The Set-Up and Punchline Don’t Matter: An Interview With Sean Patton
Sean Patton is going to be around for a while. He's been on stages for more than 10 years and is "pretty much a nomad," he says. He got his start in a not-exactly-thriving New Orleans scene in 2001, first at a weekly open mic, developing new material for each appearance. Within a year he had 30 original minutes. That is not normal. Most comics will work on a bit over and over a few times a week at multiple open mics. But Patton was able to develop his voice in a vacuum, focusing on that once-a-week set. He's headlining Cool Dudes Hanging Out tonight at the Velvet Lounge.
Washington City Paper: Why did you leave New Orleans?
Sean Patton: If you don't want to work in a bar, restaurant, be a jazz musician, or a serious alcoholic, you need to leave. I love the city but it's just now starting to have a serious comedy scene. I got to love comedy before moving to a New York or L.A. We didn't learn any of the rules. We didn't have the heirarchy of having people that aren't funny and go up just because they've been there forever.
When I started out there were only 20 comics and a handful of shows. If you were good, nothing else mattered. It's the same in LA or New York but there are a lot of shitheads that are good networkers and that gets frustrating. Bottom line is if it's funny, that's all that matters.
WCP: Do you approach alternative shows differently than club gigs?
SP: I don't. It'll be who I am at either. If I'm at a club I'll probably start out with broader material. If it's the middle of Michigan and they don't see a lot of comedy and what they do see is awful, you want to bring them in right away. I'm not going to go up there and blame them for not getting me. But you can't differentiate who you are at each show. There are guys that kill it at alt rooms and then eat their dicks in a club and vice versa. I know people that are pretty much gods in alt rooms but if you put them in a club, they can't do it. They cater to one kind of demographic.
You have to be able to speak to every type of crowd without pandering or dumbing yourself down. If you say something that doesn't get a laugh, don't shit on the audience or yourself, figure out why it didn't get a laugh. If it's something you want to say, just figure out a way to make it work.
WCP: What's your writing process like?
SP: I try to avoid topical or current event material because there are a thousand other guys that can do it better. I want my stuff to be timeless.
I have bits now that are starting to work now that I wrote down seven years ago. I save every notebook I've ever had. I'll go through old notebooks and see a word or a phrasing or remember why I wanted to try it and after going back, I'll figure it out.
Your sense of humor is a strength and the more you develop it, the stronger it gets.
WCP: You seem to approach it more like a writer than a performer.
SP: I think a lot of comedians get bogged down in the set up and punchline and that's total bullshit. A joke to me is, you have a thought, you craft it in a way where it becomes a presentation and people laugh at it. As long as it has a point of view and you can present it, it doesn't matter if it has a punchline. If the sentence itself is funny and that's it, that's fine.
A lot of comics worry about the set-up and punchline. Those guys can enjoy spending the next five years doing shitty B rooms.
WCP: Who are the guys that made you want to do this?
SP: Marc Maron, specifcally his first HBO special. It didn't have a name, it was just a 30-minute special. It came out in 1998 but I didn't see it til 2001, after I had already started doing stand up and it was inspirational. He was all over the map, it was beautiful. As cliche as it sounds, Bill Hicks. To every younger comic, he's how Robert Deniro is inspiring to young actors. I saw Louis CK on a Young Aspen comedians speical and remember him being very dirty in an intelligent way. Bill Burr is probably the best guy out there right now.
WCP: Who are some of your peers that need recognition?
SP: Nick Turner, Dan St. Germain, Mike Lawrence, Dan Soder, and the guy I'm bringing around with me, Rogilio Perez, is great. Kyle Kinane, if you can have an idol that's the same age as you, it's Kyle.
The comedy scene right now is great. It's in a renaissance and a boom state. It's good to be a comedian right now.