Andrew Santino on Standup, Building a Career, and Tommy Wiseau
You may know Andrew Santino from his standup appearances on Adam Devine’s House Party, Conan, or his Comedy Central Half Hour. You may know him from his roles on Children’s Hospital, The Office, The League, or Mixology. But if you ask him what he wants to be known for, he’ll tell you, “I don’t care what people know me for as long as they know me for work that I’m proud of.” Lately Santino has plenty to be proud of: his debut comedy album, the upcoming James Franco-directed The Disaster Artist, and the recently greenlit Showtime series I’m Dying Up Here, for instance. I talked to Santino about his days working for hidden camera shows, Tommy Wiseau’s The Room, and how standup is a lifetime career.
Last year was a pretty big year for you. Would you say it’s been the best of your career so far?
I would say last year was a great year. I guess you could say it was the biggest. I never looked at it that way. The last two years have been building up to working on the kind of things I want to work on. I was fortunate enough to be able to pick projects and try to make my own way more than just taking what’s given to me or anything that comes my way. It was a great year, I’ll say that. It was awesome.
What’s an example of something that you did in the past where you had to take a project for work, but weren’t excited about it?
I worked on MTV’s Punk’d as a writer and actor when they redid the seasons five or six years ago. That was a fun experience for me. It was the first kind of TV thing I had ever done. It was fun, but thereafter I’ve done a lot of producing, writing and developing hidden camera shows because I would get hired to do that after Punk’d. People knew I had the experience. I never took credit for them. I produced a bunch of shows where I just took checks. I wanted to do them to get more work, but I wasn’t necessarily into hidden camera. I did Punk’d and after that I kind of never wanted to do hidden camera again. Sometimes you just have to take jobs and do them in between standup and traveling. It’s a gig and no one knows about it, so it doesn’t hurt that much.
You just wrapped shooting a movie directed by James Franco. Can you tell me a little bit about that?
Franco had the idea, I think with Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg. They’re all good buddies. They kind of wanted to explore the behind-the-scenes of the making of the cult classic The Room, not to be confused with the Room that’s out now. The Room is a very famous cult classic movie written, produced, directed, acted and diabolically put together by a guy named Tommy Wiseau in 2003. It’s touted as the worst film ever made. It’s remarkably shit. It’s shockingly bad in a way that makes you fall in love with it. It’s so fucking atrocious that it’s almost enjoyable at some masochistic level. Franco wanted to play Tommy and remake this cult classic and the behind-the-scenes. I play one of the actors in the remake of the movie The Room within the movie. It’s a movie within a movie. It’s fantastically funny. It’s filled with really funny people: Seth, James, Dave Franco — James’ brother who is fantastically talented and funny — Paul Scheer, Zach Efron, Josh Hutcherson amongst a cast of other people who are just super, super funny and talented. I had such a good time. Hopefully it will come out and people will think it’s as funny as the original.
Listening to How Did This Get Made? Paul mentions The Room and Tommy Wiseau a lot. It’s become a cult reference in and of itself. When someone mentions the movie or Tommy Wiseau you know just what level of shit they’re talking about.
The truth be told, the joke is on us. That guy is still making tons of money. There are no aspirations for him to be at the Chateau Marmont on Golden Globes night. He couldn’t give a fuck about it. He wants to be a filmmaker who does his own thing and doesn’t have anyone telling him what to do. Oddly enough, that’s what everyone in this business is trying to do. But with such a level of pretentiousness, everyone is blinded to the fact that he’s actually winning. He beat everyone. He’s taking everyone’s money. James Franco is making a movie about him. The joke’s on the public. He’s kind of a genius. He’s an idiot and he’s a genius. He’s laughing all the way to the bank. That’s how you really beat the system.
I read a quote where you said you consider yourself a comic first and an actor second. In terms of public recognition, people would probably know you more from your roles in TV and film. Does that ever create a sense of frustration for you? Would you rather be known primarily as a standup, or are you okay with however the perception plays out?
That’s a great question. I don’t care. The only reason I say I’m a standup first is because this is the thing I started doing first. The thing I wanted more than anything was to make a career of standup — and I have. I think the fundamental issue with comedians is everyone wants to be a famous comedian. That’s a really difficult thing to achieve in comedy. Ask people on the street and there’s probably only three famous comedians they can name, unless they’re comedy fans. To be famous in comedy is unbearably difficult. But I don’t care what people know me for as long as they know me for work that I’m proud of. I love acting. I love television and film. I hope to do that for the rest of my life. I also hope to do standup for the rest of my life. I’m making a living doing both and I’m so fortunate and grateful to be able to do that. I don’t need to be anything other than what I am. I just want to keep working for the rest of my life and enjoy the fuck out of it.
The best example of what I’m trying to say is, if you watched Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee and saw Obama do an episode with Seinfeld, Obama asked him, “Are you still doing standup?” Seinfeld said something to the degree of, “Are you still making speeches?” It’s like, “Yeah, man. This is what I was born to do.” He’s the most famous, rich standup in the world and he’s doing a year residency at the Beacon in New York. He’ll never quit. As a standup, I don’t think you give a shit how they know you as long as they appreciate what you’ve done. I think that’s all I can ask for. One of my heroes is Bill Burr. I think he’s understatedly talented and unrecognized to some degree. To me he’s probably the best standup comedian out right now. I don’t think he cares how people know him as long as they know him. If someone says, “I saw that Netflix show F Is for Family and apparently he’s some standup.” If that gets them to check out his standup then fuck yeah.
Toward the end of 2015 you had your album Say No More come out, as well as your Comedy Central Half Hour. What has been the response to those releases?
Everybody hates them. I got a lot of hate mail. “I’m going to kill you.” No. It’s been great as far as I know. If I’m being totally honest, I don’t know how many people watch the Half Hours anymore besides standups. Your friends in comedy are never going to tell you that they didn’t like your stuff because everyone’s a fucking liar. But all of my friends and family said they enjoyed it. The Half Hours don’t really see as much attention as they used to because a lot of people aren’t watching comedy on television. I think television standup is difficult. Even late night sets and Conan sets used to be a little bit more prized and now they’re kind of a dime a dozen. But I was pretty proud of it. I think there are things I would have changed and done differently, but that’s always going to happen as a comedian. The album, I am very proud of it. I’ve heard nothing but good things. I got to do it at my favorite club in the country. It was a really good time to just have fun and be unbridled, unleashed and unedited. On an album you can do what you want. Half Hours are very regimented and they take TV breaks. It’s a little unnatural as far as comedy goes. But I love the album. It was my first and I’m proud of it. I never wanted to make one before. I got offered to do it by multiple people and I said no because I just didn’t feel like making an album. Finally I said, “Why not?” I had a bevy of material and I said, “I might as well.”
Anything coming out soon that we can look out for?
I did Ari Shaffir’s This Is Not Happening… I think they’re going to put it up online. I am going to be shooting a pilot for Dan Fogelman at NBC, which could be great. I’m going to be going on the road for a little bit. I’m also secretly working with James Franco on something new. In the meantime, I’m kind of writing and developing a new show on my own. I’m excited for the new year to throw itself at me and see where it goes. Hopefully good things, man.