Talking to Sean Patton About Standup, His New Album, NY vs. LA and Creating a Web Series
Few comics can win over a room quite like Sean Patton; the Louisiana native literally captivates crowds, pacing back and forth as he unfolds stories and punctuates them with winks and grins. Recently, he’s headlined festivals and made late several night appearances — you may have seen him on Live at Gotham, or on Fallon or Conan — and this week we’re celebrating the release of his debut album, Standard Operating Procedure (available on iTunes and CD).
The record showcases his range; he relays tales of love and family, shitty jobs and smoking weed, with the same electric energy as beatboxed bits and calculatedly grating impressions. While there’s no substitute for seeing him live, Standard Operating Procedure is the next best thing, and his packed tour schedule means you won’t have to wait long til he’s in your city (and soon, you’ll be able to see him online – more on that below).
Check out clips from the album, and read on for our interview with Patton:
Standard Operating Procedure is your debut release, but it’s not the first album you’ve recorded, right?
I recorded it for the very first time in April of last year, at the Laughing Skull in Atlanta, and I didn’t like it. I can remember why — I tried out a bunch of different bits, I didn’t really have a consistent setlist. So I scratched that, and recorded it again in Denver in September of last year, at the Comedy Works; that club is great, but I remember being worried the whole time. I did three shows on a Saturday and there were drunk people at every show, and the opener and the feature got a little bit of flack from the audience. So each show I was super high energy — I wasn’t going to give up the room — and I just didn’t like that, so I didn’t want to use that recording. Then I re-recorded again at Go Bananas in Cincinnati, in January of this year; those were great, but things didn’t work out with the record label I was originally with. And then A Special Thing popped in and said, “We’ll do the album, and why not record it again in LA at The Meltdown?” So, I recorded over and over, because I’m a fucking psychotic perfectionist.
I heard you have a part in Marc Maron’s new IFC show?
I was only signed on for the pilot — the character I played was a one-episode character. I got to act with Matt Jones, who plays Badger on Breaking Bad. The thing was, we shot this in May of 2011, and I hadn’t started watching Breaking Bad yet; to me, he was just a dude who was cool and funny and fun to act with. Then a month later, because I knew he was on the show, I was like, “I’m going to watch Breaking Bad.” I tore through the first three seasons in a week. I’m so glad I waited because, had I really been a fan at the time, I don’t know how much work I would have gotten done. I wouldn’t have shut up; “Are you guys really smoking meth on set?” I would have been fucking annoying.
From what I have heard (and I have only heard secondhand through other people), they are currently in the casting process for the full season. What I do know is that it’s definitely going to be great — if you’re a fan of What The Fuck it’s definitely the next level.
Do you have a background in acting (or sketch or improv)?
I love sketch, and I feel like if you’re in the comedy world you should at some point in your life give it a try. When I was a year into stand up, I just wanted to try everything that involved comedic performance — I just wanted to do it all. I did improv mainly to take on the challenge, and I liked it, I learned a lot from it, I feel like certain aspects of it made me a better performer. But the big rule in improv is, “Don’t think, be in the moment,” and I could never truly do that with other people involved; I would jump out while a scene was going on and say something that I’d been thinking of for a few minutes on the sidelines. I couldn’t let go of that control, which you’ve got to be able to do, and I guess at the end of the day that was my ultimate problem — I wasn’t willing to trust anyone.
When you’re not the only person onstage, if something goes wrong you don’t shoulder the blame entirely by yourself, and if something goes right, you don’t get to bask in the glory all by yourself. For some people that works. But any comedian who claims they’re not selfish is bullshit, and at the end of the day I wanted to have a voice. I quit because, at my core, I was more about stand up. I know a lot of stand ups want to knock improv, and I’m not one of those guys. When improv is done well, like by Death By Roo Roo, something like that where they’re so fucking symbiotic and connected to each other mentally, it’ll blow your mind. When it’s done poorly, it’s the worst fucking thing you’ll ever see, it’s horrible and it hurts, but the same could be said of stand up — when someone’s a fucking piece of shit onstage, bombing and insulting the audience, that’s the worst, but when someone like Bill Burr is onstage it’s like, “Holy fuck, this is changing the way I thought my sense of humor was.”
You lived in New York for a while (where you co-founded the weekly show Comedy as a Second Language, every Thursday at Kabin), but you’ve been spending a lot of time in LA recently; have you officially moved out there?
In New York and in LA I have very accommodating, timeshare-esque living situations. I don’t really like Los Angeles enough to want to live here, but I spend tons of time here — I’m here right now, standing outside on Sunset Boulevard with sunglasses on. (Not because I’m cool, but because if you don’t have sunglasses on for five minutes in LA, your fucking eyeballs will fry; the sun’s right here, this is where it lives, in a condo somewhere in Highland Park).
The comedy scene in LA is great, it’s fun to be a part of and there are a lot of great shows, a lot of great comics to hang out with. A lot of things happen, so you want to spend time out here. Shit, that Maron pilot’s an example — I got that mainly because I was in town, and Marc was casting it himself, I’m pretty sure, and he was like, “Hey, are you in town next week?” That kind of stuff happens out here.
But I would rather live in New York any day of the week. New York is a fucking amazing, vibrant city. Every time I go I’m full of glee and happiness and I love life, and I’m sad when I have to leave. The comedy scene there, while different, will always be the greatest comedy scene in North America, maybe even the world. It’s awesome to go there and do 15 sets a week and be challenged — the audiences there are a little more honest with you. You may not kill all the time, you may have to tighten things up, you’ve kind of got to bring your A-game more. Not that you don’t have to do that here in LA — out here there are so many great comics, you definitely want to be at your best at all times. In LA, when you’re dealing with so many hardcore comedy fans, you can get away with a little more; in New York, you’re dealing more with 9-5 working men and women, or creative types who have nothing to do with comedy, so they’re only going to laugh at you if they find you funny. They don’t care who you are, or what podcast you’ve been on, or what TV show you’re in, and that’ll fucking put you in your place.
So you’re splitting time.
Right now, I’m on the road a lot, and I love that, it’s great. I don’t have a wife, I don’t have children, I don’t own a pet, I don’t own a couch or bed or table or anything that would be hard to move. I live out of suitcases, I have my iPad, and there you go.
The secret to being a nomad is: clean underwear. Have tons and tons, and be willing to throw out and buy new pairs of underwear. Sometimes you’re traveling and there’ll be a three-day stretch where you’re not going to be able to do laundry, and I don’t give a shit what anyone says, going commando sucks and I hate it, so: always have a backup. I usually have 4-5 pairs of underwear for emergencies only. This maybe grosses you out, but I’m telling you, if you spend any time on the road, it’s the best advice you’ll ever get. Socks, too — it’s like being at war, basically.
You get asked about being in New Orleans during Hurricane Katrina a lot; is that experience something you feel comfortable talking about?
People always ask me about Katrina, but that’s what happens when you go through that sort of thing — it’s a historic, destructive event that changed the landscape of that city, and other cities, forever. I don’t mind talking about it, but don’t fucking come up to me and crack jokes about it, that’s all I ask (unless it’s a really fucking good joke). I meet shithead comedians, years later, who still want to come up to me and drop like, “Oh, you’re from New Orleans? Did you swim here?” It’s like, I really hope your fucking dick falls off someday.
But it has very little – actually nothing, really — to do with my lifestyle now. Even before I was a comedian, I was living as minimally as possible; I’m a lazy person and I don’t want to be responsible for many things. I’m like the opposite of a pack rat, whatever that is — I guess “a comedian” is what you’d call it.
Can you tell us about the web series you’re working on now?
It’s called “The Debt Collector” — I play a man who collects debts, and every episode is a different collection. You never know who he’s collecting for or why, but you just know that every situation is kind of unpredictable and, ultimately, funny. I wrote it with my writing partner, and he directs it.
What’s the experience of producing that been like?
A lot of people these days are trying to get money up front for a web series, and I understand that — that’s great, to get money, but I also feel like if you focus all your energy on writing and putting the right people around it and in it to make it happen, you don’t have to have $5,000 an episode to shoot, it because it’s good. Basically the internet is a meritocracy, and that’s great, because the truth is nothing really gains enough traction online unless it’s good. Yeah, there are viral videos — like that bus driver upper cutting that woman, that kind of stuff is great and that shit will always get 20 million hits — but there’s a lot of web series out there. The comedy industry is completely changed now, and it means the days of a guy like me having a good script and getting a web series offer getting or a studio package are pretty much done. First of all, I’m not nearly big enough — you have to be pretty up there to get a network to even look at your script once. Unless you do it as a web series first, unless you show them the idea online first, and if they like it they can say, “We see what you’re doing, we like this, and we’ll give you money to develop it for television.”
So that’s kind of the end all, be all thing that we’re trying to do, but at this point it’s just fun — it feels just as good to create. It’s fun to be out there in front of a camera when it’s your friend and writing partner behind the camera. You’re doing it for the love of it, and it feels good, like this is what it’s all about.