doing comedy is that this shit is hard. And no matter what level of perceived success I may have, it will always be hard. Even though I think I’m doing ok considering I’m brand new, I still have a LONG way to go. Also I think one of the most important things that I’ve learned is that following through on what you say you want in life is the most gratifying way to live. I wanted to do comedy way before I ever wrote a song or freestlyed in a house party cypher. And I waited almost 20 years to pull the trigger, but I’m so glad I finally did. This may be the first year, but I can tell you right now it’s the first of many, many more to come.
GEH: Any goals for the new year? What’s on the books for 2023?
Martinelli: My main goal for 2023 is to keep getting up on stage, and keep getting better as a comedian. I’d like to take my comedy on the road and put it to the test on stage in cities other than Los Angeles. I hope to continue improving as a performer and a joke writer, and maybe one day I can make comedy my career. But for the moment, the number one goal is to be funny, and stay funny, and hopefully that will provide more opportunities for me in the future.