Comedy: Q&A with Sean Patton

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From the January 12, 2012 edition

The New Orleans native who’s making a name for himself in New York is not the second coming of John Belushi.

How do you approach doing stand-up?

I can’t remember who said it, and I’m paraphrasing, but a comedian’s whole existence is to go out into the world and come back and tell everyone about it.

My purpose is to live both sides of the coin, the good and the bad, and tell you about it — to remind you of the human condition; to expose the beauty that is human flaw.

Here are my experiences, I know you can relate. We’re all okay. We’re all flawed pieces of s---, and that’s the beauty of life.

Is that why you use some personal stuff, specifically a joke about having your heart broken?

The humor is where you identify. I like being personal because sometimes you experience the most embarrassing, humiliating thing and there might be a person in that audience that had the same experience.

Then they hear a guy on stage talking about it and people laughing about it, and they go, “Okay, I’m over that.”

Comedians are so f---ed up that we’re willing to tell a room full of strangers about it and … you’re going to laugh even if you don’t want to because deep down inside you know I’m giving you something genuine.

Who are some other genuine comedians?

I feel like Louis C.K. has become to comedy what Robert De Niro is to acting. De Niro in the ‘70s and ‘80s; not now where he’s doing s----y buddy cop movies.

Besides Louie, I think Bill Burr is amazing because he’s such a — I don’t want to say blue collar because of what you associate with blue collar and comedy — but he is an everyman. He’s out there with this “Can you believe this s---,” and it’s beautiful.

I think Maria Bamford is excellent. I don’t know what happened to her when she was younger, but thank God it did. She also has a real, true comedic eye.

Hannibal Buress is a younger guy, but in two years he’s going to be on that Dave Chappelle level. He and Kyle Kinane are leading the next generation of comedy.

So, is this a good time to be in comedy?

I feel like we’re in, I don’t want to call it a second comedy boom — that sounds like some industry s--- that people say — but I think we are in a second boom.

I was ten years old in the late ‘80s when the first comedy boom hit, but this has more comedians taking control. We’re going to put up shows; we’re going to start comedy clubs.

The comedy industry is very unbalanced. About 15 percent of the comedy industry is good people who are about developing talent and helping facilitate good comedy. The other 85 percent are idiots with marketing degrees. All they see is numbers and dollar signs and ways to cash in mediocrity.

To combat that is things like what happening in Columbus; certain clubs are being run by comedy fans.

You got people who really love the craft who are taking control away from the industry people who trying to make a buck. It’s an interesting time because nobody is trying to cash in right now. They’re just trying to create something great. And make a living off of it, of course, but try to be great. That’s what really exciting about being in this time.

Why do think these things are happening in the comedy scene?

I think it’s because it’s a cycle. Look at the comedy that was coming out of the ‘80s and early ‘90s. You could clearly see why it all fell apart.

All of a sudden comedy got big and everyone was doing it. A lot of it was garbage and regurgitating bull s--- that had already been done.

But what happened afterward was Bill Hicks and Mitch Hedberg. You had Chris Rock, Dave Chappelle and alternative comedy that started with “Mr. Show.”

People always ask me who my biggest influence in comedy was. Well it was “Mr. Show;” it was an entire show. I was in high school when that came out, and it changed the way I looked at funny.

I feel like there was an alternative comedy boom, but you had the same thing where it created a bunch of copycats who would get up there with their notebooks and thick-rimmed glasses and try as hard as possibly they could to be apathetic on stage. It was really stupid.

Do you ever get tired of people saying you look like John Belushi?

Nah. But there was a show where it was a good crowd, but one guy — right up front — would after every joke yell, “Belushi!”

Finally I said, “Sir, do you think I look like John Belushi? Do you want to see me do an impression?”

I was so pissed at this dude that I impersonated Belushi O.D.ing and dying of a speedball. It was f---ed up and the audience turned on me, but the guy I was trying to piss off loved it, laughed his ass off.

I’ll never escape this look. It could be worse; I could look like Larry the Cable Guy. I resemble somebody who was good at this.

You have a couple jokes about music. One seems to reflect a love/hate relationship with Lady Gaga.

I think it’s more that for the longest time I was bothered by how annoying Lady Gaga is. I was like, ‘Stop it,’ but in comparison to what’s out there today she has originality and sticks to her guns.

I’m not an insane fan who knows every one of her songs, but every few months I’ll say, “Is this a Lady Gaga song? Oh God, I love it,” like immediately.

You have more disdain for music snobbery than Gaga, though.

For me it’s more like when it comes to music, it’s like love. It’s an emotion, you can’t really control it. I have some really ridiculous tastes in music. I’m not even going to try to hide it. I like some dumb s---, but I like some great s--- too.

Sometimes I wish I had this impeccable, perfect taste in music, but I’m not convinced that mine isn’t because it’s music. What I’m talking about is there’s a band called Panic! at the Disco, right?

Yeah.

I think they’re the worst s--- I’ve ever heard, but if I met someone who was into Panic! at the Disco I wouldn’t judge them. That’s specifically what I’m talking about.

Even if it’s something I don’t like, I don’t judge people based on their tastes, but for some reason music brings out the worst kind of snob. It’s just a real pathetic life to be a music snob.

You’re wearing a Wilco T-shirt and immediately you’re a d---head to them. What do you mean? It’s just a band. It’s not like they’re walking around with a t-shirt that says, “I hate women.” Then, clearly you’re a piece of s---.

I dare someone to go see Coldplay live and not be moved to tears. You may not like their music, but whoa. It’s the same thing with Tool, who might be my favorite band. A lot of people hate on them, but see them live. Religious doesn’t even describe it; it’s a soul-altering experience.

Tell me about starting comedy in your hometown of New Orleans and why you moved to New York City.

I started comedy in New Orleans and did it for four and a half years. Wedged in at the end was Hurricane Katrina. There were no clubs; it was a very DIY scene. A coffee shop and a couple bars so maybe you got on stage once or twice a week if you were good.

After a while I realized if I wanted to do this forever, I had to get out of there. Then Katrina hit, and I stuck around for four or five months just to make sure everything was OK and my family was cool.

Then I moved to Los Angeles for about 10 months. Los Angeles has a great comedy scene, I won’t take that away from it, but I was just very unhappy there. The lifestyle of L.A. just sucks. I feel like it’s anything but a real place.

I returned home for Christmas with every intention of going back to L.A. and I just kept postponing my return. A couple of months went by and one of my friends said a room opened up in New York and asked if I wanted to come live there.

It was one of the best moves I ever made because New York will beat you into what you want to be. It will force you. New York gave me the discipline to do it right. Gotta go up once or twice a night. Gotta do this full throttle.

How often do you get back home?

I go back to New Orleans a lot and now there’s a real comedy scene there. There’s a lot more comedians and a theater opening up, The New Movement, where they’re doing sketch comedy.

I love that city completely. Starting comedy there was great in the sense that it wasn’t L.A. or New York where you’re surrounded by people who want you to suck so they can take your spot. As long as you were funny you could keep doing it. I developed a lot of confidence there; on stage, off stage I’m still a shy and insecure bastard.