At press time, Rob Delaney had 684,416 followers on Twitter. Tall, lantern-jawed and handsome, in an avuncular sort of way, he looks a bit like a mechanically outstretched Peter Dinklage, the 4' 5'' "Game of Thrones" actor. To wit, when comedy site Funny or Die tweeted, “Tall guys who look like Peter Dinklage are a very specific brand of unsettling,” Delaney fired back, “Say that to our face." To see him onstage is to forget his unpleasant Twitter avatar, which features the hirsute comedian, barrel-chested on a beach, wearing a tiny, seafoam Speedo.
Last month, Delaney released his first comedy album, Live at The Bowery Ballroom. One track is titled “Butts.” Another, “Hepatitis.” His humor is sometimes scatological: At one point during the one-hour special, he jokes about defecating in front of an elderly Hasidic woman, and later, about using dried semen to exfoliate his bacne.
Delaney also stays busy as a writer. A contributor to Vice magazine, he is finishing up his first novel, which is to be released next fall (it's “a cross between a Henry Miller autobiographical mess, a manifesto and standup on paper,” he told Fast Company), and is working on two television pilots, for BBC and Adult Swim. How Delaney got to this inflection point of near-fame is a long and weird story that involves the Upright Citizens Brigade, a car crash and, yes, social networking.
“In 1998, I saw the Upright Citizens Brigade perform in New York, and I thought it was the greatest thing I had ever seen," Delaney tells Flagpole. "And I thought, 'Oh, I have to do this.' Seeing them improvise, I realized that standup [was] much more important than being a doctor or a pilot.”
Inspired but not quite sold on the idea of comedy, Delaney moved to Los Angeles after graduating from NYU's Tisch School of the Arts. He chanced upon a white-collar job at the then-budding MySpace, rapidly advancing from temp to Head of Business Development. Then, one fateful night, as these transformation stories go, he drank himself into a blackout and crashed his car into the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power.
He woke up in a jail cell cuffed to a wheelchair, with two broken arms and knees that were “ripped to the bone.” Sentenced to rehab in lieu of prison time, Delaney, at 25, permanently sobered up and decided to work at becoming a comedian full-time.
A year later, in 2003, Delaney found himself sidetracked yet again, this time with a serious bout of depression.
“Over the past seven years, I've had two episodes that were severe and during which I thought almost exclusively of suicide. I did not eat much and lost weight during these episodes. I couldn't sleep at all, didn't even think about sex, and had constant diarrhea. The first thing I did each morning was vomit. My mind played one thought over and over, which was 'Kill yourself,'” he wrote in an articulate, much passed-around blog post in 2010.
Delaney joined Twitter in 2009. In the time since, his popularity has exploded. His Twitter stream is concise, non sequitur and often disgusting (sample: "'Poking' someone on Facebook is exactly as creepy as showing them your soft penis in an elevator"). It's unlike his standup routine, which is personal, digressive and neatly narrative.
An astute antagonist, Delaney is known for absurdist online brush-ups with public figures. His incisive missives directed at the Romney campaign received more retweets than the governor himself ("@MittRomney: If you won't release your tax returns, at least tell us what conditioner you use!! #sheen #lustre #body").
He's been blocked by celebrities like Scott Baio (“Honest to God, I don't even know that I ever tweeted him. One day, I noticed one of my friends wrote about him, and I went, 'Oh, I wonder what Scott Baio is up to?' and I found out that I couldn't see him, because I was blocked.”) and Chris Brown (“He, I aggressively hassled, so that makes sense”). Most famously, Delaney sued Kim Kardashian after her controversial divorce for “polluting the airwaves of America and every other nation unfortunate enough to be subject to the disease of Kardashia.”
Follow Delaney long enough, though, and you'll locate the provenance of his standup material in his toss-offs, to the extent that both dovetail tidily, the latter functioning as sounding board for the former.
“Twitter is less important then standup, so it's a good place to try something out and to see if you want to use it onstage later that night,” Delaney explains. And, as he points out, the Internet doesn't pay his, or any of his peers', bills.
"I see myself writing and producing TV and movies while continuing to tour,” he says. “The yardstick is, are you making a living? 'Cause it's nice to be considered funny, but I'm 35 and married, and I have a kid, and my wife's pregnant. The question becomes: 'Am I able to afford diapers and milk?'”