Comedian Dylan Brody opened for David Sedaris, wrote a searing memoir called "Laughs Last," performs commentaries for Off-Ramp, and his comedy special "Dylan Brody’s Driving Hollywood" will be released on February 14 through NextUp Comedy.com.
I once had to fire a manager because I overheard him trying to get me booked for a show saying, “Sure he’s funny. You know. Not funny ha-ha.”
While I resented the comment and I am sometimes "funny ha-ha" I knew what he meant. I don’t adhere to the comedy club standard actually set by late night television showcase spots in the early eighties. That is to say, I don’t maintain a strict 4-to-1 laugh per minute ratio. Yes. That’s a thing. They check it. With a stop watch. Because I think we all know the best art is created in accordance with a ruthless rubric.
That’s the real problem. Not that I tell stories instead of one-liners. Not that I don’t always get a laugh every 15 seconds. The problem is that I think of comedy as art, not as entertainment. Frankly, I believe that "entertainment" is the word people use when they don’t want to take responsibility for what they say through their art.
So when Comedy Central said they wouldn’t produce a half-hour special with me because I wasn’t right for their demographic, I wasn’t really all that surprised. They cater to a young audience that responds well to implied vulgarity and puppets based on cultural stereotypes. My work lacks both of those elements.
Paul Provenza once said that I treat comedy as literature. I never really thought about it that way, but I suppose it’s true. I always felt, and I know this will be a controversial thing to say in Los Angeles, that if one is going to communicate to a great many people, it’s a good idea to start from the question of what you want to say, not what they might enjoy hearing.
It occurred to me that perhaps if I could produce a show on my own, get the material recorded and then present it to the people who don’t understand how my work would function in the humorscape, they might have an epiphany. A man can hope, can’t he? I called for advice and support and heard many times over that it was a great idea. “Content is king!” people said. I rallied my courage, secured my wife’s support, and invested many thousands of dollars into shooting an evening at Mark Taper Foundation's David Henry Hwang Theatre.
I shot three full length specials in one grueling night of performance. Grueling for me. The audience had a wonderful time. And why wouldn’t they? I had it catered.
Showtime had told me a few years earlier when they viewed my first special, "More Arts/Less Martial" that they couldn’t consider it because I didn’t have a balcony and a jib. That’s one of those weird camera crane things that allows for expansive, sweeping shots of the audience and the important balcony. Hence, shooting the new specials at the Hwang Theatre, which has a beautiful balcony ... and I rented a jib to make sure they could get the sweeping shots.
I took the new specials to Showtime and they said that it was a little too artsy for them. Those weren’t their exact words. Their exact words were, have you watched our specials?
I took the specials to every outlet at which I had any contacts at all and heard, with resounding clarity that content is king as long as the content looks exactly the same as all their other content.
Then I stumbled onto this wonderful new outfit out of London, England. NextUp Comedy, a by-subscription streaming service has a bunch of really great UK comedians including my friend Brendan Burns and three not-so-great comedians including another friend of mine. I sent a note to Brendan and he opened a door.
Almost exactly a year after I shot the specials, I signed a deal for the first one. When the people at NextUp got their first look at the thing they got right back to me, full of compliments and flattery. One person, in a charming British accent, said, “Of course you couldn’t place this in Hollywood, Sir. You’ve allowed your hair to turn grey!”
I’m not convinced that my hair color is the issue. The show they picked up – and they may yet pick up the other two – is called "Dylan Brody’s Driving Hollywood." It’s an exploration of heartbreak and hope at the intersection of art and commerce. I strongly suspect that to people who started out in the arts and wound up in entertainment the whole thing feels sad no matter how many laughs I get from the live audience.
If the stories and jokes keep touching on the viewer’s fears about his or her own contribution to society it might feel as though I submitted an hour-long recording of me literally performing stand-up tragedy.
I risked a bunch of my own money to put together this show about the potential for all of us in Hollywood to reach for our highest aspirations and had to go 8,000 miles away to get anybody to even consider it. Living and working as an artist at the heart of the entertainment industry can be funny. Just, you know. Not funny ha-ha.