Talking to Sean Patton About ‘The Half Hour’, Being Nomadic, and How Comedy’s Made Him a Better Person
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.
Sean Patton has been seen on Conan and Late Night With Jimmy Fallon, his first album, Standard Operating Procedure, is available on AST Records, and he acted in the slasher comedy Shotgun Wedding, out now on Netflix. He also co-created the long running and much beloved Comedy as a Second Language show in New York, which just celebrated its sixth anniversary. I caught up with Sean over the phone to talk about being disapproving audience members and why standup is the hardest art form.
How did the taping go?
I felt really great about it. But it went by so fast. It was literally, I blinked my eyes and it was done. And I don’t know how many other people have said this, but I can hardly remember even doing it. It’s all just a blur of LED lights and laughter. [He laughs.] How’d I do it? I don’t even know how I did it. Was I conscious? Did I black out? It was crazy. I mean, it was awesome, but you just spend so much time preparing for it that when if finally happens, you’re like, “Oh that’s it? That was it? Okay.” But it was really good.
Any memorable incidents from your taping? A couple people I’ve talked to screwed up jokes, and Andy Haynes had a heckler.
No. I heard about Andy’s heckler. The one thing I do think is funny — someone took video on their phone of the monitor in the green room that was showing the audience while we were on, and there was one part where I slit my tongue odd, like a lizard you would say, but in a sort of sexually suggestive manner, and the camera was on this one middle-aged white dude, just shaking his head in disapproval the whole time. Just really not into that. And someone had taken a two minute video clip of that. I hope they keep that guy in, just disapproving. Being like, “Wow that’s disgusting, he’s performing orally on a woman. That’s disgusting.” Because he really he didn’t like it.
No, nothing really crazy. I mean the night it happened — Comedy Central throws a nice after party and man was that fun. That just continued into someone’s hotel room, we got thrown out of the hotel room at the W. They come up finally and they’re like, “Everybody’s got to get the fuck out of this room. We’ve gotten complaints from other hotels, complaining about you.” And then they stationed two employees at the door, Secret Service-style, and would not let anybody in that room. The person who’s hotel room it was, when she left, they were like, “Ma’am you need to tell us where you’re going.” She’s like, “I’m going to someone else’s room” and they were like, “No, there will be no more partying tonight.” We shut the W down. It was fun.
What did doing a Half Hour mean to you, either practically or symbolically?
It’s almost a rite of passage, you could say. I just never thought I was ever gonna get one, and just stopped thinking about it. In prior years when I had like submitted for it, I has submitted something that I had over-thought and over-recorded and this year, it was just like, “Don’t think about it, just give them something. Be you.” And I guess it’s sort of the marker for how, when you’re finally at that level where you’re comfortable in your own skin as a comedian, and you can just be yourself on stage, that’s what people want to see. Getting The Half Hour is kind of like, “Okay, you’ve gotten here. Now where you go from here is entirely up to you.” It also, on a personal level, makes you feel like I’m at that point now where it’s not about, can I do this? Am I funny? Will I be able to still pull this off? I know I can do that. Now it’s about going further. I’m definitely a comedian now, I’ve proven that to myself. Now it’s time to continue proving it to everyone else. As far as like your parents are concerned, to them, it’s the biggest deal in the world and it’s great. It’s sort of like getting married. You do it for everyone else. But hopefully, unlike marriage, you don’t want it to fall apart.
Cool. If people don’t know you as well, what’s your typical gig like these days?
I mean I’m in LA right now. I kind of live between here and New York, more here these days but I still think without a doubt, there will never be a city that is better for standup than New York. I just don’t think it’s possible. Even in LA right now, there are so many great comedians out here, New York’s still just better. There’s more clubs, there’s more shows, there’s more places to see comedy and there’s more of an energy to New York that’s awesome. But I’m back and forth between here and there, but the other half of my year I’m on the road a lot. I go everywhere. Sometimes you go to shithole clubs in the middle of Nowhere, Texas and sometimes, you go to great clubs in like Austin, Texas.
But I think the internet has changed everything. Like the internet has made comedy accessible and it’s not like these horror stories you hear about in the late 80s and early-to-mid 90s, where you would hear guys getting guns pulled on them on stage, or bottles being thrown at people or someone ran up on stage and stabbed a comedian with a fucking hypodermic needle full of HIV-infected blood. You hear all these crazy stories about how just dumb and stupid middle America was, but the internet has completely changed that. Now, comedy is accessible to people in the middle of nowhere, you know, in Peoria, Illinois or Bloomington, Indiana, so you’ve got these really great little clubs popping up all over the country. So going on the road is fun. I mean, every now and again, you go to a place where they’re wasted and they don’t get sarcasm and they think everything you say is serious, and they’d much rather you go, “Give it up for the troops,” and so they can applaud than you make a joke that maybe is slightly off-color, but that’s comedy. But then you go to a city two hours away in that same state, and boom, a completely different scene. “Hey! We love it, yes! We know who you are, we heard you on a podcast.” Like, “You guys are listening podcasts out here? Sweet.”
You talked a lot in your Modern Comedian episode about going back and forth between coasts — you seemed sort of nomadic. Is that still true?
Yeah, it’s still sort of the case. I’m still young. I’m not 22 anymore, but I’m still a young guy, and while I can be, I want to be doing this as frequently as possible, and until I have to stay in LA or I have to stay in New York or elsewhere, wherever that could be, I just don’t see a point in putting roots down yet.
It sounds exhausting.
Yes. But I figure exhausting is a part of life, so you might as well get the good exhausted. For example, there’s this homeless guy I see all the time here in Hollywood. He doesn’t have hands, he’s just a hobo with no hands. Don’t know how it happened, it’s fucking crazy, but he doesn’t have any hands. And I reflect on that gentleman a lot, whenever I’m like exhausted from doing shows. I’m like, “Shut up, dude. You’re not a hobo with no fucking hands.” And I know that’s a cheesy thing but when I’m tired, I will remind myself, you’re tired because you’re doing what you love. And if you’re doing what you love, you should get exhausted because it means you’re putting everything you got into it. So, I look at it like that.
But yes, it is very exhausting, and it can be very lonely. At times, you just feel like a stranger to the human race, because you spend so much time observing it, observing people. And ultimately, I bet that if you asked every comedian, do you think comedy has made you a better person? I would say yes.
You would say yes for you, or you think yes for most people?
I would say yes for me. I would hope yes for other people. And what I mean by that, I’m taking more of an interest in current events. I read more, I probably listen to opposing opinions longer than I normally would have. I always look outside of the comfort zone. Now, granted, all of this is just in case the opportunity to make a joke comes out of it. Yes, that’s true. Just because I’m looking for humor in everything, I push myself a little further, I think that’s made me a better person. I mean, I’m sure there’s some guys who would be like, “Nope, it’s made me a worse person.” That’s their thing.
You mentioned podcasts and the other ways of getting comedy out there. I wonder how being a part of that culture ends up informing your standup?
I mean, I truly believe that standup is the hardest, most difficult performance art there is, for so many reasons. Think of how many actors have come out of the standup world. Robin Wiliams, Jim Carrey, Eddie Murphy, all these like huge blockbuster stars, they all started as comics. And still to this day, many huge TV stars and huge movie stars are comedians. Judd Apatow, huge director, started as a comedian. No other performance art yields so many other arts. You don’t have actors who are like, “I can’t really do this acting thing so well so I think I’ll become a novelist.” No way, but that happens with comedians, where guys write novels because when you’re constantly challenging yourself — that’s what comedians do, we’re constantly challenging ourselves to be funny — you get better at the other things.
Are you still involved with Comedy as a Second Langauge?
Yes. Chesley Calloway and I started it together. When we first started that show, people wanted to do it and they wanted to trade spots. Spot-trading, which is pretty self-explanatory — two people who have shows do each other’s shows. And the problem with that is that it leads to a lot of mediocrity, because it leads to a lot of just favor bookings, and you get people on shows who aren’t that good, but they let you do their show, so you gotta return the favor. And from the get-go, Chesley and I were like, No. We are only booking people on this show who we think are funny, and that rubbed a lot of fucking shitheads the wrong way, because they would show up and hang out and be like, “When can I get a spot?” and we’re like, “Well, when you make one of us laugh.” We have fucking pride in this show. We don’t want to start a show just to fucking have a show where three audience members show up and 40 comics show up and berate the three audience members for being the only three audience members. We want a show. We want a great show. And now the person that does book that show is Rebecca Trent, she runs the Creek and the Cave. She books it and she’s got very, very high standards. That’s why she books it, but that’s also why the show in the past three years has gone from a really good show to a great show, because she does not put chumps on there.
What’s next for you? Where can people find you or where should they be looking?
Right now, now I am working on my second album. It’ll be another year before that comes out, but I’m pushing for it. Right now I’ve got a lot of irons in the fire. I’m out here writing a TV show that I’m trying to make happen. I think everybody wants that like Louie deal. Like, “Hey one of you networks, just give us a shoe-string budget and let us have creative control.” I’m not trying to make a fucking billion dollars, I’m just trying to make a great TV show. So, doing that. And yeah, just touring still. What I love about standup is it’s something that you should never peak. You should always be climbing. You only get better with experience and age, so I just look forward to that. I’m just pushing that way.
Sean Patton’s Half Hour airs Friday, June 21 at 12:30 am (technically Saturday morning). He’s on Twitter at @mrseanpatton.
Elise Czajkowski is a contributing editor at Splitsider and comedy journalist in New York City. She occasionally tweets at @EliseCz.