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Comedian takes a thoughtful (and musical) approach to his craft

Rob Paravonian got his standup start in a USC dining hall

Rob Paravonian
Rob Paravonian combined his love of writing and making people laugh to forge a career in comedy. (Photo/Elia Lyssy)

Rob Paravonian ’91 didn’t have much time to prepare for his first standup gig.

The Waukegan, Ill., native was a USC freshman when he heard about a comedy contest at the Café 84 dining hall — that very night. He signed up despite the short notice.

“It was pretty bad because I had no material, but something about it really appealed to me, the challenge of going onstage and trying to be funny,” Paravonian said.

The following year he saw a notice for the contest a week in advance and had time to write some material. That was the first time he got a few actual laughs for planned remarks, he said, and he was hooked.

Guitar in the act

Paravonian started doing open mic nights and standup around Los Angeles regularly, and got better and better at it. Soon he integrated his acoustic guitar into his comedy act.

When I did standup, I would always bring my guitar along because there was usually a long wait until performance time.

Rob Paravonian

“When I did standup, I would always bring my guitar along because there was usually a long wait until performance time,” he said. “I’d play to kill time or goof around with the other comics. Sometimes when I played silly songs, they’d suggest I try them on stage that night. So music got incorporated fairly early on, and it seemed like a natural connection, since I’ve played music my whole life.”

Paravonian played the cello from the age of 6, and at 13 he began teaching himself guitar. That eventually led to one of the comedian’s more famous bits — a performance called “Pachelbel’s Rant.” In it he laments, while playing the acoustic guitar, the utter monotony of the cello part for Pachelbel’s Canon in D and, more generally, the song’s annoying ubiquity. The video went viral on YouTube, with 11.5 million views to date. More recently, and in a similar vein, his video series “Who Charted?” playfully lambasts chart-topping pop songs by the likes of Katy Perry, Justin Timberlake and Ariana Grande.

For the past 20 years, Paravonian has been based in Brooklyn, N.Y., where he performs, writes and produces music for television, film and the Web. He’s traveled to every U.S. state (there’s an interactive map on his website that charts all of his travels), and in 2005 he entertained military personnel at bases in Afghanistan during a two-week tour. He’s appeared on Comedy Central, VH1 and Dutch public television, and for Lily Tomlin at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas and for George Carlin on his final tour.

Focus on writing

Recently, he’s been more focused on comedy writing, working on everything from one-act plays and one-man shows to material for a sketch comedy group. At the moment, he’s combining his love of words and notes by developing a full-length musical.

“It’s about a kid who is the least-known member of a very popular boy band. He gets traded by his unscrupulous manager to a no-name boy band, so he has to basically give up his life of pop stardom privilege and start over. It’s meant to be a fun, satirical look at pop music,” Paravonian said.

Paravonian says he loves taking an analytical approach to standup where, when the idea for something funny arises, you have to figure out the most efficient way to present it to an audience so they see the humor and come along with you.

“Sometimes it comes down to, ‘Is this word funnier or should I use this word?’ It’s fun to get that precise about it. When it’s done really well, nothing is wasted and you can really home in on trying to get the most funny out of an idea. Standup is very creative, but there’s an analytic component that has always appealed to me.”

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Comedian takes a thoughtful (and musical) approach to his craft

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