Today we’re talking to Philly raised comedian, Patrick Flanagan.
When did you realize you wanted to pursue a career in comedy?
“The earliest memory I have of, at least getting satisfaction from doing anything comedic, was during a joke contest in the Poconos. It was a family resort we went to every year and every year they did a joke contest. The winner came away with a T-shirt and probably a free beer or whatever. The previous year, I had enjoyed it so much that I wanted to be in it the next year. My mom and I had written a joke weeks before going and when the constant came around, I entered it. My step dad did as well, I think to make me a little more comfortable. And he told some standard adult joke and I came up with some weird knock knock joke. I ended up winning the contest, probably not because I was funny, but because I was a cute kid that was brave enough to be in the contest. I think just the satisfaction from that was kind of the starting point of it all.”
How old were you then?
“I was probably about 7.”
That takes a lot of courage, especially at that age, to get up in front of people and tell a joke!
“I guess so. It was a very supported environment because I had been going there for years and I kind of knew a lot of the people there and the people in my family. It was just kind of the right place, right time.”
Was your family supportive when you told them you were going to pursue this as a career?
“Absolutely, yeah. They’ve always been. So coming out to shows or providing material, being the people they are, pointing out to me stuff that I should do. They suggest things I should add to my routine. Everyone’s been very supportive.”
How did you get started? Did you go to school or was it a hands on learning process?
“I guess just from a performance stance, not only comedy, I started doing plays in grade school. From there, I think my dad was the one that told me about the high school for the creative and performing arts. So, I auditioned there. When you go there for four years, you actually have a major like you would in college. Mine was theatre. So I studied theatre for four years there. I got to do comedy stuff there with my friends but mostly it was musical theatre and drama and some dance and stuff. That was great for getting comfortable with the stage and doing dramatic stuff. But then comedy became more of a personal pursuit when I met my best friends in high school and all of shared the same love for it. We had a film class, so we could borrow equipment and stuff, and we started making our own videos there. That was kind of the start of making my own comedy material. Other schooling beyond that, I did Philadelphia Comedy Academy which is a stand up class ran out of the Helium Comedy Club in Philly. There’s a seasoned comedian, who’s full-time job is traveling the country as a comedian, his name is Brad Trackman, he runs that class and does a great job. I took that for two years. I’m still in touch with him, he’s a great guy. I like to send him any accomplishments I have cause he likes to hear about students that have progressed into something. Then there was a lot of trial and for on my own just doing stand up and also filming skits. Luckily, I got to move to Chicago a little over a year and a half ago. Once I did, I started classes at Second City. I figured it’d be a great opportunity to study at a place that’s known for producing professional comedians and comedy actors. That’s where I’m at now.”
Was the anyone that inspired you? A favorite comedian?
“For me, growing up, for the longest time, it was Jim Carrey. Just the stuff he could do physically. Then I found that I could do the same )or convinced myself that I could do the same). I was just impressed with his ability to do huge characters and be as hilarious, physically, as he is. And then be able to go on to do something as dramatic and funny as like “Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind” or some of his other more serious roles. I would kind of act like his characters at home and my brother or mom would get a kick out of it, which encouraged me to do more. From that, I started doing voices too. My earliest impersonation was Jimmy Stewart. I was a little kid doing Jimmy Stewart. My mom thought that was hilarious. I’d do a monologue from “Harvey”, is what I think I did.”
Do you perform live now, while taking classes at Second City?
“Yeah, it’s an interesting training program because you can just go and take classes but then at the end of the classes they do have a graduation performance. So you’ll do that after all of your classes and it’s just one show. The classes run for eight weeks and then they have, I think a total of 3, possibly 4, stages there. They’re running shows very night. So they have to keep turning over content. There’s a bunch of opportunities to audition over there to be in these shows on the smaller side stages and stuff. As long as you apply yourself and go out for those auditions, hopefully you’ll get a role. Luckily, I’ve been able to be a part of what they call coached ensembles where they’ll have senior level improvisers take on a cast of improvisers and they’ll have some concept that they’ll wanna do. One of my previous shows was called “Vogue”. We had this whole improvised show based around the 80’s dance craze, “Vogue”. You had these larger than life characters that were into “vogue-ing”. Every night we’d have this dramatic/comedic improvised show for 20 minutes. The end would culminate into a vogue dance competition. Another one (show) I was involved in was called “Naked”. That one was just supposed to be very serious, dramatic improv but to have real life comedy come through. We were these two couples and each couple had some issue in their relationship and the other couple would be there to support them and be an open ear. That was the concept for that one.
I have a coached ensemble coming up, so I’ll be performing all of April at Second City, so I’m excited about that. I don’t know the concept of that one yet cause I haven’t met with the director/coach, but I’m sure it’s a fun idea. They usually are.
All of my coaches have been fantastic and supportive. I can still go to them for advice.”
How long do you have to prep or rehearse before a show goes on?
“It differs according to the group. The previous one I was in, we had like 6 rehearsals. It was just to get comfortable with how the other people perform, what kind of knowledge they have, their ability as an improviser, their comedic tone. This way you can create a real ensemble out of it and become a team. What I’ve been learning, is that a lot of improv is being a good teammate and not “one upping” each other but making the other person look good, if not funnier than you. It’s interesting. You really have to know the people you’re improvising with so you can have a really good show.”
Have you ever performed alone and not part of an ensemble?
“Not in an improv sense. I did stand up for a little bit, but I wasn’t necessarily too happy with my material. I wanted to do more mature stuff, but I guess my mind wasn’t in a mature place. I don’t know if I’ll return to it soon, but I wouldn’t put it beyond me, I might try it again. Currently I like improvising and doing sketch stuff. The thing about Second City is that they have this great improv breeding program, but here really more known for their sketch material. It’s all written, worked out material. What they do is teach you this skill of improvising, but the whole point of it is to come out with these nuggets of ideas from your improv. Then you take those ideas and turn them into fully realized sketch ideas. Like if you’re in a kitchen and something funny happens in your scene, you might (after the show), make a bunch of notes about how this scene in the kitchen was pretty funny. Then just working on that idea over and over again until you have this complete skit. In their review shows, which is what they run on their main stages, is all skits that have come from improv. They’ll work new material into it, they’ll remove some skits when they’re kind of tired or bored with them and have this ever evolving, rotating show of skits that have come from improv. They always finish out with improv games to keep it fun and fresh at the end. But that’s kind of the whole life cycle of work over there.”
Do you ever get stage fright or anxiety before getting on stage?
“I would say always a little bit of excitement, I don’t think fright. That anticipation, butterflies kind of feeling. But the odd thing is, is that once I’m on the stage doing it, it subsides. I felt it more with stand up. Maybe it’s weird that I’d feel it more with stand up, with material where I knew what I was gonna say, but when it comes to improv I’m more controlled on stage.”
Have you ever had an experience where you got out these and didn’t get the laughs?
“Certainly in stand up, yeah. But with improvising, in a way, I’m never really going for the laugh cause that would be kind of cheap, in a way. Instead, trying to act more appropriate for the scene. So if I’m frustrated with somebody as the character in my scene, I’m gonna play a frustrated person and then hopefully something naturally funny comes out of that. If you ever really find yourself, in real life, being frustrated with someone and expressing that, but then also cracking a joke or making some kind of a quip, it would be unnatural in a way. A lot of he humor that I’m doing comes from honesty and what would actually happen in real life. Maybe what’s funny is how this particular character acts I that situation, but I’m never really expecting a laugh, I guess. I’m always surprised more at what gets the bigger laughs. It’s a constant lesson, in a way. Those things seem to be the more natural stuff. In my show “Naked”, it was supposed to just be dramatic improv. This one particular scene, I was confronting my wife about how she hasn’t been paying the bills and she’s been spending the money on something else and we couldn’t pay our mortgage that month. She had bought this really expensive espresso machine and I went on a tear about how we don’t need this coffee machine and that I never said I wanted one. She goes on to tell me how she knows I love espresso. I come back with telling her I’m ok with Folgers. The honesty in saying that Folgers is fine with me and everyone knows that it’s a really cheap coffee made the audience erupted from there. Writing that out, I probably wouldn’t have thought that would be funny but to get the kind of response we got from that was surprising and great at the same time. It was a crazy lesson.”
What do you find gets the most laughs from an audience?
“You definitely have to relate to the audience. I think doing anything relatable and having a slightly larger than life character people really enjoy. Then things are bit more highlighted or bold in a way. When you have a bold character reacting to something, their reaction or expression is easier to dad on stage, and it hits home more with the audience. You can’t be too subtle or people won’t see it. You need to draw attention to yourself. If I come out with any large character, or a voice, even a stereotype…I do a lot of east coast characters because I’m from there. So I’ll do New York or even the northeast Philly accent. People seem to love that kind of stuff. You need to commit to every kind of character, voice or action you’re doing. If you don’t commit 100%, people see that immediately. It reads as hesitation, which reads as lack of confidence in your own ability or performance.”
Do you feel that some of the characters you tend to do are parts of you, or created in your imagination?
“I’d say probably stuff I’ve witnessed, but not necessarily a part of me. Either teachers I’ve had, people I’ve worked with. It goes back to one of my best friends in high school, we would always imitate the teachers that had really distinct personalities or ways of talking. We’d do our own scenes with “them” in it.”
I watched some videos of yours on the YouTube channel “Late Night Brewery”. Tell me a bit about “Late Night Brewery”.
“I went to high school with the other two guys in the videos. We had a very dark sense of humor when we were doing that stuff. We would get together and do writing sessions and hang out. The name of our group came from the fact that our best ideas came late at night when we were sharing a beer with each other in a round table setting spitting out ideas. Not taking any critiques too close to heart. Just putting anything out there. Doing it late at night with some beers is where the name came from. Also, brewery came from combining different formulas and stuff. Just liked the idea.”
What else do you find funny? What never fails to get you rolling?
“When it comes to stand up, it’s anyone who’s almost self-deprecating, honest about who they are. They can be completely reveal their most inner thoughts, but they’re funny. Things that everyone else thinks but isn’t vocal about. When you can relate to it, the audience is all on the same page, you feel like “hey maybe I’m not that crazy”, is always nice. Also, outside the box comedy. Monty Python kind of stuff, like really odd time periods or habits with modern social issues or bringing social issues to life by frame working it in some kind of over the top setting. South Park does it all the time. They take this base idea, a current issue, but blow it completely out of proportion into this hyper realized kind of world. I’m always pretty impressed with the intelligence and humor to do something like that. To bring it full circle.”
Do you think it’s a more difficult playing field for writers and comedians because of all the political correctness in the world these days?
“No, I don’t think so. I think the comedian will always have carte blanche to do what hey want because you can’t attack a comedian. They’re always so hard on themselves and they’re the first ones to call bullshit on themselves so you can be as bold and say whatever you want. It probably makes for a lot of viral clips and things but, luckily we still have the role of the comedian in so with to do that kind of thing. Everyone else can be super serious but a comedian can talk about anything they’d like cause they’re not afraid to. When Letterman had the controversy of the affair, it didn’t really go anywhere. How do you make fun of David Letterman, who’s the guy who has been making fun of everybody else and then made fun of himself and was honest about it.”
Where do you want to see your career take you?
“I do have a job currently, but I’d like to be performing full-time. Continuing to be making comedic videos. That’s something I do love, I love the film making process. Either working with a network, doing a show as a writer or performer. Or traveling in a comedic show, stage show or ensemble, just working as a comedian. I don’t need fame in any way. I would just rather be able to make a living doing comedy. Be able to pay the bills and still eat, feel fulfilled at the end of the day. That’s what I’m trying to get to. Right now I’m trying to pay off all my debt and loans, get my living expenses as low as possible so I can take more risks and go to more auditions and put myself out there more. Now that I’m in this hotbed for comedy that is Chicago.”
Check out some of Patricks videos from Late Night Brewery: http://www.lnbfilms.com
Photos courtesy of Patrick Flanagan