Profile in Comedy: Brendon Small
Brendon Small is a talented stand-up comedian, musician, actor, composer, and writer. He is best known as the co-creator of the animated series Home Movies and the cult hit Metalocalypse.
When did you first realize that you were uniquely funny?
I don't know that I am…. At least, I don't say that I'm uniquely funny. But sure, same story as everybody — your friends say you're funny and/or you just have that urge to do stupid things in front of audiences. And even though I spent a good portion of my life with near paralyzing stage fright, I still felt like I needed to try to be funny in front of people. So somewhere during the end of music school I took your class and it was such a breath of fresh air for a few reasons. I needed to stop learning about music — it was driving me crazy. But comedy writing made me use different parts of my brain and think differently and use different avenues to come to funny conclusions.
Who do you think were your influences?
Easy, I grew up with Woody Allen, Albert Brooks, and the Marx Brothers. (Of course Monty Python too.) I think of all those guys when I write. They wrote amazing characters and set pieces. Another reason I love them is because they (mostly Woody Allen and Albert Brooks) weren't afraid to write stories with mildly unsympathetic characters — they experimented, with a darker style of comedy.
Do you remember your first original joke?
Oh dear God. I'm told by my parents that I wrote a great joke when I was four and it went something like this, “Why did the hair go to the bathroom? There was no toilet paper.” No, it doesn't make sense. And yes it was a little racy but at least I wrote what I knew…. And to this day I stand by that joke.
When did you realize that comedy was something you had to do for a living?
Somewhere around the time I realized there was no way I could make any money as a musician. But it was funny; I'm a pretty good guitarist and I could play better than a lot of other students, but I had no idea what I was going to do with music. I thought maybe I'd get into film scoring or jingle writing (but before my last year of school I interned at jingle houses in New York and realized I'd rather shoot myself in the face than work in post production). But the thing I noticed well into my first year of stand-up was that there were talent scouts from major networks peering around the edges of every crappy comedy club in Boston. I mean, there were people who wanted to find the next funny person. Nobody was looking for a guitarist, but everybody in Hollywood is constantly looking for a unique funny personality — it's their job. And the more uniquely yourself you are, the less competition there is — I mean there's only one you out there. Nobody can compete with that. Again, there are a million billion guitarists…. So g'bye guitar; hello checkered jacket and squirting flower.
What was your first job in comedy writing or performance?
My first comedy performance was when I did stand-up before a friend's drum recital at Berklee College of Music. There were about sixteen people and my jokes were stupid. I spoke with that lilt at the end of my sentences which gave the illusion that I was telling a joke. Some people politely fake-laughed so as to kill the awkwardness in the room. But a couple good things did happen: one, I technically DID stand up; and two, I didn't cry. But, I still had a lot to learn.
About a year later I had a “good night” at the Hong Kong in Harvard Square and met Loren Bouchard, who was producing Dr Katz: Professional Therapist at the time. He had an opportunity to put a show together and I was local. Next thing I knew we'd created Home Movies together. So that was technically my first job. Let me reiterate that I am incredibly lucky…. I was ready for the challenge, but still, without luck I'd be nowhere.
What is the biggest difficulty you've encountered being a comedy writer?
I think when you start out as a comic is the most difficult time of being a comic/writer. First off because (I speak for myself only) I sucked donkey dick. It took me a really long time to find out what was funny about myself. Every other night I would eat shit. But during that time I was also spending a lot of time writing — writing stories, sketches, little jokes, and character scenes — and I'd spend a couple hours filling up pages with crap every day. I'd force myself to write two hours a day. Maybe it was from music, but I was used to discipline to come along with a craft — doing endless scales on my guitar with a metronome. So writing or doing something that seemed mundane for a given time always made sense to me.
What makes writing for animation different from other outlets?
The real reason animation works for me is not necessarily the writing because your characters and story should function like they would in live action — so there's no difference there. The main difference in animation is in post production. The ability to throw away scenes or save them using audio, rudimentary animation tricks, and music can really save a project from sucking. It's much easier to save stuff in post with animation.
How do music and comedy work together?
I think music helps tell a story more than it's funny. Because I don't really like “funny” music. I like good music. When you're really trying to hit a story point home, music can help you sell those ideas. I mean it can really draw attention to the comedy — like a hacky rimshot or muted trumpets. But I'll think of music more as score or I'll think of little songs for the shows I do. Music always divides up the energy of the episodes and gives you something hopefully to remember.
Are there jokes that you do just for you?
I don't do anything for anybody else — entertainment-wise. Yes, it's selfish. But, that's what art is. It's an experiment to see if you're in the same mood as me. If you're not — no big deal. But seriously, I think if you do any art for anybody other than yourself you should quit. It's like I'd rather hang out with somebody who's comfortable in their own skin and means what they're saying rather than a person who's faking it to impress you.
What are the differences between writing for yourself and writing for others?
I've had a lucky career where I cast myself in as the characters (in the animated projects I do). But still I write for character first. Even when I bring in another actor to voice something, it's usually about how much they understand the character and joke and then how their voice fits in to those things.
What do you find exciting about comedy right now?
I'm sure there are tons of things that are awesome in comedy right now but I've just been keeping my head down and working. Ricky Gervais is brilliant and so is Sacha Baron Cohen. Those two are saving it for me right now. It's funny, but the more I do comedy the more of a comedy snob I become. Or maybe comedy is getting less funny. Who knows? I'm not sure.
Where do you think the future of comedy is headed?
I hope people start making unique movies with unique casting choices. Sorry for the bland answer, but I've had the same philosophy since I started: “Please do something new or get out of the business so that somebody else can.”
What is the best thing about being a comedy writer?
Seeing matinees and being creative. Seriously. If I couldn't be creative and make a project that I wanted to be a part of then I'd just work at Star-bucks. I mean, they have pretty good benefits and I like their coffee — not joking.
Do you have any advice for up-and-coming comedy writers?
I wish somebody would have grabbed and told me the following: one, just because you wrote it doesn't mean it's any good. Try to be objective. Try it out onstage. Two, don't be a dick. Nobody wants to work with a cocky dick. Nobody cares how funny you think you are. Three, oh and again, “Please do something new or get out of the business so that somebody else can.”