The Problem with Our Staff
Q&A with Rob Christensen, Staff Writer
If you’ve listened to our podcast, you know that our staff is loaded with talented, hilarious writers. We thought we’d give you a chance to get to know them a little better by asking them probing questions about their hopes, dreams, and fears of dying in embarrassing ways. Keep reading to hear how much staff writer Rob Christensen likes this job and his constant fear of needing to be a hero on the subway.
Tell us a little bit about who you are and what you were doing before you got this job.
I’m Rob Christensen. I’m from Brooklyn, New York. Before I got this job, I was doing stand-up on the road full-time, but then the pandemic happened.
Our hiring process has been well documented, but what made you decide to sit down and write your packet?
I was basically just waiting for a pandemic to end, so I had time. It’s funny because the week that this packet was due, I went for a walk with Robby Slowik, another writer on the show. I hadn’t seen him in a year, and we’ve known each other since the open mic times back in L.A. We were talking about how there was a Jon Stewart packet and at the same time there was a Charlamagne Tha God packet. We were like, “We don’t have a chance. We’re old. We’re old white guys. There’s no way anyone wants to hire us.” By the end of the conversation, we had talked ourselves out of ever working in TV again.
So I went home and did the packet for Jon Stewart. I did the packet for Charlamagne Tha God, and I did a 10-page audition tape. All in like five days, so I had no time to even focus really on one thing. Then my manager was like, “You did a great job on this Charlamagne packet,” and didn’t mention the Jon Stewart one at all. So I was like, “OK, I see how this is going.” I did not hear back from the audition or Charlamagne Tha God, but I did hear back from Jon Stewart. So I’ll take that all day.
When you found out that you’ve been hired, what did that feel like? Did you feel like you’d won the meme lottery?
Yes, I felt like I won a Twitter contest. Actually, sometimes when we get stuck when we’re writing, I have a song to the tune of “Come on, Eileen,” where I go, “Writing is hard. Somehow, it’s my job. How’d I get here? Won a contest on Twitter.”
Yeah, I do feel like I hit the lottery, but also I’ve been doing comedy for over a decade. It’s, of course, like the cliche where I worked my ass off. I dedicated my life completely to the goal of making it in comedy. Most people think I’m crazy, and I was crazy, because I was losing money for most of that time. Then after all that hard work, you get this job and it’s how lucky you are. You know, like, you won the lottery, but it’s like a lottery you can’t win without giving your entire life to it for 10 years.
So this is the first show that you’ve written on. How does this compare to other jobs you’ve had?
Well, this is the best job I’ve ever had, you know? That’s how it compares. There really is no comparison. This is by far the best job I’ve ever had.
In his Q&A, Jay rated it just above standing half-naked outside of Abercrombie. So I feel like everybody is putting it in the same zone.
Let me tell you something, Jay rated it that way because he wanted to talk about how he stood half-naked outside of Abercrombie, okay? I was tempted to say this is my number one job and number two was the military, but I’m trying not to talk about the military in every fucking interview I do for this job. But if Jay gets to be “Jay the hot comic,” then fuck it. I’m going to be “Rob the veteran.”
You’ve earned it. Can you tell us what it’s like to write about objectively bad news and try to make it funny?
It’s not hard for me. The bad news doesn’t bother me. It just doesn’t bother me, the giant problems of the world. I’d almost rather think about the giant problems of the world than the small problems. Does that make any sense? It’s like they’re a distraction from the minutia. And with the big problems of the world, I can get really, really amped up and get on a good rant about them. So I’m just letting off steam here, yelling at polluters and people who steal elections and whatever the problem is. Hmm, I shouldn’t have said “steal elections.” I don’t actually think the election was stolen. I should have made that very clear. In other countries, elections are stolen. But not here. The polluters I do hate, that’s real.
Although I do think rather than big problems, I’ve noticed that every one of our episodes is like a true conspiracy theory. And it makes me hate conspiracy theorists so much because they’re out here saying that the world is flat and that people are lizards in real life. But I’m like, “No, there’s real conspiracies out there. The government is run by rich people. It’s a conspiracy. It’s real, and it’s right there.” All the evidence is there, but, no, you need lizard people to get you off.
“I’m giving you 100 jokes. Let me get one of them out of Jon Stewart’s mouth.”
What is the most surprising thing about this experience so far?
I think I thought maybe writers had more power. I worked in production a lot, and I worked below the line. I was a set dresser, started as a production assistant, so I was always moving couches on set. And in my head, I thought writers and directors controlled everything. Like they have a big part, but now that I’m a writer I realize I really don’t have that much control. I really don’t. Research can tell me “no,” and that’s it. That’s a no. You know, legal can tell me “no,” and that’s it. I don’t really have any control. I’m like, please put my jokes in,” and that’s me every day. It’s like “I’m giving you 100 jokes. Let me get one of them out of Jon Stewart’s mouth.”
What habit of yours do you think your coworkers find the most annoying about you?
I’m the loudest person, for sure. I’m the loudest person, and I don’t believe in astrology or chiropractors. I think it’s crazy that I have to be the outcast who doesn’t believe in astrology, but fine, fine, fine, fine. The one other thing I worry about as I get older is that I’m going to be one of those old people who repeats themselves. So I’m trying to work on that. I’ll catch myself halfway through a story and be like, “Fuck, I told this story before. Oh God, I’m going to be that guy.” Thank God, I’m interesting because I’m going to be one of those old guys.
What is the dumbest way you’re afraid of dying?
I think it’s just like a normal, boring way. I don’t want to say I’m not scared of dying, because I don’t want to die. But most ways are fine with me. I do have this thing, though — this is going to get dark. I made my girlfriend promise me that if I get Alzheimer’s or dementia or something, and I lose my mind, that she will overdose me with heroin. I’ve never done heroin, just for the record. I’ve never done heroin. OK, please? I don’t think the election was stolen, and I do want the world to continue and not have global warming, and I’ve never done heroin. Alright, don’t let Newsweek get me too.
We need to switch this from a Q&A to just like 10 facts about Rob.
Hahaha, well, in my family men after like 80, that’s when they lose their minds, and so I’ve seen a couple generations of men in my family end not the men they were, just like bumbling in an old folks’ home, pissing on a carpet in the middle of the living room. I don’t want to go out that way. So I made my girlfriend promise me that when I start to lose it, she will overdose me on heroin because then it’s like, “Boom, I get to do heroin for the first time.” Everyone’s worried about dying when they do heroin but that’s my goal. So I can’t lose.
What happens if you survive the heroin overdose?
I get to get high again on heroin. I just keep going. That’s going to be the darkest answer you get. Please put it in. It’ll be the best part. No writer is going to give you a darker answer than that.
OK, let’s take this a little lighter. You can take one wild animal and have it shrunken down to pet size and it has to live inside your house with you. What’s the animal that you’re picking?
What’s the smartest ape? It’s the ones that are furry and they have like jowls. ORANGUTAN, that’s it. I was just watching a thing where there was one in the 70s in a zoo, and he kept escaping from his enclosure and they couldn’t figure out how. They were locking the door. There were no holes. They could not figure out how he’s escaping, so they had to put cameras in to figure it out. Turns out he was picking the lock. He was hiding a piece of wire under his like jowls, under his skin, so no one knew it. He didn’t have pockets, so he had to hide it on him. Then at night he would pull the wire out, and he would literally pick the lock.
So you want a pet that can escape from your house on its own?
I want a pet that’s a formidable foe, OK? I want my life to be exciting. You know, maybe me and the ape could have some mutual respect, where it’s smart enough to be like, “All right, this dude’s got me in a warm house. I’ve got a nice bed. I don’t have to worry about any wild animals. So maybe I could do some tricks for him.” You know we would have a mutual thing going. Or he could vacuum, give me an ape that vacuums. In fact, I don’t want it shrunken down. I want it full size!
Can I sit this one out or do I have to be a hero?
What’s the strangest thing you’ve ever witnessed on the subway?
Recently, I saw a dude who was biting his nails and just spitting him out. He was like a normal person. He was sitting with a friend. Also unmasked — he had no mask on. So maybe he was that type who wants the attention, but he was dressed normal. He’s on his way somewhere, and he was biting his nails and spitting them out on the subway.
I’ve been nervous before where it’s like someone is having a psychotic break on the subway. I look around the train and I’m like, “Is there any dude here that’s bigger than me?” It’s like, “Please don’t let me be the largest able-bodied man in this subway car because I’m going to have to put myself between the rest of the public and the psychotic break.” So that’s where my head’s at on the subway, “Can I sit this one out or do I have to be a hero?”
Is that the veteran in you? That you have to be a hero?
That’s my life motto: Can I sit this one out or do I have to be a hero?
What’s your dream future episode of the show?
I don’t know if I’d say it’s a dream episode, but it would be a challenge. You’re not going to be able to print this, but it’s The Problem with China. It would be such a challenge to get that past every level — past the writers’ room, past the producers, past Jon, past legal, and past Apple — and actually get The Problem with China on the air. The writing would have to be like threading a needle. You want to be like, this is not about Chinese people. This is not about Chinese-Americans. This is about a communist, authoritarian government that’s pretending to be capitalist, that’s cutting our legs out from under us with everything we create in the world. It would be a real challenge, and so that’s why The Problem with China is my dream episode — and it’s probably smarter not to put that in the newsletter.
I’ll see what Legal says…
This could be a test run. If you can get me saying those words on our website. I feel a little more confident that I can turn it into an episode of television.