5 Minutes With... Matt Ritter
What made you decide to leave the law and embrace the laughs?
Truthfully, I had a great life as a midlevel associate in New York at a top firm, but I didn’t feel fulfilled and I knew exactly why. I always had this feeling that I was meant to be performing for a living, I was always the guy “performing” for his friends throughout my life. So when I moved to New York and started work, I also started performing at night at the open mic and clubs for a few years until finally I just felt that feeling inside you that says “I just can’t keep going to work anymore. I’m meant to be doing this other thing. Stop being a coward." Also, I felt I was good enough to pursue comedy. I didn’t leave my job after my first open mic bomb.
Was it a fairly smooth transition or is comedy a hard nut to crack?
No, it was smooth sailing. I quit my job and then the next day I landed a Comedy Central special. All kidding aside, it was painful. I moved to LA immediately after I left the law, and I thought I had saved enough money to have a cushion, but like every other struggling artist, there’s no escaping the struggle. The comedy world is not only fiercely competitive and filled with brilliant minds, there’s no road map. I think that’s the toughest part. It’s very hard to gauge success and failure, like you would in a normal job. I know lots of “successful” comedians that still work as waiters or drive Ubers.
"Of course, it didn’t happen overnight. It’s been seven years since I left law for comedy and I still feel I have a long way to go."
For me, the creation of the Comedians-at-Law group was a way to carve out my own stage time, not wait around for someone to hand me anything. You have to be proactive about creating opportunities and that’s what I did. Of course, it didn’t happen overnight. It’s been seven years since I left law for comedy and I still feel I have a long way to go.
Are there any skills you learnt in BigLaw that are useful for the big stage?
I think there’s something to be said for crafting words as a lawyer that help you craft jokes. Every word in both cases has to be in its proper place for the desired effect. Also, angry partners are like hecklers. They think it’s their job to give you shit when you just want to be like, “shut up, I know what I’m doing, that’s why you hired me!”
Has the Comedians at Law group lived up to your expectations?
Absolutely, I’ve managed to tour and headline the entire country, entertain thousands of lawyers, give law students a nice stress relief from their finals. On a personal level, I ended up getting a comedy manager, selling my first TV show, working on a bunch of other hit TV shows partially because of CAL.
"Angry partners are like hecklers. They think it’s their job to give you shit when you just want to be like, “shut up, I know what I’m doing, that’s why you hired me!”
You currently balance TV producing, acting, writing and comedy with your position as the director of a recruitment firm – where do you find the time?
I sleep very little. I try to focus on the recruiting during the early part of the day, that’s my first order of business when I wake up. And that’s pretty much ongoing throughout the day chatting with candidates. In between, I work on my personal projects, writing a new TV pilot, etc. Nighttime is for standup! Then I binge Narcos at 3 am like every other multitasker in this world. It’s 2016, doesn’t everyone have 5 jobs?
How's life as a recruiter? Would you recommend it?
Hmm, I don’t really know who’s reading this? You shouldn't quit your job as a lawyer to be a recruiter if you are remotely content at your job. Most lawyers are naturally risk averse and like having a steady paycheck. In some ways this commission based recruiting gig is worse than the entertainment industry. You’re counting checks that never come for whatever reason, it’s got big highs and lows.
If you like chatting with lawyers and you feel that helping others fulfill their goals is something you want to pursue, then sure, have at it. I personally think it suits me because A) I’ve already worked in BigLaw so the candidates know I can empathize, B) I’m well connected to many big firms that people want jobs at and C) I’ve done almost everything you can do with a law degree, so they know I’ll give them my honest assessment of where I think they should be headed. If you are thinking about recruiting, the company I work for, Lateral Link, is by far the best in the biz, so give us a call!
You tour law schools with the comedy group – have you had any particularly fun (or difficult) audiences?
Oh, I have had so many fun audiences. Ohio Northern Law took us out to drinks at their local bar. The crowds at Standup Live in Phoenix are always phenomenal. The audiences in San Francisco are always so sharp, I think that might be a stereotype, but it’s a good one.
Difficult ones, hmm. Well, when the law school or firm doesn’t give you mic, a sound system or any sort of lighting, yeah, it’s not fun. But you just have to plow through it. Probably the worst was when I did a joke (that killed) in front of three hundred people about how Sandra Day O’Connor had the worst night stand ever, because she slept with Bill Rehnquist in law school and then had to see him every day for decades. Apparently the guy who organized the event brought his 11-year-old daughter and then told me I should go back on stage and apologize, which I refused to do. Our show is pretty clean, but don’t bring your pre-teen!
"I think the funniest is when attorneys pretend they aren’t hooking up with their co-workers. I call them “secret couples”. It’s really only a secret in their mind, because everyone can tell."
What was the most hilarious thing you saw or heard about as a BigLaw associate?
I saw a friend get divorced, experiment with their sexuality, get pretty wild, have the firm actually change the name on their door and on the website, then get back together with their spouse, and have the firm change it all back. I don’t think the spouse knew about any of the interim stuff! Basically, an attorney decided to have a midlife crisis and I got to witness it. I think the funniest is when attorneys pretend they aren’t hooking up with their co-workers. I call them “secret couples”. It’s really only a secret in their mind, because everyone can tell. Also, nobody cares.
Are there any experiences you had as a lawyer that you now use as comedy material?
Quite a few of my screw ups at work. We had a huge summer program where we would take summers out to fancy restaurants, theater, ballgames... I was the guy that always decided to take it up a notch and take them out to a bar for tequila shots. Every time I handed our summer coordinator a bill for reimbursement, she gave me a warning that I had gone too far. Finally, I dropped a $3,000 bar tab on her at the end of the summer. She politely slid it right back at me and told me to “eat it”. That one hurt. I wouldn’t exactly call it hilarious, but now looking back on it, I can laugh about it.
Also, I do a bit about the abhorrent conditions of work as a document review attorney. (I also created a web series about this called “The Bottom Rung.") I briefly toiled in a few of these gigs after I moved to LA and the money ran out. The bit goes something like this: It’s 20 people in a 6x8 room, no water, no air, no breaks. Doc review is so bad that sometimes I would drive by a toll both operator and go “how the hell did he get his own office?"
"I definitely am happy I went to law school and worked as a lawyer, because I wouldn’t be where I am today without the crazy road I’ve taken."
What achievement are you most proud of?
I don’t really like to take stock of my accomplishments because I feel like I’m just getting started. But I did go from being a BigLaw attorney to writing jokes on Duck Dynasty, which was the highest-rated reality show ever. Not sure there are too many White Collar to Blue Collar stories like that :) And I got that job because the owner of the company originally wanted me to be his lawyer. I refused and said I only want to do creative work. He liked me enough to give me a shot. Also, I’ve performed comedy for injured troops at Walter Reed hospital, that was pretty great.
What do you consider your greatest failure or regret?
I don’t really have any regrets. Live your life, take chances. I definitely am happy I went to law school and worked as a lawyer, because I wouldn’t be where I am today without the crazy road I’ve taken. I still haven’t sold a comedy script about the legal world. I sold a web series, but I really want to create a comedy about the BigLaw world. Still working on it!
Also, maybe not registering our trademark! Recently, someone decided to start a site called “Comedian-at-Law” and we politely asked him to change the name because it was a pretty obvious case of infringement in our opinion, so now the "Comedians-at-Law" may have to sue the “Comedian-at-Law”. That’s high comedy. But also really sad because the guy is a constitutional law professor who apparently has no ethics. So make sure when you’re trying to book us to type “www.comediansatlaw.com".
What's your best lawyer joke?
I don’t really tell “lawyer jokes” but here’s one of my all-time favorites that I’ve heard. What do lawyers use for birth control?... Their personalities.
Do you think lawyers can take a joke, or do they sometimes take themselves a bit too seriously?
I can say definitely from performing in front of thousands of lawyers, they can (for the most part) take a joke. Though, I’m sure all the ones with sticks up their ass probably haven’t been coming out to our shows.
"Don’t try to be the funny guy at your office party, it will only end up with you in a HR seminar the next day. Call a professional."
Have Comedians-at-Law done any gigs at law firms, for example during happy hours or at holiday parties? What would your pitch be to firms to hire you for the night?
Of course we have. That’s pretty much our bread and butter! Our pitch: Don’t try to be the funny guy at your office party, it will only end up with you in a HR seminar the next day. Call a professional!
Do you have any words of advice for law students trying to get into BigLaw right now?
Yes, take it seriously. As a recruiter, I see what firms look at. Many of them are sticklers for grades. Don’t let a Law Review drinking session affect your ability to land a big firm job, especially now that the economy has turned around and the market is hot. That “C” is like a Scarlett “A” you will wear for a long time.
What about advice for those lawyers who can only dream about taking the plunge and doing something else?
If you’re “dreaming” about doing something else, start doing it. Today. Don’t wait till you quit your job. That tells me you’re not really serious about this dream of yours.
Do you see Comedians-at-Law growing in future? If there are any funny lawyers out there, can they get involved?
Sure, send us a clip and a bio. We get a lot of “Hey, I’m a lawyer, I think I’m funny” emails. Those don’t work for us! Everyone in our group is a professional comic with years of experience. Go get some comedy experience under your belt, don’t be the guy that thinks you’re ready to jump into something because it sounds awesome. We worked our asses off to get here. But yeah, I’d like to have some international members too!
Finally, what slogan would you like to be remembered by?
It took him three decades, but he finally paid off those Sallie Mae loans.