The Ratbag Himself: a Q&A with Cameron Writt

As funny as he is gracious, Cameron Writt discusses his blog, artistic regret and how well a crew cut works with the shape of his head. Check out what else works for this comedian in this week’s Q&A with Laughs Out Loudly

Image of Cameron Writt

Laughs Out Loudly: First of all how’s your day going?

Cameron Writt: Pretty good, the only thing I’ve had to do is get some groceries. Other than that I’ve just been at home spending time with my cat and waiting for my my wife to come home.

LOL: Sounds like a good Saturday.

CW: Oh and by the way [the Santa Cruz Comedy Coalition (SCCC)] really appreciates [the Q&A’s]. We think it’s really cool.

LOL: Aw, that’s so nice of you. I feel similarly. When I was in Santa Cruz I was like, “These people are awesome and I want to know more about them.”

CW: Oh you’re going to change your mind after you get to know us (laughs)

LOL: (Laughs) Well, so far so good. Maybe not after this interview.

CW: Yeah I could spoil it for everyone.

LOL: Somehow I doubt it. So, I noticed you’re a bit of a writer. Tell me a little bit more about that. When did you start writing?

CW: I started around 2014 or 2015 I think, but I deleted all of that because I hated it. It was gnarly. Way too long and amateure. I was trying to imitate people I have no business trying to be like.

LOL: Who were you trying to imitate.

CW: I was reading a lot of Vice at the time and Vice is fine, I was just overdoing it. It really wasn’t my voice. I deleted it, then I started it again, then I deleted it again. Then I tried to make it inoffensive, non-political and purely for entertainment and that was just a lot better for me.

LOL: So you gravitated more towards humor now, but Vice isn’t a normally humorous outlet. Were you trying to engage with heavier topics back then?

CW: I suppose. I was a bit freer with profanity and harsher opinions. I don’t recall what was in it, I just remember being in a much crankier mental place. I had no business writing the way I was.

LOL: I feel you. I used to have a blog that was an attempt to write op-eds. It was a good place for me to process and express my feelings on political stuff and the way I related to everything. I think it’s important to have some kind of outlet. But, like you, I totally deleted mine.

CW: It sounds like yours was a lot more mature than mine. Not just whining.

LOL: Nope. No. Nope. It was very not at all. I might be making it sound more interesting than it was just like “Agh, this is awful.”

CW: I just went back and read [other things you wrote for Laughing Out Loudly] and it’s funny.

LOL: Aw, thank you so much! So, you’ve written for awhile, too, but when did you get into comedy?

CW: It must have been 2013, and I probably did it for about four months and then stopped for about two and a half years at least.

LOL: For what reason?

CW: My wife and I moved to Okinawa, Japan. We were there for about two years and there was practically no comedy there. They have the USO tours and folks coming out to perform on the bases and stuff, but not in the form of open mics. At least not that I found. I’d be heartbroken to find that I’d been missing out on it the whole time. The first place we moved to right was Monterey when we first came back to California and I just had to dive right back in I missed it really badly.

Before we went to Okinawa, we were on the east coast, first in the lower DC area. I might have done about six mics around there. I don’t even know if that counts. And then we moved to North Carolina.

LOL: Interesting — so are you in the army? Is that why you move so often?

CW: My wife is a Marine and I was a Marine reservist for four years, but she’s active duty.

LOL: So you’re moving around a lot — that probably gives you an interesting perspective.

CW: Yeah, it’s been fun.

LOL: Do you talk about the places you’ve been in your standup?

CW: Not yet. I don’t have a lot to make fun of about Japan. At least not yet. I’ve tried and it does feel either unrelatable or misguided. It might come across as godforbid xenophobic. But I do have a joke about North Carolina. Overall I haven’t really talked about traveling that much. It could be something worth delving into.

LOL: What do you tend to talk about in your sets?

CW: It’s just errant silliness. Anything I can come up with whether it’s true or not. I think I’m pretty easily down the middle of the road, I suppose.

LOL: So, why did you want to get into comedy?

CW: I started listening to comedy nonstop once I realized Pandora stations could be set to comedians, I just binged on it so hard that I inadvertently brainwashed myself into patterning my thoughts in the way comedians do. It never crossed my mind to do an open mic until I was doing that. And then I started emailing my wife these jokes. It was like when a parent or someone older starts sending you these CCed and replied emails of office-chain letters. God, I can’t believe I did that to her.

LOL: So you were @-ing her through email like you would through instagram before there was instagram.

CW: Yeah I can’t believe she even tolerated it. So terrible. It was like my old blog posts — too many words and zero punchlines. Terrible.

LOL: Well, it sounds like you have a very patient wife who also luckily has a good sense of humor.

Speaking of good people, do you have any comedic idols? People who influence your style of comedy?

CW: Kind of. My blog is highly derivative of some of the early comedy writers like Robert Benchley. But for standup I’ve sort of lily-padded my way around. I started with everyone who ever had a special on Comedy Central. I’d just sit starry-eyed and watch that. Then when I started listening to Pandora nonstop and listening to comedian like John Mulaney and Patton Oswalt. And then there were times I’d try to be more like countercultural comedians and not only was I not good at it, but I also think it wasn’t a good look for me.

LOL: Like George Carlin?

CW: Yes, or anyone who could be considered derivative of him. Angry and offensive but with a playful side, and I just couldn’t pay it off.

LOL: Well, it’s good to know your voice and your style, and to know what works for you and what doesn’t.

And in terms of what does and doesn’t work for you, what was one of your best sets?

CW: If I’m being truly honest… there’s a cafe in downtown Monterey and my wife brought a bunch of her friends and coworkers which padded the audience. That was a big ego boost for me. Then later that week I performed in other towns where nobody knew me and it was a hard comedown.

LOL: For sure — and on that note what was one of your worst sets?

CW: The worst one to this day — if there was an “Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind” memory-eraser I would definitely go for the one set I did in Okinawa. Oh my god. So terrible.

LOL: How so?

CW: I was still in a phase where I was trying to be edgy or political or irreverent before I figured out that was not a good look for me. I wasn’t that good at it. They gave me a 10 minute set and it was the only comedy I got to do there. I was really hoping for a call back so I could start opening for these touring performers who’d visit the island and they wouldn’t touch me with a barge pole after that. I bombed so hard.

LOL: Ten minutes is also a long time. I’ve heard from lots of comedians that it’s only about three or four minutes usually.

CW: Yeah, definitely. And especially since at that point I’ve only had about four months of experience. Then trying to write 10 minutes from inside the vacuum of not having done comedy forever. I was thinking about it earlier — comedy kind of provides you with a second childhood. You get to learn a lot in a short period of time and you have so much to regret afterwards.

LOL: Yes, that’s very relatable. I don’t even do comedy and I can relate to that feeling.

CW: Do you have any ambitions to do it?

LOL: So it’s funny, I’ve talked to a lot of comedians, and I’ve seen stand up comedy, and it seems like everyone comes up to me and says “You know, after awhile you’re going to watch this enough and think ‘I can do that.’” And I’ve never thought that. But I do really like talking to comedians. So, I wondered, “How can I talk to comedians, and talk about their work and them, but not do standup…” So I thought I’d just do [these Q&A’s].

CW: Alright. Are you sure you’re not a cop? Getting us to confess all this stuff?

LOL: (Laughs) One hundred percent. I am 100 percent certain I am not a cop. But that’s a good question.

So, you’re in the SCCC but are you still living in Monterey. Do you just do the circuit in Santa Cruz? Or is there standup out there?

CW: There used to be a few shows out here in Monterey. I asked the hosts and for some reason rooms aren’t being run anymore. I don’t mind driving to Santa Cruz, but there is one show in town. It’s at The Pink Flamingo run by Chris Caffrey. I’d be remiss to act like she’s not down here running a show, and she runs a good show.

LOL: In terms of standup and writing, and all that you do — where do you hope to go with comedy?

CW: The end-goal would be to have a livable income off of it. I don’t have any giant aspirations for anything other than traveling and telling jokes. I don’t know if that’s the ultimate goal, but that’s the one I see immediately ahead of me on the horizon.

LOL: And, for a little background information for our readers: you’ve mentioned your wife a few times. How did you meet her?

CW: We met in college. The way it came together for us was very unromantic. We were drunk and she said, “By the way, I like you” and I was so dense I just stammered and said “What?” She had to spell it out. She said she liked me for the last two years and was frustrated that I hadn’t noticed. I was kind of dumbfounded and said “Uh, do you want to grab dinner sometime?” And she said “Uh, yeah!”

LOL: Aw, so you were friends before?

CW: Yes.

LOL: And she’s in the Marine Corps and you are too?

CW: Well, right now I’m unemployed. But she’s active duty in the marines and I signed up as a reservist so I was essentially doing what the national guard does where they do two weeks per year and then one weekend every month. Training and administrative stuff.

Sometimes I’ll lie and say I wasn’t in. But people take one look at me and assume I was because I still have a crew cut. It’s just the only cut that looks good on my head. I’ve tried other ones and, much like trying to be an angsty comic: not a good look.

LOL: And when did you graduate college?

CW: That was in 2011 and I studied sociology.

LOL: Oh cool, I feel like that might give you an ability to reframe things in multiple ways and comedy seems similar to that. Writing is also a way to reframe and flesh out multiple ideas — so tell me a little bit more about the Ratbag— your blog.

The Ratbag Himself

CW: Well, after I started posting, I googled Ratbag and there’s something like 20 other blogs with that name and I was [so disappointed]. I thought I was being original and self-deprecating, but I was being hacky and self-deprecating which is the lowest form of self-deprecation.

LOL: Well, I think it’s still pretty funny.

CW: I appreciate you saying that. If there’s anything to say about it, it came about the same way trying to do stand up did where I overindulged on comedic writers, tried to steal their style and tried to do it, too.

LOL: Yeah, I think that’s art in general in a way. You’re inspired by other things, you borrow what other people do. It’s a good thing. It shows you’re paying attention.

And lastly, what is your favorite part of comedy and why?

CW: My favorite part is having a new joke. Having a new joke is exciting because it’s like having a new play thing. It has a feeling of wanting to take it out and wanting to use it. You want to see if it works and what all it can do and become skilled with it. When you have all your old jokes you don’t even have to be thinking you can being thinking about whether or not you’re going to order a beer after a set or not. With something new it’s exciting and scary and you don’t know if there’s a blind spot in it, or if someone’s going to get mad if you say it or if it’s going to flop entirely. Or if a heckler will botch it.

LOL: Yeah, I feel like that’s so much of comedy or just any form of art is it’s just practice. Even with your blog. It’s like, yes you did it and erased it but it was also part of the practice that got you where you are now. We look at Van Gogh, for example, who’s this phenomenal painter and we see paintings like Starry Night and think “Wow, he just painted one time and came up with Starry Night.” But actually he had a shit ton of other paintings that he was doing at the same time, practicing to get there.

So, I understand the excitement of having a new joke, working on it, and being excited about it and also having some you throw away once in awhile.

CW: That’s a good point and a positive spin on all the artistic regret that some might have. You have a healthy mindset, maybe you shouldn’t go into comedy.

LOL: Mm, debatable, but yeah, I’m not going to take the risk. Not yet anyway.

Read more about and from Cameron Writt on his blog the Ratbag. If you want to see him and how well crew cut is working for him on stage, you can find him at most open mics in Santa Cruz or at The Pink Flamingo in Monterey.

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