An Interview with Jordan Brady, Director of I AM COMIC
Years ago, when I met the woman who became my eventual wife, when describing me to her family she stated quite matter-of-factly that I was a Stand Up Comedian. Her mother, bless her heart, responded with a curious confusion: “Well that’s nice. What does he do for a living?”
At my 20th high school reunion, many of my former peers were intrigued by my profession, and somewhat wistfully wondered whether or not they had chosen the right life path by getting a standard, nine-to-five job.
I mention both of those moments because each shows how little the outside world knows about the world of comedy, or the life a comic lives. The stand up comic is a rare breed of person that if not validated by the television, doesn’t seem to exist to people. Regarding my (now) wife’s mother, as I was not famous, she didn’t believe it was possible to survive by slinging jokes from the stage. Regarding my once classmates, they were not aware of the amount of effort it takes to both hone your craft and get work doing it.
Stand up comedy is rarely seen as an art form; a musician may garner respect for his songs, but many people believe that all you have to do in order to become a comedian is just stand on stage. Charlie Sheen recently discovered the error of that assumption with the failure of his Torpedo of Truth tour (the natural irony being his tag was “Failure is not an option,” and yet the tour was been considered a failure on near every level).
Fortunately, Jordan Brady is out to change the preceding stereotypes of comedy, and is doing so in the form of a documentary. I Am Comic is a film that exposes the masses to a glimpse behind the wizard’s curtain; from the unknown to the famous, comedians are interviewed and share insights into their lives and world. A former (and perpetually part-time) comic himself, Jordan wanted to show the world what comedy meant to him and how at times being a comic felt like being in the mafia (“Just when I thought I was out, they pull me back in…”).
Rooftop set interviewer Nathan Timmel to dig into Jordan’s brain, and after several trips to the dentist (by Nathan, damn my feeble teeth) waylaid plans to speak on the phone, they were finally able to connect via email.
NT: How much footage did you shoot; meaning how much ended up on the cutting room floor?
JB: I shot over 200 hours of stuff. It pains me that some great young comics are didn’t make it. Sean Patton, Anthony Jeselnik. Even the always funny Kathleen Madigan didn’t make it, but she’s on the DVD. The first assembly of material was 2.5 hours long. I was riveted, but that’s really obnoxiously indulgent.
NT: I saw the movie streaming on Netflix; does (or will) the DVD/Blu Ray have extra scenes/interviews?
JB: YES! The DVD is out and has killer bonus stuff. Todd Glass & Larry Miller sharing a hell gig at a Prom (which is free on iTunes now), More Sarah Silverman & Kathy Griffin, and a song about “Merch” sung by yours truly.
NT: How long did you travel and shoot footage?
JB: I spent 8 months shooting. After 5 months, we edited as we went. I made the film between directing commercials, which is my trade.
NT: How much time did you spend with each interviewee?
JB: Anywhere between 10 to 20 minutes. Some bigger names were longer. Jeff Foxworthy was so gracious to have us in his studio. Sarah Silverman had me to her set. And Roseanne, one of the most intriguing comics, went for an hour. Louis CK on for a while too, just chilling and chatting with us, which was very cool. On a sad note, Bobby Slayton, who always kills, spoke one run-on sentence for 24 minutes. He’s in the film for 8 seconds… but he gets a laugh.
NT: Who was your biggest “get” that you may or may not have expected to land, and who would you say your biggest miss was?
JB: My biggest “get” for comedy fans has got to be Louis CK. He shared his process and it was insightful and unique. Funny thing, I’ve not heard from him since that cherished interview. Personally, I’m a huge Wayne Federman fan, so watching him write behind the scenes for Jimmy Fallon was a treat. Wayne also played “Ronnie the Roster” in my flop “Waking Up in Reno.”
I also cherish the fact that Phyllis Diller is in the movie. She’s a comedian to her core.
The biggest “miss” was Dave Chappelle. I stalked him, and knew him before he blew up. Aziz Ansari was going to let us go backstage at his Comedy Channel taping, but it got pulled the day of. Do they still call it the Comedy Channel?
[Interviewer’s note: nope, it’s Comedy Central]
NT: Ritch Shydner’s return to the stage became the accidental narrative arc to the documentary; what theme did it supplant? What was your intent going in?
JB: By the way, I love your questions. Ritch’s arc is so emotional for anyone that’s done comedy. Inititally, I wanted to do “Build-A-Comic”: a spoof of “Last Comic Standing” sorta. We were planning a showcase for a newish comic. The winner would get two weeks of gigs all over NYC, some cash and a place to stay. I’d end with a showcase for “The Late Show with David Letterman.”
Comedian Eddie Brill, who is also in the film, books comics on “Letterman.” He allowed us to shoot his showcases, which was great footage. But when I saw had badly Ritch Shydner missed performing, giving jokes to comedians, I knew that was a unique storyline. I gave Ritch 6 weeks to write a new 6 minutes. Just before his first time up (at the Liquid Zoo Open Mic – a true Hell Gig!) I said, “Ritch, if you kill it will be good for the doc… and if you bomb, it’ll be great for the doc.” He did great!
NT: Is Ritch still performing today?
JB: Absolutely! Ritch Shyder is headlining clubs, and has ever since we wrapped. He lives and breathes stand-up and clawed back to the top faster than anyone could dream of. He’s one of my favorite comics to watch live, because he always goes off on a mad riff. And by mad, I mean madcap.
NT: During the explanation of Steve Royce’s Comedy Evaluator Pro, the line “Listens Politely” showed up on screen. Was anything edited? I’m wondering if the machine was showed to any comics, and then discussed/debunked?
JB: You are a clever one. Ritch Shydner wanted to lambaste Steve’s invention! I asked Ritch to be polite. You can see him biting his tongue. It’s a pretty goofy program, but I must say, it’s Comedy Evaluator Pro – a step up from Comedy Evaluator Lite.
NT: The awkward question: Seeing Giraldo and Schimmel… Was there a sense of unhappiness from Giraldo? His Larry the Cable Guy roast was a true moment of honesty and pain.
JB: Schimmel knew what he was battling with, and you can see it in his eyes. He’s so calm. Greg I’ve known since he got his first deal. My first wife was his agent, she took him to Montreal, so I have followed his career since then. He was so nice and gracious. Troubled? Not that much more than many comics I know. Obviously he was struggling. He is missed.
NT: How did you determine the mix you were going to use of celebrity and (relatively) unknown comics?
JB: The film is about working comedians. So I felt compelled to cover the spectrum fairly with the access I had. And I’m proud of the balance. I could edit an entire film comparing & contrasting Sarah Silverman & Jeff Foxworthy. And it’d be funny!
NT: What has been the comic reaction to Carlos Mencia admitting flat out he will steal?
JB: It’s odd. Carlos had some interesting views on being a stand-up, but the stealing thing overshadows it all. Marc Maron saw the film when we screened up at the Bridgetown Comedy Festival, and then had him on his popular WTF podcast. When anyone puts the “I Am Comic” clip of Carlos on youtube, it instantly gets 40,ooo hits. Some think he’s bullshitting, some think he’s admitting to it. I see him as wanting to move on. Joe Rogan made it his mission. I just asked Carlos if he wanted to address the accusations out there, and you see his response.
NT: Marijuana was a fairly prevalent theme across many comics; some people seemed to be joking uncomfortably about their use; others were unashamed. Did you find more comics using drugs/alcohol as a muse, or as a method of maintaining the high of the stage after their performance had ended?
JB: Marijuana (aka Mary Jane, Refer, Weed, Pot) can fuel creativity as well as keep a high going. I quit smoking pot altogether… because the pot-cookies are readily available. Yes, the pot & the booze keep the high going. I did a mere 7 minutes at a benefit the other night, and was rev’d up from the high of getting laughs. The tendency is to keep the buzz going, get higher baby. With a dark mind, comes dark habits.
Pot also quells ADD and OCD, I find. That said, many top comics abstain and have the disipline to write & perform without anything. God Bless them.
I Am Comic is indeed available for purchase, and can be found HERE.