On Tour with Tony Hinchcliffe
If you ask Tony Hinchcliffe how things are going he’ll likely sum it up this way: “It’s a wild time to be a comedian doing real standup and podcasting at the same time.” The album version of his One Shot special recently dropped, he’s currently just a few nights into his headlining run with the Monster Energy Outbreak Tour, and his podcast Kill Tony is more popular than ever, consistently selling out its weekly live recordings at The Comedy Store. Hinchcliffe has bypassed the traditional exposure model for young comedians and has instead forged his own path, with the help of a loyal grassroots following of fans. Before he hit the road for his 20-cities-in-22-days tour I talked to him about keeping comedy raw, how being edgy requires extra resourcefulness, and when he’s filming his next special.
I listened to the album last night. It was interesting to just hear the audio separate from the production and camera work of the special. I know that undertaking the special was a bit of a risk for you. How do you feel it was received?
I’m extremely happy with how it was received. It was my “hello” to everyone and “nice to meet you.” One of the cool things about it is that I retired that material when I did the special and started from scratch. I tend to believe that these dumb stories always end up getting better. You’re the first person I have talked to who has heard the album. How did it sound to you?
Weird, but had I not seen the special I think I would have listened to it differently. Having seen the entire take, including all of the camera work and some of the hiccups that happen naturally at any show, I was trying to remember where those markers were in the set. I couldn’t separate the special from the album in my head.
I love that. And by the way, in closing with the “how do I think it was received” thing, there’s no place I’d rather be than Netflix. It was a game-changer. It’s so global. I didn’t really realize until I went to Australia and sold out ten shows. There were a lot of podcast fans obviously, but the majority of those people were from Netflix. It’s so respected globally. When you get out of America people don’t even know what a Comedy Central is. They haven’t heard those two words in succession. They’re all about this Netflix. The special’s timing in which it came out I think kind of benefited me. A lot of these specials get shoved down people’s throats, but with this first one a lot of people just sort of found me instead of seeing me slathered across a bunch of billboards. Finally getting to release the audio from it I think that while a lot of the people watching the special would focus on the cinematography, I think they might have a new appreciation for how the material was written and the reception it garnered. It was sort of a tight crowd that I had that night. It was probably one of the worst sets I’ve had at the Ice House. But we shot it once and I was happy enough with it. Plus it’s my first special and I think it’s kind of cool to give them a raw version of me. My audience is definitely going to be growing with me and the production is going way up on the next one, which I’m taping in September.
I feel like your special is a good representation of the kind of show people can expect to see from you live. Some of these specials are so over-produced with the huge theater, crazy lighting, fog machines. I always wonder if when those comics come through to perform at a suburban comedy club the audience is disappointed because it’s not the big top circus they saw on TV.
Right. There aren’t lights behind the performer on an actual stage. There’s not a gigantic, overly excited crowd. So many specials are so crazy edited to where it doesn’t even make sense that the crowd is that excited. Unless it’s one of the greats, like a Chappelle or something. I could see that. But the editing is so blatantly bad in some specials that I don’t always necessarily believe what I see. I think a lot of people are catching on to that. These people aren’t as stupid as some executives think they are. People are catching on to some of the tricks nowadays. I love the idea of giving people a pure, real show, something that makes them feel like they were there.
I like when comics release albums and specials that honestly show where they’re at in their career, including the jokes that don’t land or the technical hiccups. I think more discerning comedy fans prefer the realness and rawness of that.
I totally agree with you on that. That’s another reason why I wanted to do it at in LA comedy club. That’s sort of where I was built. When I taped it eight years into my career it felt right for me then. A lot of these guys go and do their specials in a theater and I know for a fact they’re not doing theaters. Some of them I know for a fact haven’t even opened for big people in theaters like I’ve been doing for years. I’ve got a big tour of theaters coming up so I sort of know how to handle it and how to play in that space. It’s so different than a club. The timing is different, the pacing is different, the lighting is different, you can’t see everybody. It’s a bigger show.
You definitely have a following from the DEATHSQUAD stuff, your connections with Rogan, the podcast. But if I’m correct, when you filmed your special you didn’t have any TV credits. You hadn’t done a half hour, or been on Conan, or anything like that, right?
Absolutely correct. In fact, I still haven’t.
But you’re selling out shows in Australia and now you’re doing theaters. I think a lot of people in comedy or people who judge the success of a comic have this blueprint in mind as to what the stepping-stones are. You get your first late night set, then you get on something small on Comedy Central, then you get a half hour, then an album, and so on. For a non-traditional art form there has definitely become a pattern that a lot of people subscribe to. Did you intentionally avoid that or did it just happen this way where you were like, “I have to be resourceful and get out there however I can”?
I wish I could take credit for it being intentional, but it goes both ways. I’ve been in the Comedy Central Roast writers’ room for a long time. One of the things I’ve wanted to do for a long time is breakthrough on a Comedy Central Roast the likes of Schumer, Jeselnik, or Whitney Cummings. A mainstream hello. While not getting that call yet, it’s one of those things where I absolutely want to figure out a way to have fun and do what I like while not following the traditions. Honestly, my material is too edgy for even five minutes on Conan or The Tonight Show. I’m very aware of that. I started at The Comedy Store and my style is very much arranged around the darkness and extremely late spots and having to be compelling. I had no choice. Normally by the time I go on stage they’ve already seen 14 of the best comedians in town.
But yeah, while wanting to do everything I realized that so many people are watching Netflix. I committed to making the type of special that I knew could exist there. One Shot could not have existed with commercials on Comedy Central, in my opinion. It would be needlessly breaking up the entire point of the connection that I was trying to build with the audience. I’ve just always kept an eye on the future. The podcast thing, especially Kill Tony, is expanding into an insane live show. On Monday at 8 at The Comedy Store we had 250 people…on a Monday…at 8…for a weekly live podcast! Every week I’m watching it get bigger. Jeremiah Watkins is one of the funniest rising comedians anywhere. He’s part of the band on Kill Tony. He’s featuring for me on tour the whole month of August. He’s part of the Goddamn Comedy Jam on Comedy Central. He’s part of The Wave on Roast Battle. He has his own show called Standup on the Spot. That’s going to Montreal. He’s an absolute killer, and he’s added an entire element to that show, pure brilliance and insanity. He’s an absolutely hilarious monster. I’m so excited he’s coming out with me. I think we are really going to push each other on this tour.
Again, talking about whether I planned this path or not, not necessarily. But if you look at what’s happened, if you have a visual hour-and-a-half-long podcast in front of a live audience, plus people watching the live stream, and people going back and watching on YouTube or Vimeo, that connection is priceless. They know us, our style, what we talk about. They really get to know us. It’s a wild time to be a comedian doing real standup and podcasting at the same time.