Inside Seth Morris’s Ambitious New ‘Radio Project’
For the thousands of hopeful comedians taking classes at various improv theaters like Second City, The Groundlings, and the Upright Citizens Brigade, there’s a loose but still somewhat defined path towards a career in comedy. Take classes, become a better improviser, a better writer, network with other comedians, get on a house team, get noticed by the right people, and if you’re lucky, get onto a show or write for one. Not many get paid to do improv, but improv and sketch have clear destinations to paid work these days. Not the case when the UCB first started teaching classes in the mid-nineties. For people like Seth Morris, who as he describes it was a part of “the second wave of classes at UCB,” the reward had to be improv and sketch unto itself because there was no thought about what other jobs it would get you.
These days though, there are such opportunities, including for Morris who after 20 years in comedy will finally be able to release something that he wrote, produced, performed in, and is able to put his name on it. Literally.
The Seth Morris Radio Project, available on Stitcher as of today, is a three-part sketch podcast that simulates turning the dial from channel to channel during morning drive time, afternoon, and late night radio. Morris wrote a lengthy script that was acted out by over a dozen comedians, including himself, Jason Mantzoukas, Ed Helms, Mary Holland, Kulap Vilaysack, Drew Tarver, and many more. With everybody voicing at least three characters, Morris estimates there were at least 80 different “personalities” in the series.
“Sometimes I like that in comedy albums where it’s like, ‘Oh that’s Kevin Nealon playing that part,’” says Morris. “There’s a little bit of that in this, but we also tried to make people sound different.” It wasn’t hard for Morris to find the best people to play those many parts after so many years within the improv and sketch community.
“Seth is emotionally and physically fearless,” says Rob Corddry, his longtime friend and collaborator who he met in level one improv during the early years at UCB and went on to make sketches with in their group Naked Babies. “He has a precise control of his body. He’s also very self-aware and can zero in on some tiny specific kernel of universal weakness or fear and fashion a complete living human out of it.”
Morris is perhaps best known as playing the character Bob Ducca on Comedy Bang Bang, or his many guest roles in TV and movies, but he still performs at the UCB every week alongside Paul Scheer, Rob Huebel, and others for the show “Facebook.” “Seth has this unique ability to create characters that aren’t like any that you have ever seen,” says Scheer. “His point of view is so unique and singular that whatever he approaches he brings not only a genuine love for his creations but it makes them feel like living people and not a sketch comedy construct.”
He will also perform regularly with Mantzoukas at the UCB, where the two will improvise a single, one-hour scene for the show Mantzoukas And… “His ability to craft fascinating, hilarious weirdos is unparalleled,” said Mantzoukas. “His characters go beyond just a riff on an archetype or a broad take on someone. They’re often presented as silly or strange, but then he reveals them layer by layer to be full of vulnerabilities and emotional complexity.”
After so long as an improvisor and actor though, Morris is interested in expanding his career opportunities by honing his skills and credits as a writer and director. He said he learned a lot from making The Seth Morris Radio Project, and it was only recently that Morris began regularly working in TV writers rooms with shows like Bajillion Dollar Properties, Kroll Show, and The Eric Andre Show. These types of gigs may come sooner these days for up-and-coming improvisers and writers, as showrunners and creators have a better sense of what skills these types of schools can help provide, thanks to the careers of people like Morris, Scheer, and Corddry.
He picks up inspiration from everybody he comes across and that’s helped him to create unforgettable characters like Ducca, who Morris performed as on his long-running Affirmation Nation podcast up until May of 2015. “His characters are so likable and sympathetic because they’re always bravely trudging forward, Bob Ducca being the best example,” says Corddry. “He does this thing, mostly just doing bits with his friends, where he’ll play the ‘Haven’t seen my kids in a while but I’m keeping my chin up’ guy. The first time he did it my head exploded. Just one line and I could see the whole character’s history.”
“I think Bob Ducca is one of the most amazing characters I’ve seen in the last 15 years,” added Mantzoukas. “Each new encounter with him means discovering more hilarious elements of his life, which only serve to illuminate with heartbreaking specificity this man.”
Now finished with this lengthy comedy special, which he likened to a TV production in the amount of work and discipline required, Morris is interested in doing a second season if the show does well enough to warrant a follow-up. But that won’t slow him down from his roots performing at UCB. What was once a source of mild anxiety due to the pressure of wanting to do improv perfectly, while also having no idea if it was leading to anything, Morris now sees his weekly shows as a poker night with the buddies where he unwind and relax.
“He’s one of the funniest guys who should be a household name,” added Scheer. Now that he’s created this sprawling podcast with his name right on the top of it, and learned the ins and outs of managing such a huge project, that’s what friends of Morris hope The Seth Morris Radio Project will do.