Matt Ruby on Blending Artistic and Financial Goals in a Creative Career

In Chapter 19 of 19 in his 2012 Capture Your Flag interview, standup comedian Matt Ruby answers "What Part of What You Do is Art and What Part of What You Do is Commerce?"  Ruby notes how making art can become selfish if it does not have some tie back into how it pays the bills.  He notes the challenge lies in building a bridge between the artistic output and the commercial success. 

Matt Ruby is a standup comedian and comedy writer based in New York City.  He co-produces the weekly show "Hot Soup", co-hosts the monthly show "We're All Friends Here", and manages a comedy blog "Sandpaper Suit".  Ruby graduated from Northwestern University.


Erik Michielsen: What part of what you do is art? And what part of what you do is commerce?

Matt Ruby: Sometimes the way I feel about it is like art is just sort of the selfish, you know, like, say whatever you wanna say, or make whatever you wanna make, and don’t even worry about whether it’s, you know, gonna make you money or you know, what’s the—how does it further your career or whatever else your agenda is. Whereas the commerce-side of things would be like, alright, how am I getting paid? Because you gotta do that too. 

So I think part of the challenge is figuring out how to bridge those two, you know, if you can. Like, you know, how can you get paid or you know have a career or produce something that is, you know, commercially viable to some extent and then also how can you be making art, how can you be making something that you’re proud of or that you think is, you know, part of your vision or something that you wanted to make or see in the world. What’s the—and then how do you overlap those two, and I think, you know, that’s a spectrum that everyone can kind of choose their own point on there, like I’m—I think you—I think sometimes the worst thing you can do is sell out and not sell anything, that’s like the worst option. But, you know, just being a complete artist and, you know, just being completely selfish and no one cares at all about it does pretty bad too. 

So, you know I think having, you know, a modest amount of commercial goals, you know, with what you’re making is, in my mind the right path of like—it’s also validation that like whatever you’re doing is worth something to someone, you know, that like, oh yeah, this is good enough to either you know get paid for or you know if you’re, you know, making a show that people sell ads on or you know someone’s gonna watch it or, you know, something like that is happening to sort of encourage you to do more of it.