For the past 15 years, Comedy Central’s half hour specials have showcased the future stars of standup. Looking back, the early years of Comedy Central Presents included memorable sets from the likes of Mitch Hedberg, Patton Oswalt, Maria Bamford, Dane Cook and dozens more. Re-branded The Half Hour in 2012, the series continues to feature the best up-and-coming comics in the country.
For many comedians, it’s that history that makes doing a half hour special so significant. While a half hour may once have been a comic’s first major exposure, comedians now have many ways to build an audience. Almost everyone who taped a special this year does non-standup comedy as well, branching out into the worlds of podcasting, sketch and improv, web series, acting, and more. In this new series, I sat down with each of this year’s 16 Half Hour comedians to talk about their specials, their careers, and their generation of comedians. Each interview will also feature an exclusive clip from the special. All the interviews can be found here.
Los Angeles-based standup and writer Andy Haynes has been seen on Late Night with Jimmy Fallon, and his Modern Comedian episode documents the preparation for his set on Conan. I caught up with him over the phone to talk about accidental compliments and whittling away at comedy.
How did your taping go?
It was good. It was a lot of fun. There was one weird part at the end. A guy heckled me and he had to be removed from the show. So that was kind of bizarre. But overall it was great.
Wow. You’re the only person I’ve talked to that had a heckler.
I might be the only person that got a heckler, which is just my luck. I have a joke that mentions 9/11. It’s not about 9/11, but the premise is that nobody's gonna forget about 9/11. And he just decided to start booing. He wasn't mad about 9/11, though. He was mad that he had seen the clip on YouTube. He felt like that was poor form of me, if he had seen a YouTube clip of a joke. Which is a whole new threshold of turning over material that I'm just not prepared for.
It'll be interesting to see how they've edited the final part with the heckler. It was my last joke. It was a little weird, because I just kind of wanted to do that joke and get out of there, so when that guy heckled, it really changed the energy in the room, the momentum. And I also was dealing with him at the same time. I didn't think to go like, “Let's do it again,” so I just told another joke that wasn't really my planned closer.
So he looked you up on YouTube and then got mad that you did the same jokes? That’s insane.
Yeah. I mean, he was drunk. I don't think he knew what he was doing. But the funny thing is, right after the taping I put up an Instagram with my dressing room door because it said my name and The Half Hour, and I said “All done.” And then he started commenting on that Instagram. He started saying all this stuff about how I was a joke recycler. Which is pretty nice. I feel like that's a nicer insult, because recycling is something I get behind. And then he called me Seinfeld, like he said I was Seinfeld-esque repeating. And I mean, I know he was trying to attack me for something, but that's a pretty high compliment, to be called Seinfeld. And then he snapped. But then fortunately I was on a podcast that has a pretty big following, so I asked everybody on that podcast to please go to his Instagram page and write a message on any picture, relaying kind of words of support about this guy fighting sobriety. And then he set his page to private, but it was pretty fun. That was a nice little hit back.
Wow. Well, great heckling stories aside, what did doing The Half Hour mean to you?
Well, I was surprised that I got it when I got it, because it's such a great show. I know this sounds silly, but I don't have a big head. I have the opposite of a big head about my act. I'm always like, “Ah, I gotta fix this and I gotta fix that.” There's some low self-esteem stuff going on there. And then when this happened, it was kind of like, I can't really say I'm not that good of a comic, because in one year I'm doing Conan and then I'm doing my Half Hour. It just felt very validating. It was nice to finally feel like this is really happening. I think, as a comic, we can be there for years and years, and be like, “Is this okay?” Because I'm 30, and if I do this for ten more years, that might be, like, a big mistake. If it doesn't work, you're a 40-year-old guy that doesn't own your car. But [with this] you felt like this is a career. I'm doing the right things.
If people don’t know you as well, what’s a typical gig for you?
I was talking to Sean O'Connor about this the other night. He's one of my good friends in LA, and we were talking about how we're both kind of hybrid comics. Sean, I think, is much more accepted by the alternative scene, but we both kind of do both. I don't really perform at a lot of clubs in LA. When I was in New York, I didn't do a ton of clubs. But it’s all my road work. All my road works is clubs. I've played clubs for the last five years. I'm in Austin right now at Cap City, and that's my favorite place to perform. People are there to see comedy. The club is designed a comic. It’s not like a bar where some people are walking in and out or the sound system's shitty or some drunk is just allowed to ruin the show. But I really do like an alt room too, because I can go weirder. You can get bizarre, you can be creative, and that audience is so much more willing to trust you, and to support you. And they're also just savvy. You can talk about stuff that is so inside and have people get it, versus like, even Austin, which is a hip city, there's references that are not gonna make it. So yeah, my average gig is the road and in LA, it’s kind of a mélange of things, to use the word mélange.
One of the things I find really interesting in this generation of comics is how much everyone does thing other than standup. It’s become a necessity.
Well, I think there's like a few different reasons for that. You can't make a great living at standup. You can't make a super secure living at standup unless you're doing it at the highest levels. The guys that are big names, they totally kill it at standup. But for somebody like me, I have to leave all the time and I have a wife and it’s not fun. I liked it when I was like 25 and single, but now it’s kind of lonely to go out to sit in a hotel room and stuff like that, so you have to find other means to support yourself. But also, I think all of us are interested in that in some capacity. We’re all interested in all aspects of comedy. Everybody wants to do bunch of stuff.
Even ten years ago, there were so many standups that just did standup. It's changed so quickly.
We're kind of in this crazy era where everybody knows these aspects of comedy all of a sudden. Through podcasting and blogs and stuff, people know so much about comedy now. It’s almost in this new phase where you have people that are fans of comedy like people would be of indie rock bands. Like, I wouldn't be surprised if [doing upcoming] comedy festivals, there are a few people that are actually gonna come out to these festivals from other parts of the country just because they love comedy that much.
It’s cool to be a involved in it. It's also hard because the bar's been set very high, and comedy is one of those things that some people can totally navigate without difficulty, but I think it's really hard to be funny all the time. Part of comedy is, you're kind of whittling away. Taking away everything. It's like that dumb Michaelangelo quote about he didn't carve David, he just took everything away that wasn't David. I think that's what comedy is.
So what’s next for you?
I'm just doing a lot of road stuff. I'll be in LA, but I don't have anything specific, just lots of to festivals, road stuff. I'm trying to think if there's anything specific. Oh, I'm also in the new Die Hard. What if that was the last line? "Oh, and also…" No, just lots of road stuff.
Andy Haynes's Half Hour premieres on Friday, June 14 at midnight. He's on Twitter at @imandyhaynes.
Elise Czajkowski is a contributing editor at Splitsider and comedy journalist in New York City. She tweets at @EliseCz.