Before this week, I thought writer’s block was a myth, a story device perpetuated by B-movie writers looking for a way to get their screenwriter protagonists off the couch and into wacky, winding adventures solely justified by the character's "search for inspiration." It seemed like a gimmick, a dull, broad tool for hacks. Well, while in the thick of a recent creative impasse, I considered writing that exact script. (My main character was Mel and he worked at a Zoo…that's as far as I got.) I’m out of my funk now and Dan St. Germain helped. In between deep, self-loathing, comforter-wrapped-around-my-head-as-I-peered-through-a-hole-at-my-blank-Word-doc wallows, I spoke with Dan about his new MyDamnChannel series Kicking Dan Out and he told me how he came upon the idea for his show, one I consider to be pretty damn good and would be glad to call my own: "…look around and create a character and then put that character in different environments. This isn’t Synecdoche, New York by Charlie Kaufman. There isn’t anything groundbreaking about this, it’s just basic funny." My reset button was pushed. Dan freed me from myself and I learned something. Maybe you will too.
How did this series come about; what was your inspiration?
Well I’m kind of a train wreck, I’m a little better now but I was trying to think of the best way to showcase that and I’ve had a lot of terrible roommate experiences so I thought this would be a good way to showcase it through comedians and put me in different environments where I can be awful to a whole different group of people every week.
I dig it. What kind of feedback have you gotten? Has anyone told you that it reminds them a little bit of Eastbound and Down?
No I haven’t but that’s a huge compliment. I love that show, it’s the one spec script I’ve written. Some of the best guys produce it. It’s one of my favorite shows on TV.
So this is totally written by, created by, and starring you. What advice would you give people who want to make and market a hit web series?
Well for this it’s just like “Joke, Joke, Joke” but, in a broader way, I’ve had plenty of concept ideas that have worked out with some great people. We’re doing a short for Film.com that’s coming out, hopefully in December, and is going to be very concept driven. But I think first what you do is you get a great fucking director, which Adam Wirtz is. Get a guy who really knows how to shoot shit because I’ve done stuff before where either the timing or the equipment just hasn’t worked out the way that we wanted it to. You get somebody who really knows their stuff and then you push it like hell and first you want to find something that really hits on you. Because you’re introducing people to you and what better way then to have my name in the title, you know? Instead of just an amorphous web series I wanted to do something that was just introducing me to a wider Internet audience and some of it was fun. Like I kind of poked fun at myself, was self-deprecating. You know, there’s so much mean comedy out there, and although a lot of my jokes are really dark and I’m obviously a piece of shit in this, it’s not like I’m being mean to other people. It’s all on me. I’m the one that ends up unhappy; I’m the one that ends up getting fucked. I’ve always been drawn to those types of shows, whether it’s Trailer Park Boys, or Extras, or the original Office, or Eastbound and Down, Peep Show; great shows where it’s all on the characters.
It’s the anti-hero thing, right?
Yeah, totally. Larry Sanders, that’s my favorite show ever. I’m not comparing myself to any of those but those are kind of my inspiration. I don’t write for good-looking, cool people. I’ve never done that. I probably am now because I’m writing a new pilot, but I’ve never been good at the 20-somethings like, “Oh, my God we’re in New York and we’re single!” I’ve worked night security, I’ve worked as a bartender, I’ve worked for Yellowstone National Parks, I’ve always been attracted to train wrecks, to the only groups of people that make me seem like less of a train wreck.
Talk to me a little bit about your process for brainstorming ideas, both for web series stuff and in general?
Well, at first I was like this is just going to be the same roommate kicking me out, this is going to be boring, this is gonna be the same shit every time. You’ve got to create a new group of people, it’s like basic writing, two people want something and the obstacle to it is the other person, you know? Like I wanted to have one with a girl but I wanted it to be different so I decided we’d have a one-night stand. And then the ICP episode is a group of people that are obviously even worse than I am. And then the next one is like an Occupy Wall street and then we have a Mormon one and I just think it’s going to bring different elements of my personality coming out, the more groups that I marginalize. That’s what’s the goal’s been. So I would say, look around and create a character and then put that character in different environments. This isn’t Synecdoche, New York by Charlie Kaufman. There isn’t anything ground breaking about this, it’s just basic funny.
What’s next for this series and for you?
We haven’t really talked about whether or not we’re gonna do new episodes, we obviously hope that happens and I definitely have a way that I want to end the web series. I know how I want to end it; I definitely have an ending in mind. I’m also working on something else, it’s a show about my night security job with some talented people and hopefully we’ll see something from that in the next year or two. I just filmed the pilot for Best Week Ever, so I’m hoping to be on that series and I really love that show so it was an honor for me to be able to be a part of the next incarnation of it. I’ve got an album coming out this winter called Ben at The Goodtimes that I recorded at the Boston Comedy Studio and I think it’s gonna be great. And then I’m just doing stand up and hopefully I’m gonna be getting out more next year. I’ve got a podcast with Sean Donnelly called “My Dumb Friends” and you can get that on iTunes right now. There’s some other stuff, but those are the ones that are very tangible right now. My goal when I got into this was 2-fold: Be a great stand up comic and have my own show at some point. This series is a nice step in that direction. I’m just loving it right now. This is probably the most fun I’ve had in comedy ever.
Here are three reasons why you shouldn’t kick Dan out of your “things I need to watch on the Internet” queue. I don’t actually know what that is, if anyone has one, or if they exist. Anyway, watch.
The best ideas are usually the simplest ones. Pick a clear premise around which you can imagine building 20 plot ideas (if developing for the web) and 100 (if developing for TV). It’s a tall order but if you’re able to fill it, then you’ve got a goddamn show on your hands.
Having your main character be the fall guy is almost always a strong play in comedy, but not if you hold back. To be truly funny, you must mercilessly destroy him over and over again. Dan is perfectly raw in his writing and his performances. Nothing is off limits. Take note.
If you’ve got on-screen and off-screen talent and you’re looking to prove your abilities, then create your own web series to show industry folks that you’ve got the goods. Throwing your name in the title doesn’t hurt.
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