Saturday Night’s Children: Paul Brittain (2010-2012)
Saturday Night Live has been home to over a hundred cast members throughout the past 37 years. In our column Saturday Night’s Children, we present the history, talent, and best sketches of one SNL cast member every other week for your viewing, learning, and laughing pleasure.
When the news broke in January 2012 that Paul Brittain was leaving SNL “effective immediately,” I had a somber moment of silence for Funky Boy and the Little Lord. Though he appeared infrequently during his year and a half stint as a featured player, Brittain’s small frame, shy-flirty delivery, and ability to sway from joyful to creeptastic and back again in even the smallest of roles guaranteed an added level of eccentricity to any sketch.
Raised in Naperville, Illinois, Brittain attended the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, where he graduated with a double major in Spanish and finance. His focus, however, was always comedy: “You have to major in something,” he told Time Out in 2011, “so I just picked a degree in business. I figured, once I graduated, I would move to Chicago and become involved in comedy. But I always worked day jobs. I actually worked full time as an accountant as well for, like, six years.”
While holding down his day job, Brittain took classes alongside future SNL cast mate Vanessa Bayer at Chicago’s ImprovOlympic, where he performed with improv/sketch groups Topaz and Rattlesnake High School and co-wrote and starred in shows “The Late Night Late Show” and “Ted and Melanie.” His biggest turn came with the creation of Sex Ed Vincent, the argyle sweater-wearing “amateur sex education enthusiast whose presentations are intended for novelty purposes only.” He took the character to Chicago Sketchfest, Los Angeles Comedy Festival, and TBS Just for Laughs Festival. After SNL writers viewed an iO showcase featuring Brittain in 2010, he was called to New York for a five-minute audition and hired as a featured player for the start of the show’s 36th season.
Despite never graduating to repertory status, Brittain still broke out with recurring characters like the dainty fop Lord Cecil Wyndemere (with Bill Hader as his scary footman Turlington), Croatian stand-up catchphrase comic Goran “Funky Boy” Bogdan, and his iO favorite Ed Vincent. He also appeared by the jukebox as Marius in the “Les Jeunes de Paris” sketches and delivered delicate yet dead-on impersonations of James Franco, Johnny Depp, Ron Paul, and Draco Malfoy. Other impersonations include Harry Reid, Osama Bin Laden, Dax Holt, and Live! With Regis and Kelly producer Michael Gelman.
After a year and a half as a featured player, Brittain abruptly left the show after the January 4, 2012 episode. While his offbeat characters showed promise of momentum, he appeared less and less into his 1.5-season stint and reportedly parted ways with the show amicably, citing the pursuit of “other projects.” He’s since added only two credits to his onscreen resume — a double voiceover role in 2012’s Hotel Transylvania as well as a small part as a male cheerleader in the forthcoming Grown Ups 2 — but for such an underused SNL cast member, Brittain has left a mark as the quiet sketch comedy underdog whose career still lies ahead; sharing genes with Bob Newhart indicates perhaps his true comedic vein is so subtle and deadpan it might take a few more years of accounting before he finds his true niche.