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I was able to get a phone interview with indie director and comedian Jordan Brady about his new documentary I Am Comic. During the interview, Jordan proved that he is still a funny man, even if he’s now in the film business and shared his experiences making the film.
I Am Comic is now on DVD distributed by Monterey Media. There will be a showing of the documentary at 8:30pm Tuesday, November 8 at Zanies Comedy Club in Chicago. Tickets are $10. Following the show will be a Q&A with Jordan Brady.
What was your major inspiration in making I Am Comic? Why this film?
That’s an easy question. I love it. I myself was a standup comedian, years ago before I was a director, and no matter what I was working on, people would find out I was a comedian somehow and they’d go, “Tell us what it was like,” “You were a comedian? Wasn’t that hard?” “Did you travel on the road? Did you work the clubs?” “How do you get up in front of people?” “How do you write jokes?” So I thought, what if I make a film that answers all these questions?
So the film is your way to answer this question in 82 minutes?
Yeah. It started out that I just wanted to make a short. I thought I could make my ten minute piece to answer everybody’s questions, but as I was editing, I found out I had more footage than I could fit into a short. And then I started following this narrator around. He used to be a comedian and he wanted to do standup comedy again. So I signed him up for an open mic night. He became the narrative thread, his journey back into standup.
You’re talking about Ritch Shydner?
Yeah, Ritch Shydner. Correct.
Before you were filming, did he want to get back into comedy or was it a revelation he had while he was working on I Am Comic with you?
It happened while we were doing the film. He didn’t realize how much he missed it. Back in the day, he was top of the rock, right. He had HBO specials and he was on sitcoms and The Tonight Show and David Letterman and all these shows. Then he segued into writing when he got a family and got tired of touring and the road. So when I re-met him for this movie, he was just going to help me with interviews. He had not performed for thirteen years. But seeing all of the other comedians and interviewing them and watching them perform, he was like a caged tiger, ready to pounce but nowhere to go. So we signed him up to do the worst possible open mic night in Los Angeles, a true hell gig, a bar with a pool table and nobody listening and the TV’s were on, thought we’d just start him off at the rock bottom.
While filming, did you ever feel like you wanted to get back in the standup game?
Now that is a great question, and not an easy one. Absolutely. Yeah, I got bitten. In fact, one ending of the movie that is nowhere to be seen—well, I have it on my hard drive—I went up at the end of filming, I went to a club and I did five minutes. It was fun and everything, but it wasn’t the point of the film. So I do it just for fun. I don’t do it as a vocation or a buyer to get on Comedy Central or anything like that. I did all that back in my twenties and thirties.
Did you not want to include that footage in the bonus features of the DVD?
I had it as one of the candidates. I had twelve bits that I wanted to put on the DVD. I think we chose six bonus bits. Mine was too narcissistic. Who’s going to care what the filmmaker’s going to do? Give me a break.
Was that your decision or the distributor’s?
That was my decision. The distributors actually liked it.
Since you’re not really doing the comedy and you said it’s just for fun, do you love the filmmaking career?
Oh yeah, I love the filmmaking decision. Filmmaking is a different challenge every time. I make a lot of commercials. I direct TV commercials for a living. But I love standup. In June I did a bit and then in September I did a set, so that’s two times since finishing the film. We’re showing the film at Zanies Comedy Club tomorrow night, but I don’t think I could compete at the Zanies level ever. Ever. That’s Chicago’s premier comedy club. If I try to do comedy, I may fail compared to what the audience is used to seeing. So I’ll introduce the film, I’ll do a Q&A that’s pretty entertaining, but my chops, I got none. It’s like a prizefighter in his prime. I’m like a pudgy old George Foreman selling grills.
You’ve been away from film, working on commercials for about eight years. What caused the transition back? Was it just that you wanted to tell what it was like being a standup comedian?
Well, that was the initial reason, but I’m also like other directors. I don’t know any directors that say, “Oh, I just want to do commercials,” or, “I just want to make short films.” I think most filmmakers aspire to tell a longer story, whether it’s a feature or a trilogy, god forbid. I told myself, I want to do commercials for this many years to really get good at it, to learn it, but secretly I desired to tell a longer story. I honestly started out with I Am Comic just to make a short, just to have and to put on my reel. Maybe put it on the web. It just sort of took over, that desire. Independent film is a lot like standup comedy in that a standup comedian writes, directs, and produces his own acts, material, everything. In independent film, you have to wear many hats so that you get a buzz doing it. Once I started it, I was like, “I gotta make this a feature. I want to see it in theaters. I want to see it in any alternative venue I can screen it at.”
Was it difficult to make that transition from commercials to feature-length film, especially documentary?
I never did a documentary before. I did a little bit of reality TV when I started out and I’ve done some fake documentaries, but I’ve never done a documentary, so it was kind of hard. I think it was to my advantage that I had never done one before because the producers were telling me, “You know it’s going to take like eight months at the least to edit.” I have ADD, so I tell them it will take eight weeks. So we edited it in eight weeks and they said, “You’re crazy, we can’t be done.” I said, “We have to be done. I have to do something else.” We screened it for some different groups and watched the audience’s reaction. Some people give out comment cards and I say screw that. You can tell watching a movie if people are into it or not. We made some changes for a couple weeks, so we really only edited for ten weeks.
You’ve done a couple narrative films in the past. You already mentioned how that’s different from documentary, but how is it similar?
A series of talking head interviews does not a movie make. The similarity is that you have to have a story, or nobody gives a crap. Having Ritch Shydner go back and try to be a comedian, hone the material and do all that, that’s what made it a film. There’s a beginning, middle, and end. There’s a second act where he’s depressed and ready to quit. Then he rises, he reaches deep within, he pulls the sword from the stone that is his desire to be a comedian, and he triumphs.
Do you think your experience with Dill Scallion, since it’s a mockumentary, helped with making a documentary?
Dill Scallion definitely helped me make a better documentary, having made a documockary, mockumentary. There were times when [filming Dill Scallion] you couldn’t really predict what was going to happen and you let the actors do things. You knew you had to cover certain beats because it was a loosely scripted piece and it should be funny. I Am Comic had to be funny. I mean to make a documentary about standup comedy that’s dry and serious and takes itself too seriously, that would be a sin. I’d be shot.
You got a lot of stars for the film. Now that I know it started off as a short, I see why you didn’t get a studio to back you right away, but you didn’t have a studio or major production company involved at all. Were there major factors in choosing to go the independent route?
Freedom, baby, freedom.
Free freedom. If there was even a mini studio kind of person involved, they would say, “Cut that person. Who’s that person? No one’s ever heard of the that comedian.” To me the point was, yes Sarah Silverman and Kathy Griffin and Jeff Foxworthy are all very famous, but a lot of people don’t know who Blaine Capatch is and I think he had a valuable blip that shows the breadth of the working comedian.
How many of the comedians did you know prior to filming? How many did you meet for the first time?
We interviewed about 120 comedians, 80 of them made it in the film. I would say I knew half before and met the other half along the way, but there was always an acquaintance like, “Oh, didn’t you work with so-and-so once on the road?” So I’d say I knew half or more.
With the ones that you didn’t know, how did you get them to participate? Did you call them up? Did you contact them through a friend of a friend? What was your approach?
In the beginning, we called the comedians we knew. Not all were famous. Some were working comedians who had been doing it for decades and still funny, still making a living. We did them first, and then word got out that a couple of comedians—Ritch and myself—were making a documentary on stand up comedy. Believe me, others have done great documentaries on standup comedy. Other comedians have done great documentaries on standup comedy. The Joan Rivers documentary was great. That was just about her. Seinfeld did that movie called Comedian that was just basically about him. Word got out that we knew what we were doing and we did an “inside job.” Two comedians making a movie about standup comedy. People trust us. The people we didn’t know, like this guy Nick Kroll, was a young comedian—he’s on a show called The League and he’s done a lot of movies and stuff—and he was someone I’ve just kind of been watching on the web, I’ve seen him live and everything, but I didn’t know him and he didn’t know me. Once he had heard all of the other people we had interviewed, he agreed to do it. At comedy clubs, I would go like, “Hey, I want to interview you.” Some people, right on the spot, were like, “Okay, let’s do it right now.” Other people we had to call their managers and agents and all that stuff. That was the pain in the ass, when we had to go through the proper Hollywood channels.
Was there anyone in particular you really wanted to get, but for some reason or another you couldn’t?
Absolutely. Chris Rock, who I was told was busy shooting a movie—and he was—but I don’t know if he would have done it anyway. I had a couple of backdoors with Chris Rock and that didn’t happen. Dave Chapelle, for who I shoot his first video for Comedy Central a bajillion years ago, I thought would do this documentary. I tried, I tried. His agent even called for me. It just never happened. I may do a sequel that’s basically stalking Dave Chapelle.
What would that be called?
We Be Comics.
In all seriousness, what’s next on your agenda?
This is my serious, serious answer: I wouldn’t mind doing the Dave follow-up because he did a documentary on himself called Dave Chapelle’s Block Party, but it wasn’t so much of a “documentary documentary.” He had The Roots and The Fugees and everybody. They set up groups to reunite for a big hip-hop concert. I wouldn’t mind following Dave Chapelle around like they did Jerry Seinfeld or Joan Rivers because they’d find out the black experience of doing comedy. That’s what’s missing from I Am Comic. Seriously, I want to do a fake documentary—a mockumentary—with Don Cheadle as an aging funk star. I think that would be hilarious. Imagine a mockumentary about Rick James or Prince and what it’s like to be fifty and shopping for pork chops wearing a long purple coat and heels. I just think that would be so funny to cover it like it was The Wrestler of a glam rock guy.
I’d probably go see it.
See, that’s what I’m talking about! You’d go see it.
Thank you for spending your time on this interview and I’ll see you at Zanies tomorrow.
You’re welcome. Thank you for doing the interview. Yeah, come introduce yourself. I’ll talk to you later.
Kelsey Aicher Kelsey is a senior at Columbia College studying screenwriting.
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