Harris Wittels storied in The Daily SundialMar 4, 2015
Moving to Los Angeles with the hope of achieving success in the entertainment business is a dream that many have but not many fulfill. In fact, the many who travel to Los Angeles from out of state looking for opportunity will most likely encounter more parking tickets than job offers now that unemployment has reached double digits. Harris Wittels was one of those out-of-state dreamers who moved to Los Angeles with the hope of becoming a full-time comedian after he graduated from Emerson, a liberal arts college in Boston, in May 2006.
After only a year's time and maybe a few parking tickets, 22 year-old Wittels made his dreams a reality when he landed a staff writing position on Comedy Central's The Sarah Silverman Program -- an opportunity that has bolstered his credibility to tackle even bigger projects. "My love life is (expletive), but in terms of comedy everything worked out too easy for me. I only had to eat shit for a year being a nanny until I got the Sarah Silverman gig," said Wittels.
The working relationship between Wittels and Silverman began at the Largo in Los Angeles, where they performed on the same night. She congratulated Wittels after the show and the two shared some laughs. After that night he didn't hear from her until two months later. "She sent me an email regarding an opening on her writing staff. I freaked out, but a ton of people go in for TV shows and I didn't think my chances were great," said Wittels. "I gave them a script that was written in college along with a bunch of sketches that I wrote. She was interested and we met at Cafe 101 with Sarah and all of her producers. I was so nervous that I sat in my car for an hour before we were suppose to meet," said Wittels.
Following their meeting a lawyer from Comedy Central called him up asking for his address to fill in for some paper work. Wittels was confused to what paper work he was referring to, because he was never officially told that he got the job.
Since then, Wittels has performed stand-up on national TV debuting on Jimmy Kimmel Live as well as sharing the stage with stand-up favorites such as Louis CK and Todd Glass.
He received the Writers' Guild of America Award nomination for "Best New Series" for the work he did on The Sarah Silverman Program, and he's written for MTV's sketch show, Human Giant, as well as both the MTV Video Music Awards and the MTV Movie Awards. When he had time off from working with Silverman, he wrote a pilot that was recently picked up by Comedy Central titled Secret Girlfriend. Totaling these many successes can make the life of Harris Wittels appear unaffected by economic woes that many Americans are facing today.
However, the entertainment industry is not far away from where the banking industry stands, considering the dire need for financial stability. "The economy now makes it hard to get money for a TV show. Advertisers are more careful because of things like TIVO and DVR," says Wittels. The Sarah Silverman Program was totaling a budget that Comedy Central could no longer afford. According to the Hollywood Reporter, each episode from last season was totaling 1.1 billion, a budget that Comedy Central tried to negotiate lower. "It's an expensive show to make, and they asked Sarah to get the show's cost down which included changing the location and other budget cuts." It was becoming a show that Sarah and the producers didn't want to make anymore," said Wittels.
The show was rescued by a strong gay and lesbian following which triggered a bailout from another network. Comedy Central reached a deal with its gay and lesbian focused sister network Logo to co-finance a 10-episode third season under the condition that it could show reruns.
Prior to the bailout from Logo, Wittels and other union writers were up against an emerging media platform that allowed viewers to watch programs for free online with the support of paid advertisements.
Writers initiated a strike in response to their loss in online royalties, which they felt they deserved. During this time, Wittels had a few options to maintain his income, which included joining the strike that would pay each picketer a small wage, becoming a scab (writing under-the-table), or to do stand-up with headliner comedians he knew well. "After picketing for a little bit, I hit the road with Louis CK and Todd Glass." I was able to live off of the money that I had saved from the Silverman show and whatever I made from the road," said Wittels.
Although sketch comedy was his first love, he enjoys stand-up comedy and the freedom it allows through conversing with an audience directly, opposed to sketch comedy where the audience becomes a third party and characters help tell the story.
Stand up also gives Wittels a break from what he does during the week with the six other writers for Silverman's show. He is the youngest writer out of the group which is comprised of writers over the age of thirty-five; however, he insists that they all share the same immature humor despite the age gap. "The most difficult thing writing with the group at first was me being terrified of saying an idea that didn't go over well. Reactions would either include no laughs, or Sarah would say 'well I like you as a person,' " said Wittels.
Aside from the successes, the dark side of comedy for Harris is the struggle to write jokes when happiness seems to be a distant feeling. Although many comics have generated a lot of good material from being bitter or angry, Harris doesn't feel that he can write his best when life has become an overbearing nightmare.
He explained how it is much easier for a musician to write a good song when they're sad verses a comic to write a good joke when they're sad. Much of the sadness can come from the failure to deliver solid stand-up performance in the midst of intense pressure. "Your big first TV appearance, you want to feel like you hit it out of the park, but I ended up walking away from the Jimmy Kimmel show feeling horrible. The Kimmel crowd is an in-studio audience comprised of a bunch of Hollywood tourist. I hadn't been on the road and I just think that I may have done the show too early," said Wittels.
After failing on a big TV show Harris quit comedy for a good two or three weeks until he could no longer resist what gave him purpose. "I wish my parents weren't so supportive of my comedy career, because those are always the success stories-like the clarinet player whose parents won't let them play," said Wittels. "And they have to sneak out to jazz clubs at two in the morning just to get there fix. Those people end up being the best." However my parents were very supportive, and they love the show." According to Harris, "having success in comedy is best when everything is done yourself and being relentless about pursuing the craft." People aren't going to higher someone that's just funny, they want to see a funny piece of work.
DERRICK Comedy's Donald Glover in Source.comMar 4, 2015
Donald Glover is a comedian who's on the come up. He was a writer for NBC's hit comedy 30 Rock and his viral videos with comedy group Derrick Comedy get millions of hits on youtube. This Fall, he's gearing up for the release of his first feature film Mystery Team and a starring role on a new NBC show called Community. The Source caught up with Don to talk about doing comedy, his new projects and his passion for hip hop.
What inspired you to pursue comedy?
Uhh I was really into cartoons as a kid and... I saw Eddie Murphy Delirious and thought "I gotta do that." I was like, that's my... that's my future.
What was the first step you took towards that?
I was actually at a performing arts high school. I guess before that, as a kid, I used to do these talent shows. I would do this stuff with puppets and I was like a ventriloquist and it was weird. After that I went into performing arts high schools and studied plays and got into that. When I started writing plays I realized they were really short and they were like sketches, like stuff you would see on Chappelle show so I started following that.
Then, you got to the UCB (Upright Citizens Brigade Theatre) and hooked up with Derrick Comedy?
Well, I met the rest of Derrick at NYU actually. Except for Meggy McFadden who is our producer. She went to Fordham. She was dating, Dan, our director. I met the rest of them at NYU and we were in a group called Hammerkatz together. We started making stuff together on our off time, Dan would direct it and we would write it.
You guys have some pretty crazy camera cuts and angles...
Yeah our director, Dan, was always big on the quality of the film. When our internet thing was starting, he said they should be shot like short films. That's why a lot of the angles are like that, he said they should be shot like feature films and not like we didn't care about it.
You guys have a Hip Hop sketch, can you tell us what inspired that?
At Derrick, we're a bunch of hip hop heads. We love hip hop. We're crazy about Kanye, crazy about Lil Wayne. That's all we talk about (laughs). So, we always wanted to do something like that, it just kinda seemed like second nature. A lot of people in NY that will come up to you on the street like "ay man, you like hip hop? You like hip hop dawg?" It's like what do those guys want. They offer you stuff and I'm just like, "if you really like hip hop man? Yo I got Jay-z's body."
Yeah, so we're big hip hop heads. We love biggie, Jay-z, you know Outkast. Because I'm from the South.
You guys made the jump from youtube sketches to a full-length feature film called Mystery Team, how's that doing right now?
Yeah, it's a feature film, full-length. It's coming out late summer or early fall, around October. It will be out in theatres and we're really excited about it. We'll be on tour before that too, promoting it.
Who picked it up?
Word, that's official. How about 30 Rock (Donald was a writer on the show), how'd you get that gig?
You know, I was lucky. I just graduated and I didn't know what I was going to do. I get this e-mail from the executive producer of the show, David Miner. He asks me if I have any stuff and I said "yeah" I had written a couple spec scripts and some sketches. I turned those in. I met with Tina Fey and Robert Carlock and I got the job. I was very lucky.
You were there from the beginning?
Yeah, I was there at the very beginning.
What are some things that we can credit specifically to you?
I guess the biggest thing is, Kenneth from 30 Rock is from Stone Mountain, 'cause I'm from Stone Mountain. They say "oh, that sounds real country", but Stone Mountain is actually pretty suburban. It doesn't have pig farms, used to have a cow farm but now that's a middle school. So they make it sound real country on the show. I was also very happy about them going to The Source Awards in the first season. I pitched the idea around that and I was glad that they did.
Word, I saw that. The Source was on 30 Rock! What about Tracy Morgan, it's no secret that he's known to say some wild shit. You have any stories?
The first day I met him. He's like "hey man, you got long hair man." I was like, "aw thanks man". He's like, "you wanna make dreads? What you do is, you get your girl pregnant and you take part of the placenta and rub it in your hair."
Wow. (laughs) First thing he ever said to you?
First interaction I had with him. Dude is nuts. He's really funny though, that's my man.
Can you tell us about your new gig on the show Community?
It's a show that's coming out on NBC this Fall. I play a football player that breaks both of his shoulders doing a keg stand. It's really funny show, Joel McHale's hilarious, all those guys are really funny and I'm just happy to be on it.
Cool. Let's talk about your rapping. I heard the Sick Boi mixtape. I thought it would be all jokes but it's pretty legit stuff.
Yeah, I just did that for fun. A lot of people are like, "this is actually pretty good." I wanted it to be somewhat funny but the more I did it the more I thought "I'll do this for real." I never really wanted it to be a comedy album. I make beats for fun and I wanted to use them. DC from Derrick he raps too, so I put him on a track once in a while. MC Chris and those guys. A lot of comedians who actually rap for real and don't do joke raps. I love that stuff but personally, I want to do stuff that can be funny but we're always about being versatile and can go anywhere. Even with our comedy, it can be very dark and very scary but very funny. We want to do stuff that can do both things at the same time. If you label it a funny rap nobody's going to take it seriously. If you find funny things in it, y'know, more power to you. Either way, you're listening to it which makes me happy.
You mentioned a lot of comedians rap? Who else?
Well, MC Chris, he's a rapper. He's been around for a while and tours as a rapper. He was a comedian and used to do stuff at the Upright Citizens Brigade. He used to be on Aqua Force Hunger Team a lot, Sealab 2021. He's a comedian. DC from Derrick Comedy. A lot of the guys from UCB have a love for it. You look at Lonely Island, they obviously have a true love for hip hop and they do what they like. I feel like comedians we kind of share that. Jay-z makes references to Delirious and Chappelle... there's an actual mutual love and respect.
Childish Gambino. Where you come up with that name?
That's my Wu-tang name. If you put my name, Donald Glover, into an online Wu-tang generator, my name is Childish Gambino.
(laughs) That's pretty dope man. Are you going to put out an official LP anytime soon?
I'll have the next one coming out called Poindexter. It should be out within a month or two. I'm dropping a mixtape first in a couple of weeks. It'll be free online and people can download it. It'll be done and I'm very excited about it.
What are some of the funniest moments in hip hop to you?
I guess, Kanye's mullet. (laughs) Nah. Let me think.. It's weird because the thing about hip hop is everyone's supposed to be so serious all the time. Hmmm.. Oohh, when Dave Chappelle plays 2pac, who died years ago and he's still putting out new shit. That's.. fucking great.
Check Donald's blog at IamDonald.com and check out more hilarious sketches at Derrick Comedy's site at: derrickcomedy.com
Nate Dern, From UCBComedy's American Apparel, Everyday Sexy video, in HeebMagazine.comMar 4, 2015
Nate Dern: The Heeb Interview
Some of you may know Nate Dern as the lovable nerd who made it all the way to the finals on reality show Beauty and the Geek. At Heeb, we know him as the dude who played Dov Charney in that awesome Upright Citizens Brigade sketch (click on the link if you have retrograde amnesia and can't recall a post we did, like, two days ago). Dern is a razor-sharp actor, comedian, writer and video maker from Brooklyn, out to make his bones in the big city-presumably by expertly embodying Jewish douchebags. He recently talked with Heeb about Charney, his reality TV days and deep-neck Vs.
You recently appeared as Dov Charney in an Upright Citizens Brigade sketch. What did you do to get into character?
I watched videos of Dov online. I watched one called Chasing Dov about 50 times. I spent one night listening to Dov say a sentence, then I'd pause and try saying the sentence like he did, complete with gesticulations and intonations. Dov speaks with this flowing rhythm, where he builds and slows at unexpected times. That was fun to try and imitate. I think that by the end of the night my girlfriend was ready to kick me out of the apartment.
Why was Charney chosen as an object of ridicule? (Was it because of the deep-neck Vs?) Were you involved at all in the conception of the sketch? Or did you just act in it?
My friend Todd Bieber conceived of, wrote, and directed the video. I think that Todd chose Dov and American Apparel because it was something that was widely recognizable, but that hadn't really been ridiculed in this particular way. We saw a few other parody videos of Dov out there, and most of them portrayed Dov as being mean. We wanted to stay away from that and try to do something new and more genuine. I don't agree with his views on feminism, but I also don't think that he is a mean-spirited guy by any means. He loves what he does and seems to be enthusiastic and jazzed about what he is doing most of the time. I think that Will Hines, who plays the male 'middle America' model in the video and also produced the video, said it best. After watching an online interview with Dov, Will turned to me and said, 'I've had more self doubts in the last 10 minutes than that man has had in his entire life.' The man loves what he is doing and really believes in himself, which is admirable. I guess we wanted to stay true to that while trying to focus on the ridiculousness of the 'everyday sexy' concept.
Do you own any articles of clothing from American Apparel?
I do actually. In fact, I'm wearing an American Apparel shirt right now, and I think that I was the only actor in the video who didn't have to be given any additional pieces of clothing because I had a full American Apparel outfit in my current wardrobe. When Todd approached me to be in the video and before I really knew what it was all about, I told him that I had to confess that I actually owned a few American Apparel garments, but he replied by saying that he wasn't against American Apparel. American Apparel treats their factory employees relatively well, pays them a minimum wage and is fighting for immigrant rights in Los Angeles. Plus, who doesn't love a nice deep-neck V?
I know I do. How did you get involved with UCB?
When I was a freshman in college in 2003 or so I went to New York with my college improv team to see a show at the UCB theater. We saw The Swarm, a team that now holds legend status amongst the UCB community. At the time I remember being completely blown away and just being like, 'Woah, I didn't know that this was something that could be done. I want to be a part of this.' When it is done well, long-form improv comedy is one of the most beautiful, wonderful things that a human being can take part in, and I think that the UCBT is the best improv theater in the world. I moved to New York specifically with the goal of taking classes and eventually performing at the UCB. I took my first UCB class about a year and a half ago with Bobby Moynihan (of SNL) and Charlie Todd (of Improv Everywhere) and have taken a bunch since then. I'm not on a house improv team, but I recently found out that I was chosen to be an actor on one of the house sketch teams, Thunder Gultch. I'll be performing with them at upcoming Maude Nights. Keep an eye out. The UCB has shows seven nights a week and they're all fantastic.
Do you have a day job as well?
No. You guys hiring?
Ha! From reality star to Heeb intern, perhaps? That kind of feeds into my next question, actually. I guess you could say that you got your start on Beauty and the Geek-has that helped with your career?
It is hard to say if it has helped. I don't think I know yet. When people find out that you've been on a reality television show, it certainly evokes a reaction most of the time. I can tell people that I once nearly died from a parasite that I contracted while traveling alone in Morocco and they won't really bat an eyelash, but mention TV and people get interested and start asking questions. I guess that makes sense. So I suppose it gives me a little something extra, but I don't think that it has really helped in a big way. I don't have a legit agent or anything. I tried to get an agent right after the show aired, but not a single agency would return my calls or e-mails. Reality TV shows are so prevalent these days, I don't think it carries too much weight. Sometimes I'm worried that it actually might hurt my career, stain me as a 'reality television' persona and thus not actually talented or intelligent. Ultimately, though, I don't think it will really matter too much. If I'm good and I work hard, I'll find success. If I do or don't make it in comedy, it wasn't because of Beauty and the Geek.
What have you been up to since you got to New York? Have you done a lot of stand-up? Or has most of your energy gone into producing sketches for the web/TV? What have you been working on lately?
I used to do stand-up a few times a week, but lately my creative energy has mostly been devoted to improv, editing videos for UCBcomedy.com, and working on my weekly vlog, Quarterlife Pounder, where I answer questions submitted by viewers. You should submit a question.
I'll have to do that. Or our readers should. You hear that, readers? Well, here's my last question (for this interview at least). You recently got your master's from Cambridge University, how has this helped with your comedy? Did intensive film studies help you better channel the complicated soul that is Dov Charney?
I'd like to think that there is no area in my life that my intensive film studies don't help, but I'm not sure if that is actually the case. I think that Dov would make an interesting subject for a film, documentary or fiction. I'd want to see that.