It’s a packed crowd at the Great American Music Hall in San Francisco, California. Rob Cantrell walks on stage, grabs the microphone and thanks everyone for coming out. He tells a few jokes, smiles and runs his hand through his fluffy hair. Then suddenly, his tone changes and he starts preaching about strip joints. “I don’t like going to the strip club. I never feel fully satisfied or content,” he explains. “I always walk out feeling mad and confused, thinking to myself, ‘Man, I just paid 60 bucks for a boner.’ I get that for free every morning.”
While everybody laughs, Cantrell continues his set and why shouldn’t he? He’s living his dream. Rob Cantrell, 32, is a stand-up comedian who tours all over the country. Sure, appearing on NBC’s Last Comic Standing and Tough Crowd with Colin Quinn has furthered his career, but he’s been on one wild rollercoaster ride.
The rollercoaster began in his hometown of Washington, D.C. Sure, he was living in the nation’s capital, but still had a regular childhood. “I was pretty spastic. I was never really that good at sports, but I played video games, threw rocks at things and goofed off with my friends,” he says. “All I wanted to do was have fun and ride my Huffy bike around town.” Amazingly, that bike never broke on him. Just like many other kids, his family moved. He would share time living in Buena Vista, Virginia and D.C. When he was 10 years-old, his father passed away. He’s mother played a more active role in his life, especially when it came to academics. So when he applied to colleges, he chose to go to Denison University, a small school in Ohio. “My mom is really from the old school. She’s very exact and just wanted me to go to college,” he explains. “Denison was small and I got in. That was the big thing … and that was the best one I got into to tell you the truth.”
After receiving his English degree (and drinking a lot of Boone’s Farm), he decided to explore Southeast Asia in late 1999. “I took some time to travel around, get my mind straight and figure out what I wanted to do with the rest of my life,” he states. “I went to Cambodia, Indonesia, Mali and other places, but then, I ran out of money and was in California.”
He lived with his friend in San Francisco and decided to try teaching out, but after a year and a half at a private school, he realized education wasn’t for him. He decided to try out stand-up comedy. “When I was 13, I wanted to go to Open Mics,” he admits. “I always had these clippings of Open Mics, but at that point, I was just looking to grow up. So stand-up kinda took a backseat until I was 26.” He would work odd jobs during the day and crack jokes crowds at night. Rob Cantrell was getting involved in the hustle game.
Bear: So Rob, are you a hustla?
Rob: Yea, all day, everyday. I’m the hustla, but I don’t carry a piece or a gun.
Bear: So you’re a peaceful hustla?
Rob: Yea, I’m kinda like a broken down hustla. But I’m still a hustla.
He was hustling for over three and a half years before his break came. In 2003, NBC had an open audition for their new reality series Last Comic Standing. Cantrell tried his luck and impressed the producers. “They kept calling me back, I kept going up and I got through the preliminary round in San Francisco,” he claims. “They invited me out to L.A., I had seven dollars in my pocket and I wasn’t sure if I was going to keep my job. Things were falling apart.” But little did he know things were starting to fall into place. He went to the West Coast Regionals in Los Angeles and astonished the celebrity judges. He went to the Finals in Las Vegas and the momentum kept building. At the end of the night, he was chose to compete on last Comic Standing and Jay Mohr gave him a key to the comic house.
He secured his spot on the show, but now, he was in competition with nine veterans to see who would be the Last Comic Standing. Comedians would be eliminated every couple of days and when it was down to eight, Cantrell was on the chopping block. He was voted into the “Elimination Match” and he chose to test his comedic skills against heavyweight Ralphie May. “I respected Ralphie and I know he was the most feared out of the comics because he is so funny and all the audiences like him so much,” Cantrell explains. “If I did take him, I would look like the man and if I didn’t, there would be no shame in it.” At the end of the round, the audience sent Cantrell packing. Instead of being down on his luck, the comedian stayed positive. “It wasn’t meant to be and with the amount of exposure there was, I couldn’t be bummed up. It was all good on all fronts.”
Rob Cantrell was out of the competition, but he’s been quite active since Last Comic Standing. Right after the show ended, he hit the road with Jay Mohr, appeared on Tough Crowd with Colin Quinn and was selected by National Lampoon to showcase his talent on the DVD series, The Rising Stars of Comedy. Speaking of DVDs, he recently produced, directed and wrote his own performance film/documentary entitled Metaphysical Graffiti. “It’s sort of a collage of four of my best shows with some outtakes for what it’s kinda like to be a comic, to go to these gigs and hang out backstage,” he explains. It begins with the comedian cracking jokes at Dublins, a comedy club in L.A. and throughout the film, he can be seen kickin’ it with comics, making pit stops and performing at other shows. Metaphysical Graffiti is sold exclusively at RobCantrell.com and because a limited amount of copies were made, he doesn’t mind if you burn the DVD and give it to a friend.
As you could tell, Rob Cantrell is a laid back kinda guy. He can mellow-out to Beck and the Flaming Lips and get crazy with Lil’ Jon and Clutch. He’s not the most famous celebrity, but more like a B-list rock star. Actually, he describes himself as “a little bit of cheese metal with a little bit of bling-bling rap mixed in with a 3 year-old dorky white boy.” Regardless, he’s living his dream; he tells jokes, makes people laugh and gets paid. “I don’t need to be the biggest celebrity in the world, I don’t need to be Tom Cruise. I don’t give a fuck anymore,” he proclaims. “I want to make cool art and stuff I can respect. If I can make a living off of that, it would be icing on the cake.”
Keep on hustling, Rob. Tom Cruise has nothing on ya.