Is Marc Rebillet the funniest man on the planet right now?
Musical comedy improviser on becoming a globe-spanning favourite in a few months.
Marc Rebillet: “The entire show is improvised front-to-back, 100 per cent made up.”
Marc Rebillet says you don’t have to like him if you don’t want to. “It’s not for everyone,” he says, “and I’m fully down with that. You don’t have to like this, it’s a particular brand of music. The content can be vulgar and graphic. Love it, hate, feel ambivalent, I don’t care – feel however you want. I’m not here to win everyone over”.
Despite this attitude, or maybe because of it, the musical comedy improviser is doing a pretty good job. His Facebook account went from a minor oddity to globe-spanning favourite in just a few months of last year, propelling him from his (literal) bedroom to a 30-date European tour that takes in Dublin’s Tivoli on Wednesday. If this transition seems rapid to us, it’s no less so for Marc.
“It literally blew up three or four months ago,” he recalls. “My Facebook numbers went from mediocre to whatever they are now because so many people in Europe started sharing it.
“I just started playing my first professional gigs in November of 2017,” he says, somewhat marvelling at his recent rise. “My online presence was borderline non-existent. I was making videos but not really anyone watching. I was playing local gigs in Dallas dive bars; 10, 20 people max.
I’m a very vulgar person with a strange sense of humour. The ear I have for the way music should sound, so I took those two halves and put them together. There wasn’t much of a plan to it at all
Hailing from Texas, he recently moved to New York with several ports of call en route. “I started off in Dallas,” he says, “spent part of my childhood in NJ. I moved to Paris for a little bit, and then New York, but during all this time I tried making music. I’ve been playing piano since I was four or five and was brought up classically, attended the Manhattan School of Music for a bit and did choir there too.
“Piano has always been a huge part of my life. I stopped training classically when I was about 14 or 15 and taught myself improvisational blues, and that really made me enjoy playing piano again. I never liked practising, doing any of that, but improvisational blues allowed me to pick a root note and have fun with it.”
“It wasn’t until I moved back to Dallas about four years ago and got the Loop Station that I figured out this set-up, and then maybe two years ago I started uploading videos, while I was still working a regular job.”
That regular job – “customer service answering phones for a company that did online boating and hunting certifications,” he tells, me laughing – lasted until just over a year ago, when he had roughly 5 per cent of his current fanbase. Looking back, however, he feels the graft of that time made his hunger all the more pronounced.
The music is the key. It gives a certain legitimacy to the comedy.
“There’s a constant longing for something else,” he says of that time “for an existence of some other life. I needed these 10 years of jobs I couldn’t fucking stand to be able to work up the balls to try and do something about it. I would not have done it otherwise”.
marc Rebillet youtubes
Did any of his workmates ever see his work? “I had people internally, my direct coworkers, who would tell me they’d seen my stuff, but no one was watching it at that time, I had maybe 5 or 600 subscribers”.
Now he has more than 150,000 subscribers on YouTube, and more than half a million on Facebook, where his videos routinely get three or four million views apiece. This is all the more impressive considering Rebillet’s videos are not straightforward performances, or well-crafted spectacles, but footage of him in his bedroom, improvising a piece of music, usually with his keyboard, voice and other looped instruments or effects.
The results are often hilarious but always beautifully produced, like the mournful soul funk of Look At That Ass, the Chicago house snarl of Silly Bitch or the spikey ghetto-tech pulse of Twitter Page.
“The music is the key,” he says, laughing as I relate my favourite section of Blackbeard, in which the famed pirate goes door to door telling his new neighbours he’s stealing all their belongings.
“It gives a certain legitimacy to the comedy. Honestly, the comedy can be really stupid and baseless and dumb and not have much substance, because it’s resting on top of something that’s, hopefully, musically dope.”
Considering how low the success rate is for comedy music – and improvised YouTube streams particularly – the biggest sell is that his stuff is really, really, really good. Like a Texan Beardyman or, as he puts it himself, “bath salts Reggie Watts”, his musicality shines through even the silliest lyric about someone who ardently wishes to have sex with your Twitter page.
“The person I play onstage grew out of me,” he says, “I’m a very vulgar person with a strange sense of humour. The ear I have for the way music should sound, so I took those two halves and put them together. There wasn’t much of a plan to it at all. It was; here’s the music I want to make, and here’s the stuff I want to say over it. I didn’t think about it too much”.
In the music-comedy world people use boilerplate template ideas for the music, because it’s more about the comedy than the music... It’s important to treat them both equally.
Rebillet’s other selling point is the sheer range and breadth of his output. The 160 odd videos he’s uploaded contain almost no repeated songs, and several three-hour plus live shows entirely stuffed with original content. And, he stresses, he’s bringing this same format to his European tour.
“Obviously, people have presumptions that they’ll be like the videos I put out,” he says, “but the show is not like that. I don’t play existing songs, the entire show is improvised front-to-back, 100 per cent made up”.
So his fans shouldn’t expect him to shut up and play the hits? “No. I may play a classic at the end, or for an encore but aside from that, it’s 100% improvised... Yeah, if you could warn them about that, I’d be delighted”.
So would he prefer to be known as a musical artist or a comedian?
“In the music-comedy world people who do both tend to use boilerplate template ideas for the music, because it’s more about the comedy than the music. They end up exploiting music to do comedy, rather than trying to make good music and also make it funny.”
For Rebillet, this will not stand. “It’s important to treat them both equally, but if I had to pick I’d rather make dope music than be funny. That’s where my priority lies, I mean I’m playing these gigs, none of it has any validity if people can’t get the f**k down and shake their asses.”
Marc Rebillet plays the Tivoli Theatre, Dublin, on Wednesday, January 24th