Paul Provenza – The History and Future of Comedy
Paul Provenza came to school me in comedy . We talk about his early years. stand up, his transition to television actor and show host to creating his own voice in film directing and filmmaking in the comedy space.
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matt nappo 0:01
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And welcome my friends to yet another episode of the mind dog TV podcast. I’m Matt nappo. Thanks for coming. It’s great to have you here. As always, just a important little note here. We’re not live, although I’m streaming this live the first time you see it. I’m not really live. This is pre taped. As a matter of fact, that could actually be dead by the time you’re seeing this. But hopefully that’s not the case. Anyway, today, I have finally arranged for the fabulous Paul provenza. To be with us. You know, if you tried to tune in when we had Paul scheduled a couple of weeks ago, we had some technical difficulties, which is the reason we are pre taping today to make sure that none of those technical difficulties get in the way of today’s broadcast. Now Paul prevented you know, as a comedian, a film director and author, all around renaissance man and a man full of respect and insight into the world of comedy. And it’s my pleasure to bring you this interview with a great and fabulous Paul Pimentel. Ladies and gentlemen, open your ears, open your minds and help me welcome in the fabulous Paul provenza to the mind dog TV podcast.
Paul Provenza 3:00
Thanks for having me. Finally, without tech problems, anybody that didn’t catch it the last time My apologies.
matt nappo 3:08
I actually deleted that pretty quickly after it was done. Because it was just, it was a lot of me trying to cover dead air. And it was it was not
Paul Provenza 3:18
that good. Look how well it’s working. Now I have to say,
matt nappo 3:23
I appreciate the effort. I’m coming back. And thank you very much for that. So Oh, there’s so much to talk about with you. And you’re probably one of the first stand up comedians I ever saw back in the day when I was a young man, and you’re only a couple years older than me. And I know you’re from Pelham Parkway area in the Bronx, which is kind of my neighborhood. So I grew up in the 70s and was a huge fan of stand up comedy, but I know that you got started young in it. Right? And so I look at my work and being in that world today. I didn’t know anybody who had the call and composure to do stand up comedy as a teenager in those years. And just the intelligence and, you know, ability to have something to talk about. Talk to me about you’re getting started.
Paul Provenza 4:13
Wow, wow, that’s so kind of you. I can’t believe it. Where did you see me at the improv?
matt nappo 4:18
Yeah, yes. Yeah. And it was like, you know what I, you know, memory is what it is, but it was at the improv, but I think it was late 70s might have been at, I don’t know, it was it was early, it was early and I was out, you know, again, I’m only like one or two years behind you. And as I was thinking at the time, how come I don’t have you know, any friends who are doing it, the balls first of all the balls to get up and do it. But the, you know, most of people who were teenagers sweated when the teacher called them to read out out loud in class and here’s this guy, you know, just a year or two older than us and just as common and composed and professional and it was just like, this is this is for adults. Not fair. People. So that’s what you buy.
Paul Provenza 5:04
Wow. Well thank you for those kind words. But um, yeah, and I started really young. And you know, I started going to the improv as a patron, when I was about 15, maybe with, I had an older cousin, who, you know, bought me a lot of time with my parents staying out until one two in the morning. He was big, big, big influence in my life still is, and, and I would go with some friends from high school. And I mean, I remember sitting there and seeing it was amazing. I’m actually back then even Gilbert godfried had already been doing it for a while. Wow. And I remember seeing any lien boozer and at blue stone, and Franken and Davis and Larry David, just, you know, phenomenal comedians who went on to varying degrees of visibility and success. Andy Kaufman in his early days, you know, when I was very, very young, I had the opportunity of being the victim to an the, in early incarnation of Tony Clifton, which he was doing without makeup or wardrobe, or anything he was just doing as a guy in the audience. And he would Heckle comics and just see what happened. I mean, yeah, I was really young when I started. So I started going to the improv it like 15. And then I did my first time on stage at, I think 16, or between somewhere around 1617. And here’s the cool thing. Back then you had to, you had to wait online, you know, if you an open mic, or you had to line up at like, you know, people would Sorry, I showed up once at like, 10 in the morning. It wasn’t gonna open until 810 in the morning, that’s good. And I lived way up in the Bronx, so I had to slip up subway schlep all the way down to Midtown Manhattan in Hell’s Kitchen. And so I get there at 10 o’clock, and it’s already a huge long line. And you have to wait online and you have to, you know, just wait until they opened up or until they brought out a bucket with numbers in it at like six or seven. And then you took your number, and it was random, it didn’t even necessarily have to do with how long you are online. And it was weird. And so I ended up with a very, very high number, and at about three or 330 in the morning, because they used to stay open till 4am legal curfew, or until the last patron left. So on audition nights, it was always you know, 4am so like, three 330 in the morning, I still had a bunch of numbers before me. And I went up to the MC and I said it’s not my number yet, but I was wondering if maybe you can move me ahead a couple of numbers because I have school in three hours.
and and the the MC just cracked up and he wants your kid. And he brought me up next. And I got to tell that story to Jay Leno on The Tonight Show. He was the house MC Wow. So that was my I was like 16, maybe turning 17 at the time, the first time I went on stage. And it was something that I just always wanted to do since I was a really little kid. I just really felt connected to it. Yeah, I have a lot of theories as to why. But I just always wanted to do it. It was a real need. And my first time on stage was a nightmare. I mean, it was horrible because the three 330 in the morning, all kinds of other Open Mind. And because the improv was at 44th and ninth, which is like poker Central, you know, there are always a couple of hookers and maybe a pimp that came in to have a drink and get out of the cold or something. So it was just a horrible, horrible experience. But when I came off stage after that first absolute, you know, disaster, he could have been traumatizing. But here’s the weird thing it wasn’t I actually thought to myself, I can’t wait to do that again and figure this out. And so then I went away to college, I went to university, Pennsylvania, it was in Philadelphia, and started performing around Philadelphia, there were a few other people at the school. And through people I had met, I had met some other people in Philadelphia that were starting to do stand up. And there was they were trying to sort of a scene was kind of beginning to happen. So I was getting a lot of work while I was in Philadelphia at going to school. And then I would drive up to New York on three day weekends or holidays or whatever or when I you know, had the energy to do that. I would drive up to New York and continue getting online for open mics on Sundays. And within a year, I think maybe four or five times getting on stage. I passed auditions at the improv. So I was back at school doing stand up with my friend And whatever, you know, Penn was a big school so I could put together shows and different dorms and they would be like different all different markets, you know, kind of. And so I was getting all this stage time. So every time I would go back up to New York, I would have more and more experience and more stage time, which the other people do in the open mics weren’t, they weren’t getting. So I rose pretty quickly through those ranks. And one of the first people that I met that was an improv regular, who sort of took me under his wing. And he was a young guy at the time as well, he was only a few years older than I, but had been doing it and had shown unbelievable gifts in stand up. And comedy in general was Rick Overton who still to this day is one of my dearest friends. He was like, he was like, one of the new kids on the block that I was trying to join. And he just immediately introduced me to so many people saying, you got to see this kid, you got to see this kid. And so he helped really bring me into that fold. And it was life changing. So by the time I was 17, you’re well into 17, or 18. By my second year at Penn, they had a rathskeller on campus, which they don’t have anymore, because at the time, the drinking age was 18. Right, which had happened because of the Vietnam War, because it became, you know, it became impossible for them to not lower the drinking age, because people were sending us off to die and 18, but we can’t have a beer. So the drinking age was was lower than so they had literally a bar on campus called the rathskeller. And
they offered me a Saturday night slot every week to do stand up. And I would do like an hour an hour and 15 however much material I had every week, and a lot of it was about you know, going to school and being a kid and you know, being a college kid and all that stuff. But there were enough I had enough times on stage there that I actually could develop material and go back to the improv with material that was going to work. And that I had already worked out and everything so so when I got out of school, I immediately started working at the improv. And then within a year, I had a pilot on ABC television, which brought me out to Los Angeles and I just stayed. But it was a pretty it was a different time, there was just not that many people into stand up, it was still a pretty rarefied art form, you know, what was it like now, and there wasn’t as much access to stage time as there is now and I’m saying that with tremendous affection for them this moment because I think you know, the voices that are coming out of standard I think this is a golden age of stand up now. You know, there was a boom in the 80s. But that was like a boom of the business of comedy. And there’s a boom now That to me is more about a boom in the art form of comedy with so many different kinds of comedy and different voices and different appreciation for different kinds of things. And you know people that is people watching your podcast right now is like you we never had an audience of people who are interested in the mechanics of comedy or interested in what really goes on in the world of comedy or interested in a comedians life outside of what they do on stage. And that’s a relatively new phenomenon that has just exploded and and I think it’s been amazing for the artform.
matt nappo 13:24
Wow, I got I got a there’s so much in that in that simple edge to talk about. But on that golden age of comedy stuff. I’m a little bit torn on that. Because boomers my age, right, I brought up Bill Burr to my friends, and they didn’t know who he was. They didn’t know who he was. But coming back to you being a young man doing this and I asked this on Twitter just the other night, who is a young comics and capital young that I should know right now because I know a lot of people 50 and older. I know some but most of the really successful ones I know are 50 or 50 year old are in that area. And the young people coming up so when you say golden age because they’re I think it’s all a little bit oversaturated what you asked to do with some of this canceled culture stuff, I think it’s a lot of that is young comedians looking to cancel established comedians and looking for dirt on them. Because there’s just so many people doing it right now. So but talk about that, well,
Paul Provenza 14:26
that that’s just a variation of what’s always going on, you know, the younger generation, be it music, be it acting be a comedy, be it painting, sculpture, the younger generation always sort of rejects the ones that came before them, or at least immediately before them, you know, that’s kind of part of the process of evolution that has to happen. And I think this canceled culture thing. It’s just a different way of going about it. But you know in in the 1980s in 1980 Don Ward and his partners opened the car Comedy Store in London. And the it was almost as if a switch was flicked because it was we’re gonna do a new kind of comedy. And they rejected outright all the old school forms of comedy. You wouldn’t find it at the Comedy Store and everybody that was working at the Comedy Store was maligning all the old school and there was basically a canceled culture of people like oh geez, I can’t think of the names but all these stalwarts of British stand up comedy, were just relegated to the dustbin. And it’s exactly what’s happening now. 40 years later. So I kind of always happen that way. It’s different now because of social media and the way it’s all the the how everything’s become politicized. It’s more than just like, Oh, I didn’t want to do material. That’s old school. It’s more politically politicized now than ever before, but the phenomenon itself has always been going on. But here’s the difference between what’s happening now in that regard. And when I was coming up, is that, you know, back then, first of all, there were a million talk shows and they were afternoon talk show. So it was dinosaur there was Merv Griffin, there was my list. There was john Davidson. There was you know, there were all these afternoon talk shows, right? And then there were the late night talk shows, of course, the tonight show Johnny Carson being the king, but also there was Joey Bishop and they were, it was Alan Thicke in the mid 80s. And all these were a million talk shows right? And they would have comedians on, but they back in those days, it wasn’t so demographically driven. So you could be watching the tonight show or Merv Griffin or Deke Cavett. And you could see, you know, the hip new young Freddie Prinze on the same panel with Alan King, or, you know, Milton Berle, or something like that. And so you got exposed to a real breadth of comedy on the same TV shows, you know, they would also do that in other regards to you know, they would have john lennon on but they’d also have, you know, gore of a doll on the same show, all right, you know, and that’s all different now. And now, it’s, uh, you can’t find a show that’s gonna book you know, an old school, you know, comic in their 80s on the same bill with, you know, Moses storm was a young guy that I just saw recently that I think has tremendous down, you know, that’s why on the green room, and even on comics, only back in the late 80s, when I was doing that show, I always made an effort to have, you know, Robert Klein on the show, and Jonathan Winters on the show, along with Bo Burnham and, you know, really mix the generations on greenroom in particular, I also mix people from the UK and people that I had, you know, grown aware of from doing the international festival circuit and stuff. Because it’s like, nobody questions that music, like nobody in music would question, Well, why is James Taylor working with this, you know, young 22 year old bands, like how did that happen, right? intuitively makes sense. It’s about the art form. And it’s about music, but they don’t think of it in terms of comedy. But that’s really, you know, I hope that the younger generation, you know, grows to appreciate those that came before and sort of just just to look at, look at them as something valuable, not something that has to be discarded. I do look at that, like Phyllis Diller has sort of been re captured as a major force for women in comedy, because in the 70s, during the feminist wave, she was sort of tossed aside as, you know, she does self deprecating stuff, and this and that, and this and that, but the truth is, she was also doing what she needed to do to play in the big ball game to play, you know, with Bob Hope and, and, and Sinatra, and all those people, you know, and she did what she did, because that’s what she had to do to make a living and to become successful. But she did it brilliantly. And was hilarious. And she broke down all kinds of barriers
matt nappo 19:02
for women in Korea. Absolutely. Yeah. So but she
Paul Provenza 19:07
was maligned in the 70s as being part of that old school, you know, not on woke, you know, philosophy but, but she actually really did more for women comics than just about, you know, just about anybody. So she’s I like that she’s being appreciated now more than she had been for quite some time. And that’s what I hope happens to a lot of the older generation is that that the appreciation to them really grows.
matt nappo 19:31
Well on that, you know, you mentioned Bo Burnham. Whoa, whoa. That happens. You get in a spam call. Take the call. Yeah. You mentioned both. recently about that, aren’t. You mentioned Bo Burnham. And I think that’s relevant to this conversation because there was a episode of the green room where you had Bo Burnham and Garry Shandling and a couple you know you talk about mixing these people. And I think just to get sidetracked for a moment I think you are kind of you know they have six degrees of separation and then they have the game 60 Degrees of Kevin Bacon. I think in the commodity world they should be six degrees of Paul Brenda because you connect. You connect the world of Buddy Hackett to the world of Bo Burnham, right and everything in between. You guys you just mentioned but that show with with with Bo Burnham and it’s still in my mind, Bo Burnham and I know Gary Shandling was one of the guys on the show. Yeah,
Paul Provenza 20:37
I tried. The whole lineup actually was Bo Burnham. Garry Shandling. Ray Romano, Mark Marin. And Judd Apatow.
matt nappo 20:46
Wow. And so when that when you were putting those shows together, were you hand picking them for each episode and saying this is the group I want?
Paul Provenza 20:55
Yeah, that was really my that was really my sort of creative domain was to put together combinations of people that I thought would be interesting, provocative, all those different things. And and largely, it had to do with, you know, what I know about each of those people. I mean, I did scrap entire shows like they were shows where I had four people lined up and it felt like oh, this is a show that’s going to go in some interesting directions, I’m really happy with that, and then somebody would drop out. And I would end up scrapping the whole show, because it wasn’t the kind of thing we could just go, well, who else is available was an intuitive idea. I mean, I wanted the show to be really spontaneous. I didn’t have any agenda, per se, for any particular episode. But in putting certain groups of people together, I did have a sense of where something could go and whose personalities would match or clash and interesting, fun ways, or whatever the case may be. I mean, that really was the big difference between the greenroom and tough crowd, which was a great show is a tough crowd was all about conflict. And I didn’t want the grief be about conflict I want if conflict arose, conflict arose, but I didn’t want that to be what it was about, I really wanted it to be an example because when I was when I was 1617, and just getting into the world of comedy, it was regulatory To me it was regulatory to me to find an entire group of other people who also felt like aliens in their own lives, who also looked at the world in a different way. who also had a sensibility of you know, when you’re when you’re a real comic when it’s in your bones, comedy just kind of happens to you the way the way I would imagine for a musician that he rhythms all the time you know, you’re walking down the street here dog bark and car door slam, you know, screech, the tie or whatever, it all becomes rhythmic right? Well that’s true for comedy too. When you’re really immersed in it and it becomes a lens through which you experience the world. That same thing happens in comedy just kinds of happens and and walking into the improv and being among a group of people who were in that same space they existed in the world and that kind of way was revelatory for me I it just changed my life and I always even going back as far as comics only which was late 80s I always wanted to try and give an audience that experience that feeling of oh wow look you can be in a room full of people having a really heated argument but nobody’s angry at each other and and you’ll you’ll laugh at some point no matter what and people actually communicate ideas and you know and and and there are conflicts and there are things in concert and I just felt like the experience of being in in a group of people who are you know, that’s the way their existence is was something I wish I could share with everybody and I tried it with comics only in a very sort of primitive way. The idea of comics only was you know, I always want to watch the tonight show but I was I only cared about the comedian’s satiated going seeing you know, the Rolling Stones or whoever. But the real reason that I was watching this for the comedians and and I thought, well, what if we do a tonight show but the only guests are comedians so you don’t have to listen to somebody plug in their book or talking about their new special tour or whatever. So that was the premise behind comics only. And I was hoping to sort of evoke the idea of what it’s like to hang out among other comedians to varying degrees of success. You know, one of the things that I did with that show was I gave he gave the guests the option of doing prepared material and conversation format, which is what you did on the show. If you you know, when you went on The Tonight Show if you were doing a stand up spot and they said okay, you’re going to sit on the panel with Johnny for five minutes, you would prepare a conversation with Johnny, you told me, you’d give them things to lead you into stuff you wanted to do. And that was a sort of convention of the time. And so I gave the comics on comics only, I gave them the option, we can do that. Or we can just sit and see what happened. And some people chose the ladder some people chose the form and most people chose the former again, because they said it was sort of like the convention at the time. But some people chose the ladder and some people surprised the hell out of me every time they came on, like, you know, Judy toll was, I never knew what she was going to do. And those were among my favorite moments, but so comics only didn’t really rise to what I really was hoping to accomplish, which was a sense of what’s it like to hang out with comics.
And then 35 years later, I had the chance to try it at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival, I was given a time slot to do whatever I wanted to do. And it happened to be a very late night time slot and most comics had finished their shows. And I thought, well, let’s see if I can get the vibe, you know, in a live show, of just hanging out with comics after their sets. And then after doing that, for, you know, a handful of shows, and by the way, the fringe is a great play, the Edinburgh Fringe was a great place to develop material or projects because you do 28 shows in a row. And that’s like, you know, a year of development time. And you know, you find immediately the next day, let’s change this, let’s try that let’s do this, you know. So by the end of the month in Edinburgh, of doing these live shows, and I had brought up some some friends who had cameras and some experience in production, they said, let’s figure out how we could shoot this if we were ever going to shoot this for television. And that’s where we came up with the you know, the very sort of active camera movement and the idea of capturing what’s happening in the moment. So when we got down when we finally got a deal to do the show on television, I had always been frustrated because I had done stand up on television. And you always have to adapt to the medium. You’re frozen. Are we still together? Oh, okay,
matt nappo 27:08
Paul Provenza 27:13
Well, you are you wrapped is that it you just wrapped. But I would always I was frustrated doing television and doing stand up on television and watching stand up on television, I was frustrated that what was most exciting and interesting about stand up to me, which was the this idea of spontaneity, and the idea that, you know, a comic can respond to anything in the moment. And just, I just love that reality of it. That’s what makes a live show. So interesting. And I always felt like all that was sort of, you know, gone, when you when you were doing television, and from doing it on television, I would know, they would say, here’s your mark, here’s where the cameras are, you know, you got to coordinate to the production. So I approached greenroom in the opposite direction. And I said, What if the production has to accommodate the comedy. And so I made sure, you know, I, I said, I want all the camera people to have had experience with news and sports. Because we don’t know where the ball is coming or where it’s going. We don’t know what’s going to happen, what’s going to be as I want to be able to capture it all with a real sense of Oh, this really literally just happened. So you know, put the cameras in the audience in the group and made the crowd really so intimate and aren’t, you know, surrounding everybody so that the audience that I also hate, hate, hate, hate. Audience cutaways and stand up shows, I hate them. I hate them, I hate them. They’re hack, they’re annoying, they bring nothing to the game. All they are is just cheap and easy ways to do shitty edits, I fucking hate the gray audience, every shot, if you want to know what’s going on in the audience, it’s there for you to see if you care to look at it. Right? So production style of the green room was also very, very considered. And we had done a lot of work, you know, with cameras doing the live shows and everything. And I feel like I finally came close to accomplishing what I wanted to accomplish 35 years earlier.
matt nappo 29:01
Wow. You know, I there’s, again, there’s a lot to comment on that. But I just briefly going back to comics only because you just answered a very big question in my mind. I remember specifically, I had, you know how you go back to your memories of your old school and you think it was just so gigantic. I remember coming away as as this in depth thing with comics specifically. And I thought, wow, you know, and to me, in my mind, it was always an hour and a half a half hour show. But I go back to the Bill Hicks thing. And the first time I think he was on, I looked at it. At the time, I thought, well, that’s the stolen material. he’s doing he’s doing an album and I just mastered because I was a mastering guy at the time and I just messed it a CD think it was dangerous. And then then he was on again and it felt like a in depth conversation and I was like wow Berenson Difference between his first appearance on and the second one. So he first he had the option to say I’m going to do material that first. Right? I was confused by that, because I was like, the format of the show change what happened here?
Paul Provenza 30:13
You know? Yeah, well that’s the thing, though I had never done a hosting TV thing before most of the comics, a lot of them, it was their first time on television, you know. So we were all sort of figuring things out that finger figuring things out. We also did some really, really dark sketches and things on there. I mean, Fred wolf was my head writer, and my, you know, announcer slash sidekick on the show. So we did a lot of really, really dark stuff on that show that the network had no idea we were doing because we started doing the show when the network was hot. And then they merged with the HBO comedy channel and became Comedy Central, we were already in production, and the right hand didn’t know what the left hand was doing. And so nobody knew what we were actually doing until we delivered it. And at that point, they were like, We can’t air half of this stuff, because the sketches were really dark. I mean, blown people’s brains out and stuff, you know, very cartoony, like, creme, violent, you know, blood soaked kind of moments, but then you’d come back and Fred would have a little, you know, cartoon x band aid and he go, like, I just got a little headache, but I’m okay, you know. So we did all of these weird over the top and dark and weird things. And the network was like, we can’t run this and we were like, well, you already produced them. Why don’t you run them and see if they’re a problem? And it was so not together yet at that point that they weren’t okay. We did 165 episodes.
matt nappo 31:40
That’s That’s a lot of those. So yeah, that’s got to be some gold in there on YouTube. I mean, yeah.
Paul Provenza 31:46
And it’s, it’s kind of a time capsule of the comedy boom, because you know it. Jeff Foxworthy. Judd Apatow did his first TV appearance as a stand up of Bob Goldthwait. Jon Stewart, Dennis Leary. Ellen DeGeneres, you know of one of her first talk show spots ever.
matt nappo 32:10
Read stollery Fred Stoller and Sam Kinison.
Paul Provenza 32:17
Yeah, it was Steven Wright. Again, at show also I did a whole episode with Phyllis Diller. Steve Allen was a regular on the show he would come and do all sorts of sketches with us. Rip Taylor was like our Larry bud Melman at the time where he would do anything and we just would come up with the weirdest shit for rip Taylor to do and he loved it. You know, we had old school, young school, we had old school doing stuff that you wouldn’t normally see them doing. You know, it was great, great. A great training ground for a lot of us. And there’s not much of it online at one point I put up clips but the clips we can’t find the original master tapes. Wow, that line actually come from VHS tapes that my mother made when they were when they were broadcast.
matt nappo 33:16
Oh my god. That’s that’s Yeah, I can relate but because i was i was i a library of master tapes to the perfect storm and flood that I had. And so I can relate to that. That’s a sad thing, though. Cuz that that’s why the history of comic comedy history.
Paul Provenza 33:34
Yeah, but like, you know, No, nobody really cares. Nobody. They don’t really care. I care. Scorsese, Martin Scorsese ain’t gonna step up and do a restoration project on the episodes Komsomol
matt nappo 33:50
here, but I would definitely love to see that film still episode, man, I would, you know, go back and find that on YouTube. that’s a that’s a gym. So you, you obviously have a respect. You know, you mentioned Steve Allen and, and people like that a respect for those who came before and the history. The You know, there is a proud history to the crap, let’s put it that way. But do you think that that’s lost? Do you think a lot of comedians working today have your same respect and, you know, for the history of the craft?
Paul Provenza 34:24
Actually, I don’t, I think quite the opposite. But it’s a double edged sword. Because while I think that most I mean, like you said, you will, you know, I’ll talk to you on comics. And I’ll ask them, you know, like, they may remind me of somebody and I would say, Have you ever seen so and so and you go, No, you know, and it always sort of discourages me that Wow, man, there’s so much to be had by going back to the original masters, so to speak. Even if, you know, it’s no longer their time, there’s still an amazing amount to be gleaned from what they were doing. just soak up and you know, it’s like be like a pianist not knowing, you know, Beethoven. You know, just because you play jazz piano doesn’t mean you shouldn’t know, Bach, you know, it kind of feels like that, and but I really do think a lot of it is faded, ironically, because with YouTube, you can see people that you would never even imagine I love going down YouTube rabbit holes and finding people, you know, in discovering people that I didn’t, you know, didn’t know at the time when I was starting out that I wish I had known, you know, but the flip side of that is, what we tend to be seeing now are really much more original voices, and much more original perspectives. And as much of that has to do with the time in which they’re coming up. It also has to do with the fact that well, they’re not, you know, they’re not just doing impressions of other comedians that they’ve seen, because when most comics start out, that’s really what they’re doing. is a lie. Yeah, you know, even like, like for me coming up, it was, you know, I wanted to be, and this was a really challenging thing. I wanted to be Woody Allen, I wanted to be Robert Klein, and I want it to be Richard Pryor. So how do you find the three the overlap between the three of them, you know, but a lot of us when I was coming up, a lot of us sounded just like Robert Klein, who was you know, at, you know, his his I wouldn’t say peak because he’s had a lot of, you know, he had a long peak. But a lot of us were very, very influenced by Robert Klein, and a lot of us had similar inflections and rhythms and things to Robert Klein. And I think the reason is because Robert Klein, really spoke to us, like Robert Klein was the first comedian to break through that middle class, college educated people who are interested in comedy could relate to it like, well, he’s, he’s us. He’s a middle class, college educated, you know, guy who does stand up, you know, and so he was like somebody that we all gravitated towards is kind of a beacon. You know, a lot of us I mean, myself and Paul riser and Larry Miller, and a handful of other comics, people would constantly say, You sound like him, you sound like him. You sound like him. He sounds like you He sounds like you. And it’s because we all had this tremendous Robert Klein influence,
matt nappo 37:25
you know, well, client as a musician, and I know, and I feel like sometimes I may just overdo it with the comparisons between art forms and stuff. And I like to compare music to kind of stand up comedy and so forth. And I realized that you do it to it, because even in this conversation, I’ve heard you do it a couple of times, you know, talking about rhythms and stuff. Do you Are you a musician? on any level? Do you play anything?
Paul Provenza 37:53
I don’t any longer but I actually was a musician around the same time that I was really getting interested in stand up i was i was a musician. And much to my chagrin, this is one of the great regrets I have in my life. When I decided that I was going to go full bore into stand up comedy, I didn’t want anything to get in the way of my focus. And I literally put all my instruments away in a closet and never touch them again. Wow. And is the biggest regret I ever had.
matt nappo 38:24
I think I think you’re right to do it though. I mean, because I as somebody who’s tried to walk both both of those and I knew that I knew I couldn’t do stand up comedy and and be in a band because it just a financial aspect of it. I have to give up a $300 gig playing music to go work at an open mic night where I’m not going to get paid. It just didn’t make any sense to me. So
Paul Provenza 38:47
yeah, now of course I realized that oh my god, they really one would one would help the other so much whether I did it or not. It’s still it. There’s the similarities between the art forms are unbelievable. And I realized now that that was, that’s, that’s something that I regret for sure. But at the time, that’s how focused I was on stand up that I thought to myself, anytime I play, anytime I spend practicing or playing an instrument, it’s time that I could be writing material and learning about comedy. And I it was, it’s a regret that I have, but it’s the choice that I made,
matt nappo 39:23
right? I think probably one that would help you become a successful comedian rather than being a non successful both.
Paul Provenza 39:31
Part of my attitude Yeah, I was kind of like, man, I felt like you had to really focus you have to be 100% a comedian. So you know, I just didn’t understand that music was not not being 100% a comedian as well. I didn’t I just didn’t know that at the time, you know, but the music aspect of comedy never left me I mean, the aristocrats that movie The biggest, the biggest, appreciate For that movie comes from musicians even more so than musicians get more specially jazz musicians, they get it more than anybody
matt nappo 40:08
there is improv.
Paul Provenza 40:11
And, and yeah, so much of comedy is rhythm and timing and, and also tone. I mean, like, you know, it’s amazing to watch people who understand the difference in levels of tone, you know, people who can throw something away and people who can, whom know when to push something, or, you know, it’s just, it really is like music. It really is. You know, when I when I had a rough cut of the aristocrats I brought it to a friend of mine who’s a composer. I mean, he’s, he’s won Emmys. And, you know, he’s written, composed music for a lot of big films and TV shows and things. And I brought it to him and I said, What do you think about music and, and, and he watched the whole thing, and he said, I think Music We’re just getting away, because it’s already, this is already musical. He goes, I can’t even find a place to drop a note. That’s not gonna fuck already there, as well. That’s pretty, that’s pretty interesting. And that’s why there’s no music until the closing credits, which was a jazz composition by Gary Stockdale who I said to him, Well, if you’re not gonna do any music in the movie, can you at least do a piece to the end? And he said, I think it should have a jazz vibe. And he ended up composing this piece that jazz musicians tell me is a really, really challenging piece of jazz. Yeah. It’s too sophisticated for me to understand just how good it is. But
matt nappo 41:27
no, it definitely is. And I think you’re right about that. Now you’re aristocrats. I wanted to go there because and right before the we hit the tape button. I mentioned to you to Jeff altman said hello, and that he’s a magician now and you kind of looked at me like what the hell is that all about? Now you’re with the aristocrats. You got together with Penn jillette? Who magician I’m just wondering how that came about that you got? I guess he’s comedy magician too. But he’s thought of in the magic world. How did that relationship come together? And was, you know, when, when the seed of that movie start?
Paul Provenza 42:06
What actually happened there was when Penn and Teller, excuse me, were doing their first off Broadway show. Their publicist was a friend of mine, who I’ve known since college when she was a college friend of mine, and she became a Broadway publicist. Her name is Jackie green, and she also has one of the best senses of humor. I spent years going, Jackie, why aren’t you doing comedy? Why aren’t you writing comedy? Why aren’t you were but like, she’s written so much stuff for Nathan Lane. Like whenever Nathan Lane hosts an award show or something like that all his best ship was written by Jackie Greene. She just she’s a natural, right? What her area where she makes a living as a Broadway publicist, and she never professionally became a comedian. But so she was handling the Penn and Teller show off Broadway. And she said, I think you guys would really get along. And she introduced us. And you know, over time, we became friends. And we started to, it became very clear to me that while Penn and Teller often would malign magicians, and they often would talk in a pen would often talk about comedy being, you know, hacky, and all of that sort of stuff. The truth is that they absolutely adore both comedians and magicians. And when that became clear to me, we really started to hang out a lot. And we would make each other laugh quite a bit. And we became friends for many, many, many years. And we would always talk about the aristocrats jokes, I forget how it came up, but we would talk about it and we would always laugh. And we would talk about people that we had heard do it and what they did to it, and you know, and all those kinds of things. And we would just sort of joke around fantasizing, like, could you imagine a tape of just like, you know, 10 comics, telling different versions of the aristocrats joke, it would be hilarious. And I’m like, this thing is like, all we got to do that tape, we got to do that tape, you know, for years and years and years. And then one day it came up again, we were hanging out late at night, I was finishing a show and panatela had finished their show in Vegas and we’re sitting at the pepper mill having a late night breakfast at like, one or two in the morning and and we were talking about it again and and we had both her Gilbert do it. And I think I told him about how Bob Saget is, like one of the foulest mouths ever that it’s just beyond the pale so it’s just hilarious. You know, I don’t know if he knew Bob at the time, but I know, I actually know Bob from my college days. That’s another story. But um, so at one point in this conversation, and I had been in a weird place in my career, I was he wasn’t really clear what the hell I was doing. But I had started going overseas and started working on the International Circuit, the festival circuit and spending a lot of time in the UK and so I was gone for long periods of time, and he was like, What are you doing? I was like, I was doing something, you know. And at that point he said, Listen, we’ve been talking about this thing for years. He goes, do you think we can actually do this? And I went, I don’t know. I don’t know what’s the point of it? And he goes, I don’t know maybe it’s just something funny we could do for ourselves and we could show friends of ours are weird because but he goes, if I commit to this, could you commit to this? And it was so late at night? I said, Yeah, sure.
matt nappo 45:28
Late at night, I love that.
Paul Provenza 45:32
Literally, we went, we went to, you know, like a Best Buy or something. fries or something, probably something that doesn’t exist anymore. And we bought to, you know, off the camera off the shelf consumer cameras. mini DV at the time was the new format. And we said, let’s see. So I called a handful of friends of mine I called Bobby Slayton, I called Jeff Ross. I’m sorry, not Jeff Ross, john Ross, who was terrific stand up and he was a writer on comics only. I called Kathy lagman. And I said, meet us at the improv. We’re going to do this crazy thing. We just, you know, we just want to see what happens. And so we did Bobby Slayton in the parking lot, Kathy Gladman in the parking lot. JOHN Rawson did in the men’s room at the improv. And then emo Philips came in to do a set. And he said, What are you doing? And I told him, and he went, Oh, that sounds awesome. I’d like to do that. So we sat down with emo Philips, and we did this thing. And the next morning, you know, we watched the tape. And Penn said, Well, I think we have proof of concept. I go, yes, I’m just not sure what the concept is. So we decided, let’s just keep going and see what happens. So we would take people and I again, I would be gone. I’d be in Europe, or Asia or whatever, you know, traveling around the world for three months, and then it come back for a month, a month and a half. And then they go away again for another two months and come back for three months. And it was a lot of that. And we would just coordinate. You know who he could set it up to do in Vegas, who I could set up to do in New York, when he was off from his shows, they had to break into shows he come to New York, and we do some stuff, and a bunch of people in LA and all that sort of stuff. And we just randomly contacted all these people we knew that would be interesting and fun to see do this. And then people started getting wind of it. And and then we started going like, well, we have enough here to start calling people that are crazy to call, like George car, you know? So we call George Carlin. And when we told them we were going to do this thing with the aristocrats he went all he goes, you’re kidding me? We said no. I think I have a whole notebook of ideas about this joke. He goes, call me in a month, I want to go find this and see if I can organize some thoughts. He goes, but I love this idea. And so a month or so later, we got together with him. And you know, after every buddy that we shot, you know, we would shoot two or three people in a day and drive from people’s houses to people’s offices, whatever and shoot. And he would always say in a pen would always say anything. He goes, What do you think we have anything here? And I would say, I just don’t know. I don’t know. I don’t know. After every day, I don’t just don’t know. And we went and shot Carlin and we packed up the gear. And we get back in the car and he sits down and he goes, What do you think? Do we have anything here? And I went Yep. I knew that George Carlin had given us whatever we needed to make something out of this. Wow, it though it was so perfect. It was almost linear, how he deconstructed the joke, how he his attitude about all the different aspects of it. And just, it was so professorial that I said, we have a spine, how we’re gonna hang everything else off of it, I don’t know, but we have a movie here. I know it. And so it was George Carlin that made it makes sense for all those
matt nappo 49:03
professorial that is the word I would use to describe George Carlin anytime after, say 1975 I think he started to become and I know a lot of it, he was doing a lot of college work at the time, but he just had that air of being more than a comedian in some way was teaching you something all the time.
Paul Provenza 49:23
He was always he was a student of comedy as well as a great comedian. And that’s one of the things that you know, that I felt I was as well I felt I just love discovering more and more about the art form and discovering more people that I didn’t know about and what they did. And you know, as funny as we were talking about going back to the old school people and everything is it’s like, you know, if brother Theodore or professor or when Cory for gap earning, if those guys were 20 years old and showed up on the comedy scene now they would be regarded as the greatest innovators. It would, it would be the hippest acts in comedy.
matt nappo 50:03
Wow, that’s food for thought for young people who are looking for inspiration. You know, that’s, that’s a good way to go. Yeah, you know, but Carlin, he’s one of the first guys, I think that I can remember. Who was this and then did a complete change and transformation into something else and remained successful that whole time. You know, Can you think of any others?
Paul Provenza 50:26
You’re absolutely right. No, I can’t think of many others. Most people, when they go through something like that they don’t actually come through the other side. They either don’t come through successfully, or they haven’t really changed that much. But you’re right about Carl. And I think that he is a case study. Yeah, for example, that he didn’t just change his image, or, you know, pander to a different audience. He literally changed as a human being. I mean, obviously, he had been changing internally before he started expressing it. But he, he changed from being about pleasing an audience to being about pleasing himself.
matt nappo 51:09
Right? Yeah. You know, and music they call it finding your voice in, in comedy, they often are, you hear it referred to often as developing your comedic character, you know, but
Paul Provenza 51:21
finding your existing thing. Most comedians now that they’re not real characters, right? You know. Interestingly, there are wonderful people there. They’re amazing people who who confuse that issue like Sarah Silverman, when, you know, when she became known, she was really doing a character. And now she’s not. Now you know, the irony is stripped away, and she’s really talking art. So she’s somebody who had a much, much more subtle, not as splashy way is making that transition like Carlin, but there aren’t many more,
matt nappo 51:57
right? Yeah, and it’s not as big of a difference I make from the hippy dippy weatherman, to what column was doing and becoming, you know, influenced by mort song, Lenny Bruce, and people like that and bringing that political aspect to it. Now I’m back before I get out, because I want to talk to what made you want to direct and get into directing stuff. But on that bad idea of that stuff, where we we go from there in the political world today, because in the days back in the day, I hate saying that phrase. But back in the day, you had people like calling and Pryor who would comment on political stuff. You had more Trump before him and Lenny Bruce, and all that, but commenting on it.
Paul Provenza 52:42
I gotta stop you for a second. Because George actually did not consider himself a political comedian at all
matt nappo 52:51
I know. And really,
Paul Provenza 52:53
you look at his material. It’s not really about personalities, or issues, per se. It’s not really about like current events. It’s bigger, bigger treatments of you know, like, Yes, we’ll talk about abortion, but it’s not really about abortion. It’s about you know, the power structure. You know, he wasn’t as opposed to somebody, like a more Saul who literally talked about the news of the day. And George never saw and I know, he’s, you know, I’ve had this conversation with him. He literally never thought of himself as a political comedian at all.
matt nappo 53:25
I get that. And he was more of a, you know, commentate commentary on the government and how when he when he went there at all, it was about the system. Sure, yeah. Culture, right.
Paul Provenza 53:39
And, and, and language and how that impacts culture and society and all that stuff. They’re bigger things than you know, being about the news or being about current topics there. By the time. I mean, there’s nothing that Carlin talked about in any way that you might refer to as politically, there’s nothing that he talked about 30 years ago, that isn’t valid today. Right? You know, it’s like watching bill when I watched Bill Hicks, I’m like, holy shit, this could have been written last week, you know? So there’s a big difference between what they’re doing and what more Saul did and even Lenny Bruce, I mean, Lenny Bruce was a little bit of a mix of both or Lenny Bruce would talk about specific current events and he’ll mention certain you know, people that are, you know, obscure to us now but at the time we’re in the you know, in the news every day, or like Robert Klein’s mind over matter album, the whole second side of that album is all Watergate. Right and a lot of it still resonates but I mean, it was he’ll talk specifically about individual characters like Senator Stennis or Rosemary woods or people that were in the news every day, but are obscure to us now. Because that car Yeah, that neither
matt nappo 54:51
fire. No, I get it. But where I was going with that is that there was a period of time and a comedy is always had that ability to come in. on politics, but now what we’re seeing, I think, which is different is that comedy has become the subject of politics in a lot of ways. And that that’s a really confusing thing for me. And in your mind, do you? First of all, we agree. And second of all, is it a good thing or bad thing? Because I’m looking at this fallout from Chappelle stuff, and he is now front and center a political issue himself. He’s a stand up comedian. Yeah. Now he’s not just commenting on political issues. He is a political issue.
Paul Provenza 55:33
Remember this ever happening before is certainly not in my lifetime. It but it that relates to what I was talking about before how, you know, this is a time where audiences care about comedy in a different way. It is amazing that somebody act can become a political touchstone. I mean, that was, you know, I mean, more was more saw wish that happened when he was doing his Kennedy Assassination obsession, you know, period there. Yeah. But he wish that, you know, things that he said will become political footballs. No, I it is remarkable. It is remarkable. But what it does speak to, is, how the art of comedy is being felt seen and appreciated differently than ever before. I mean, what you know, it just, it just, it’s kind of a fantasy of mine. I mean, I always I remember, many years ago, talking about how boy, I wish comedy got taken more seriously, you know, and, I mean, I sort of met not only as in terms of like news, but just as an art form. You know, it’s like, I feel like comedy appreciation should be taught at universities the same way music appreciation is you can track movements, and artists and art and you know, all that stuff. It’s just, it’s so rich and interesting. I always felt like comedy deserved more respect and appreciation in that regard, and that’s kind of what’s happening now. And I guess this, this is the weird flip side of that good thing, the good thing being that people are really seeing it as an art form that has an impact. And that does matter. And I think that’s disconcerting for comics. Because it’s really hard. It’s a hard line to walk when you’re a comic, because I’m one point. You know, at one point, we understand we’ve devoted our lives to an art form that it obviously has to have some meaning and significance to us, but at the same time, take itself seriously. And that’s one of the really compelling things about comedy is that it always operates in these weird dissonances. Everything about it is dissonant, that’s why it’s it’s it’s a masterful art form to me, because it’s so hard to pin down. You know, it’s a good joke, a pretty melody. Yeah, but at the same time, there’s also all these other cultural and social things, there’s a real relationship to an audience, you know, the thing about stand up is there’s nothing between you and the recipient, even with something like music. You know, a musician has music between them and the recipient, right? how they interpret that, how they feel that whatever. But you know, with a comedian, it’s literally it’s you, your voice, the things you say. So there’s a certain immediacy to it, that puts you in that place where well, if you’re going to, if it’s going to be important to you, then you’re going to have to, you know, take the flip side of that, which is people, we’re going to have issues about what your points of view are, you know, it’s so it’s a very, very, very complex art form on so many levels. But right now, it’s particularly particularly interesting. So I guess to answer your question, I never seen anything like it before. And I think ultimately, it’s a good thing. I think all the conversations that provokes without even saying they’re things that agree with things that I don’t agree with, I fall, you know, personally, I fall on in different ways on different people you might mention or different issues that come up in comedy that you might mention, but I absolutely think that the conversations around all of it are crucial. I think they’re great. I think they’re conversations we should have been having for the last 50 years.
matt nappo 59:08
You know, I I tend to agree with you. But he come back to this image in my mind of me being a kid, my parents were very hardcore, right wingers. I mean, they’re, you know, they were Nixon people. And they were fans of the Smothers Brothers. They were fans of George Carlin, they were fans of Vic Gregory, and could appreciate that comedy, even though they were diametrically opposed to their politics. You don’t see that. That’s rare. Yeah. In today’s world, you don’t see that at all. You’ll see people will, you know, basically boycott any art form any artists in any discipline, because they don’t like their politics. You know, people who didn’t like Robert De Niro who loved his movies all their whole lives. All of a sudden, he says something politically that they don’t like I’m not watching any of his movies again. That’s I think something nil? No.
Paul Provenza 1:00:05
I think so too. I agree with you. I think so. But you know, here’s the odd thing is that it starts to articulate and it’s the first time I’m, I’m trying to, but I think there’s this I think what’s happened is, you know, the news, entertainment, politics, show business, they’ve all become one in the same, right? I think that this is, this is a sort of illustration of that is that well, all the things that you might, you would, you would hope that you would hold a politician, you know, hold their feet to the fire for things that they said publicly, you know, man, now you’re doing it to comedians. And, you know, I it’s all emerged, it’s all become one. And and I think that this is a result of that. I mean, you know, people remember people talking about this many, many years ago about how you know, infotainment was a thing, and how news and entertainment were becoming becoming blurred, and you could see it happening on television, you can see a local news shows where all of a sudden have these, you know, elaborate graphics and things. And, you know, I mean, by the time of the first Gulf War in the early 90s, it was full blown, you know, but this this meshing of entertainment and information and entertainment and current events and news, they’ve become inseparable to me. I mean, what’s going on in, you know, with a lot of these republican extremists like, like bow birds and green and cawthorne. They’re not doing anything government related. It’s all
matt nappo 1:01:36
showbusiness. Right? Yeah. You
Paul Provenza 1:01:39
know, their, their, what’s their political, what’s their agenda in terms of policy, they’re not doing any of that.
matt nappo 1:01:46
They never get into real issues or any of that kind of stuff. It is all like catchphrases, and, you know, bumper sticker
Paul Provenza 1:01:54
culture, and how much exposure they can get to which people, you know, at which point is it going to stick under, you know, get under somebody’s skin. But but it’s not about about government, and and, or governing, I should say, and so I think that what you’re talking about is just more of that, I think it’s it kind of comes with the territory of what’s happened now.
matt nappo 1:02:17
Yeah, good point. And are you an optimist for for, you know, our nation for the world that always stuff because when I look at it, I gotta tell you, I’m a pessimist. But I just want to get you, you know, outlook on the big picture for, for the future. For what
Paul Provenza 1:02:35
it’s worth, and I am no expert on anything. But for what it’s worth, I can’t play anybody here into game theory, and they can actually run these run these, you know, these outcomes. I just don’t see any outcome that doesn’t end in Civil War. Yeah,
matt nappo 1:02:55
I agree. I agree. It’s positive or
Paul Provenza 1:02:59
negative. I couldn’t even tell you anymore.
matt nappo 1:03:03
I agree. I may. It’s pretty scary. Well, it’s all I can say. Yeah, no, I Well, you know, I want to say it’s refreshing to hear somebody agree with me on that. But it’s really scary to hear somebody agree with me on that, oh, let’s move on. Because I don’t want to make this that political, this time bomb when people get on. Directing. And because we can’t you kind of alluded to this before, when you were talking about the green room and getting you had a certain look and atmosphere and all that kind of stuff that you wanted there. And bringing you all the way up to ironwolf. It’s your most recent project, the last shot and Andy Anderson, how that came about and your approach to directing a stand up special in today’s days.
Paul Provenza 1:03:53
Well, you know, it, I don’t have studios, you know, asking me to work for them. I don’t have projects being brought to me as soon as everything I do is really DIY. and I have been friends with Andy for quite some time. And I’ve been working for, I think, a million years now on a documentary about an aspect of Andy’s life, which we’ll get to in a minute, but in the intervening period there Andy said hey, I got some people together we’re gonna shoot a special edition your dog’s house dog Stan hopes place in Bisbee. And he has this little I guess somebody else might call it a man cave. It’s where you know, he and his friends get together and watch
matt nappo 1:04:38
COVID a man cave on the show. Yeah.
Paul Provenza 1:04:43
Because the funhouse and it’s just a little space and it seats maybe, you know, at best 5060 people talk 40 4050 people tops. It’s a tiny little thing and every once in a while, he’ll do stand up shows there. And and he was like, this is where we can shoot it, like, Well, okay, so we got a bunch of kids together who were just out of film school. And they just came and shot this thing and everybody was drunk or high half the time. But Andy did a great, great show. And because it was DIY, you know, my feeling is we can’t make it look like it’s not DIY. And what’s the point of that? Let’s own it. And let’s go, you know, Andy’s a kind of an underground cat. I mean, you know, he’s not for everybody. I think he’s absolutely brilliant. I think some of the things that he does in that special are so challenging, and I think that he’s still a lovable cat talking about this stuff, and just loses, loses, you know, this vibe of, Oh, I just want to hug the guy. You know, he’s talking about the fact that his mother is a rape baby. And and I just, I just, I just, he’s so endearing. You know, it’s wild. And he’s a very interesting cat. And he’s a beautiful guy. He doesn’t you know, he’s not a hostile, aggressive person at all. But he talks about, you know, you can see why he’s duck Stan Hope’s favorite comic, he talks about things in a way that nobody else can talk about. And, and he’s brilliantly funny. But so we just said, let’s see what we can do. And I was like, you know, I wanted all of these cameras to be handheld because again, it was a tiny little space, tiny little room. Yo, Andy needs to be you never know what he’s gonna do or say next. And so the camera work is kind of all over the place, but it kind of feels right for the moment because it reloads literally, we’re not, we’re not trying to pretend that this was, you know, a $200,000 HBO shoot. This was a bunch of monkeys with cameras, you know, shooting a really funny guy. So that was my approach to it. And we had some technical problems. It was a lot of footage we couldn’t use. And as a result, it kind of has this vibe of i will i don’t know you described I think it’s kind of punky
matt nappo 1:07:12
I think it looks like an artistic approach. And you know, I didn’t, at the time I commented to somebody said, look at this, what makes it different than any other comedy special you’ve ever seen. And you brought it up before, but my friend who I was showing it to, he said, right away, he said, you never see the audience’s faces. You see the back of their heads, you never see a cutaway to the audience. And you talked about it before. And that was unusual. I said, Yeah, you’re right. I didn’t pick up on that. But you mentioned the handheld stuff. Is there a steady cam because that the movement seems extremely steady. If you had some really good college hunks with, with strong arms to hold that camera really steady? Or you had a steady cam on it because it feels like it’s got like a magical artistic quality to it. Whether it happened by accident or your intentional design, it feels like that I want to be in this room.
Paul Provenza 1:08:10
Well, that is a joy for me to hear. Thank you so much for for being kind about it. But it really was driven by what do we have you know? And no, there was no steady cam there was nothing there was no every camera was different. So you know, matching the footage is was a real challenge. But as you said you wanted to be in that room. And that’s the vibe that I wanted to create. Yeah, I just that feeling of and that’s why you do see the audience from the back of their heads because again, I put the camera in the audience, I wanted it to feel like you’re in this space. That’s it’s it’s undefined. You don’t really know where it is. You’re not really sure who’s in the room. You don’t know how big it is. It’s just an experience and and it actually looks much richer than I expected it to you know, in terms of the what we had no lights, which is all lights that were in the room that debt, Doug has watches football games in all DIY, absolutely. There were virtually no concessions to any sort of a shoot really made at all. Authenticity is a big part of what I what is meaningful to me. That’s what was the big part of the greenroom as well, was the authenticity of really, truly not having you know, not having planned anything in any way more than just it’s able to get whatever happens. You know, on the greenroom, the Congress, the show starts mid conversation. When the audience is actually you know, when it’s funny because when the budget came down from Showtime, there was a certain amount of money in there for what they call audience services. Which are the people who go to if you’re waiting online at Universal Studios, they’ll say hey, you want to come to TV taping tonight, people go okay. And they show up. And they know what anything about what they’re doing. They’re just, it’s just an event. I was like, we’re not getting an audience service. And everybody that was invited to come to the taping was for my personal email list, my producing partner, Barbara Romans personal email list, and some people who work in on the show and a bunch of comics personal email list. So everybody was in the audience of the greenroom. But 90% of his, they got to bring guests, of course, but you know, 90% of the people that were in that room, spend time in green rooms, right, that aspect of authenticity, that I thought, well, nobody else can do that. I’m doing that for sure. You know, which is why you have this weird thing of like, there’s an audience there, but there’s not an audience there. And most of the comics when they, you know, as the audience, we were seated already talking as the audience came in and sat down. Because we want them to feel like oh, they’re coming into a room. That’s all. There’s a thing happening right now just walk into a green room, there’s a thing happening every time you walk into a green room. And they found their seats wherever they were. And most of the people who were on the show, they knew people that were in every audience. Yeah, cars were real. They were people who you’d find in the greenroom. So I’m always sort of, I’m always looking for what what are the little ways that I can help you know, create an express some authenticity, and and that’s a lot of what went on in shooting Andy special is, is I know, a lot of people will do a stand up special, your people you’ve never heard of. And maybe they’re saying them specials that break them, break them out, and they become big stars from them, or whatever the case may be. But a lot of people you’ve never heard of do Sam specials in 3000 seat theaters. Right? Like what’s the point of that? Exactly? That’s a lie.
matt nappo 1:11:57
Yeah, yeah, exactly. Yeah. And you you’re getting all your friends and relatives to fill those empty seats or whatever to make it work. And then pumping in some some canned applause and laughter and all that kind of stuff. Just Yeah, that’s um, you know, a fanfic. And you’re absolutely right.
Paul Provenza 1:12:13
When we were doing the audio on any special, which again, because it was DIY, you know, we didn’t have a sophisticated audio setup. You know, we had a few things. Greg Charlie, who is on Doug’s team, he did some great stuff for us, but but you know, we had to go in and mix the show properly, so that it just wasn’t, you know, totally like, you know, there’s nothing going on in this thing that’s not professional. But, So Jeremy grody, who did the audio on the greenroom, did the audio on that special? And I told him I said, I want to hear the audience’s comments on the ship that Andy’s doing. Because you know, Andy will do some bits These are people in the audience that are fans of his and you’ll hear them go Oh, Andy, no, please. You know, I want to hear that I want to hear that you can be an Andy fan and still feel those things. Yeah. Oh, that Andy Andy is is he’s even pushing the boundaries for people that like him already. You know, I really I want all that I just felt that that was more authentic.
matt nappo 1:13:21
That’s absolutely true. And that Tandy, I mean, if you listen to his weekly podcast issues with Andy, by the way, you’ll get that every single week as a big fan of his I will listen to that podcast and I believe three or four times during every single episode. Oh man, can you really
Paul Provenza 1:13:40
know? Yeah. Because because he’s so like, not PC, right? But that’s not a fair way to describe him. Because if you watch his special if you watch last shot, like he does material, that’s anti corporatism, he does material that’s anti homophobia. He does material that’s anti anti trans. He does material that’s, you know, some like really left wing kind of perspectives, but those kind of left right things fall away. Either way he does it and then but then he’ll do you know, the story about rape, which is, you know, as on PC as you can get right now, but do you want to hug him at the end of the story? Yeah, absolutely. And it’s not it’s not, you know, he’s not just doing it for shock value. When you find out his personal connection to it as the bit goes on. It just it just fucks with your head. Right. And, And that, to me is some really, really great comedy. Though, it’s like you can’t even classify him as you know, he’s, he’s one of those legion of skanks guys because he, you know, does this rape story or he’s one of the he’s not any of those things. Now,
matt nappo 1:14:54
I think it’s unfortunate that a lot of you because you just mentioned can’t even classify I think there’s a lot of clicking this in the comedy world right now where you people are in camps. And I don’t think that’s necessarily a good thing. Because what you represent to me is that, again, that’s 66 Degrees of Separation prevented, you were kind of like welcoming to so many people and, and especially on those shows that you did where you brought it. You know, Robin Williams and Bo Burnham. That’s a lot to bleep from those two, you know, so you had, you know, that knocking down the walls in comedy, and more than a lot of people are building them up these days. But you mentioned a documentary you’re working on. Let’s talk about that a little bit. And what’s what because people want to know, you know, you say you’ve been working on forever. I know a lot of people have asked me, you guys, documentary waves are coming out, they’re eager to see it for free forever. What’s up with it?
Paul Provenza 1:15:53
When they see I don’t know why it’s very, very challenging thing the story of it is it’s basically the story, the background to it. And ultimately, it’s the story of Andy with the help of Doug Stan hope and a couple of other comedian friends Chris castle, French every they tracked down and confronted on camera, and he’s childhood molester. And it’s so it’s the story of why this matters to him actually going and doing it. And then what happened as a result of it. And it’s really tricky project because it’s a comedy. It’s like, Hi, it’s like, comedy, Mount Everest is trying to make something funny that that isn’t funny at all. Which to me is, you know, that’s the the physics definition of work is you exert a force on something, and it moves or changes direction, right? That’s what you that’s the kind of comedy that interests me more than this stuff that’s like, Hey, did you ever notice when you find funny things that are already out there, as valuable as that is nothing wrong with that, there’s not as interesting to me as taking something that’s unfunny and figuring out how to make it funny. And the reason that I that I can do that with this story is because Andy has already done that, and he has made it funny. That’s the way he has processed this pain for himself that resulted from from this experience in his life. But it wasn’t enough, he felt like he really needed to say something to this guy. And so it’s it’s this, it’s Andy being funny about it. But it’s also me being very serious and honest and truthful about it. And it ultimately is, there’s a lot of lenses through which to see the story. One is the lens through the lens of comedy, which interests me, of course, is that this is really how comedy is born of pain right here. Right, right. The other thing is, this is a different way of dealing with something that’s hard to deal with, that you don’t really have a paradigm for, anytime any anything about this subject is presented, it’s presented in a very morose way. Not that it’s not important. And not that feeling isn’t genuine for a lot of people. But it’s not necessarily the only way to deal with this. And you know, Christine Veen is in, it appears in the movie as well. And she talks about, you know, having dealt with her own stuff through making the making comedy out of it, and stuff like that. And so this is a thing that a lot of people just don’t have a paradigm for. But it means that you might be the kind of person that doesn’t have to look at this as something as morose and horrible as it is, it doesn’t mean that it was an important and meaningful and tragic thing that happened to you, but you don’t have to stay in that place. And so there’s that lens to which is all these different way of dealing with this kind of trauma. So there’s a lot of a lot of levels upon which this story operates. And what I’m just trying to do is just tell this story, with all of those aspects of it being present, right? You can put however you want, but
matt nappo 1:19:16
it’s a challenge to editing is that the challenge is editing all the stuff that you’ve gotten or Yeah.
Paul Provenza 1:19:25
No, it’s it’s, it’s the editing because I’m basically working with found footage. They again was Chris castles and Frank Chevrolet. They were shooting stuff for months and months and months around this. They were just shooting. There was nobody at the helm. It was just let’s just shoot, you know. So I came into the project and the only thing I was involved in shooting were a handful of interviews with some of Andy’s family members and a couple of friends. That that’s it. So basically most of what I’m telling the story with is found footage to me. It started They already got that with no agenda, or no, you know, they had no ark in mind. They had no, they were just shooting. So once again, it’s really authentic, that they weren’t shooting this really with any sort of plan to do anything with it, they were just shooting it, they were hoping they could do something with it. But once again, it’s totally DIY, right? So that’s, that’s why it’s taking so long, it’s like, there’s so much that does come out of the footage that’s already been shot. There’s so much that does come out and to figure out what’s meaningful and what’s important relative to some of the other stuff. But there is no outline in what they shot.
matt nappo 1:20:40
Gotcha. Yeah, so speaking of plans, is there a plan for a discrete distribution when it is finally done? like where are you gonna? Cuz I would think that’s tricky, too, because of the subject matter and what it is we can you add this to and obviously no network is going to touch it with a 10 foot pole.
Paul Provenza 1:21:01
And again, it’s another situation where it’s not you know, it’s DIY, it’s very punk. There’s no actual production values to anything. Yeah. So yeah, the answer is, I don’t know but it’s a phenomenal story that deserves to be told. And it’s it’s shocking how funny Andy is even in the midst of what he’s really really truly feeling very deeply, you know, has affected his life and for the for the worse, even with all of that Andy is still really really funny about it all. And I just think it’s a great story that needs to be told and we’ll just see, you know, a long time ago I decided that I had no career there is no arc there is no linearity at all. I decided that at some point I’m just going to be project to project and just whatever happens happens it’s like you know, I in my romanticized vision of it it’s like you know, I’m I’m in a French ghera you know, French Garret painting a painting or making a sculpture out of found objects or, or you know, whatever it may be and something might end up in the Museum of Modern Art or something might get sold or something might just end up you know, being thrown away when I’m dead. I have no idea I just doing the projects that fall on my heart and this is what I mean. Hey,
matt nappo 1:22:19
I got I got cat so it looks like he or she I don’t know what the he or she but it looks like she wants us to wrap this up. But Tom, that I’m not we’re not quite there yet. likes to be. Speaking of that, I’m glad you went there because I wanted to talk to you about this. And I don’t know I don’t want to sound like I’m blowing smoke up your ass. But when it comes to legacy, and I was thinking about and we mentioned Bill Hicks a couple of times in his program. Bill Hicks is a legend. He was funny, and I loved him. But people use that word legend because he died young. I know smoke again, I think you’re in the same level as Bill Hicks. The only reason people don’t say the Paul provenza the legend is because you’re alive. But they think about legacy and all that kind of stuff. You know, and not just his
Paul Provenza 1:23:08
studio. network or studio?
matt nappo 1:23:13
Well, I do have a production crew he is but No, but seriously, do you think about legacy at all, because, you know, you’ve done a lot of great things and I consider you like a renaissance man, as far as you know, going from, from stand up to author and director and filmmaker and all this kind of stuff and taking your own path. You have your own voice in, in, in directing films to so it’s not like you’re copying anybody. I you know, I look up to you as a role model. And for a lot of reasons. But legacy do you think about that?
Paul Provenza 1:23:53
Wow, first of all, thank you. I’m honored by your comments. And in terms of legacy, I do but not in an obvious way. Like I don’t really, I don’t really know there’s so much out there. There’s so many every day that goes by I’m like, I can’t believe how much shit there is. There’s so much shit. sports news, it was spoken in art and music and it this is so much shit. It just never stops, like how much shit can we have? It just never stopped. I’m a little overwhelmed by all of it. So I don’t really think that I you know, I don’t think of legacy in terms of what people are going to remember being that. I don’t care also, because who cares? We’re just you know, we’re on a pebble, you know, revolving around the sun and there’s way bigger forces at work in us. We’re very self important. I don’t care about any of that. But where I do feel like I do think a bit about legacy is that everything that I’ve been doing for about 15 or 20 years now. There came a point in my life where I was like, You know what? I’m just not as gifted enough, you know, I’m not I’m not as gifted enough to, I’m not gifted enough to change the art form from the stand up that I do. I just feel like I can’t really contribute to the art form in any meaningful way, by doing this thing that I do, you know, if I were Maria Bamford, I would feel very differently about that, you know, if I were Dave Chappelle, I would feel differently about that. If I were you, Louie ck, I would feel differently about that, I would feel like I had a shot. But I don’t, I’m just not that gifted. However, all this other stuff that you’re talking about is, is it pretty, pretty much my own voice, and it’s pretty unique. So I decided that I wanted to give back to comedy, which saved my life as a child, I wanted to give back to comedy in some way, it wasn’t going to come through doing stand up per se, for me, it would come from all these other projects, if it’s going to come from any place. And I decided, everything that I did everything that I worked on, I was doing for me at the age of 14, that someday, some kid at the age of around 13 1415 is going to see this stuff, and it’s going to make a difference in his or her life. That’s the extent of legacy that I think about everything I do. Everything that I’ve done for the last 20 years has been stuff that I would have gone bananas over if I discovered it when I was 14 years old.
matt nappo 1:26:30
Yeah. Wow, that’s really cool. Really cool stuff. You know, as you were saying that I was thinking about something I noticed in like on the internet, you will see prodigy musicians now, because you mentioned 1314, we see I see, prodigy, many musicians who are just like, you know, incredible talent at 45 years old every single day, our music, you know, that’s impossible in comedy, isn’t it to say, where if you saw a five or six year old blowing them away, stand up comedy with that, like shock, shock, you
Paul Provenza 1:27:03
know, that’s, that’s a series Barbara Roman, my partner and I tried to sell several times over several periods of time, tried to sell this, because, you know, most people who are prodigies at comedy are getting in trouble for being good at what they do. Wow. The age of 10 or 12 problem maker, right? They’re not, they’re not rewarded. They’re not celebrated like somebody who was a prodigy in athletics or music or art. And that’s part of it. And so this project that we tried to do was basically about you know, showing some love to the people who are prodigies in comedy at a young age and introducing them to the world of comedy and mentoring them yeah, it’s not something that happens I think because of that because
matt nappo 1:27:58
point I never even considered that but you’re absolutely right they get punished for for being good at what they do if you’re if you’re too good at comedy too young it’s frowned upon and you get smacked you’re a wiseass you’re a punk Shut the hell up that kind of stuff. Where if you’re a musician they encourage you Wow incredible Yeah, incredible insight. Well, I I’m gonna let you go but I can’t let you go because until I bring this up I’ve noticed during this interview, are you having a unlit cigarette in your hand and my mind goes back to you lecturing Bill Hicks about smoking Are you smoking now
Paul Provenza 1:28:35
I’ve decided to commit slow suicide
matt nappo 1:28:40
well you know i by the drop that’s what that’s what that’s what it is suicide by the drop right we’re all doing it we’re all getting one what I just said surprised me to see that that’s all because I remember that very clearly is you’ve given Hicks like some shit for having a cigarette on you. So I’m lit well good for you. Well, I appreciate your time here and I wish you great success with everything nature jack calm by the way to get the Last Waltz. And you know last shot I’m sorry, The Last Waltz that’s another great documentary but it’s Yeah.
Paul Provenza 1:29:18
The last was not that funny. Yeah. Oh,
matt nappo 1:29:22
anything new that besides the documentary you’re working on that we want people know about enough.
Paul Provenza 1:29:28
setlist is back on stage. We’re doing setlist in Los Angeles again. The first one since pandemic hit just last month, and we’re doing it monthly at the improv lab on Melrose. Lastly, the first one we did we came back at Eddie Pepitone and a bunch of bunch of people. It’s great fun. setlist is another one of those things that you know, if I have a 14 hour day, we’ll go crazy over
matt nappo 1:29:59
remar Trouble in that when I when I first learned that you were doing that, I thought there’s no way if there’s not enough comedians that have the chops to just, you know, let the audience pick what they’re going to talk about that stuff. I thought Robin Williams Of course, and maybe Drew Carey and
Paul Provenza 1:30:16
but you know it’s not it’s not the audience it’s not the audience. They are given the premise of to those your viewers who don’t aren’t familiar, the premise of setlist This is a format created by the brilliant, brilliant, brilliant evil genius Troy Conrad. And we partnered together and I took it around the world and took it on the international festival circuit. It’s been here, because this is the thing is that the impulse of it works in any country. We’ve done it in Argentina, we’ve done it in China, we’ve done in Egypt. It’s wild anyway, the premise of it is Troy Conrad, we usually it’s Troy, create a setlist and we give it to the comedian while they’re on stage in front of the audience, and they have to make up the set along with it.
matt nappo 1:31:04
I was under the impression you were polling the audience for those.
Paul Provenza 1:31:10
that the reason that that distinction is important is because what you get from the audience generally is two dimensional stuff. And it tends to be stuff that they are familiar with, like it could be a current events reference or it’s a dick joke, or it’s something that you know, it’s really sort of pedestrian, but what we create for the setlist are more complicated than that. And they’re coming from other comedians. So there’s juice in this thing, if you can find it, it’s up to you to figure out how to get in there. You know, so it’s the topics are crafted. They’re not random at all. Right? So their challenges, and that’s why we’ve had people like Eddie Izzard, get up and do it. And Robin Williams, and Roseanne and to mention, and some of the biggest names in comedy have gotten up and do it, to do it, because they get what an incredible challenge it is, and how fun it is. It’s like skydiving. It’s really it’s so scary. It’s so frightening, especially for somebody who’s got, you know, a reputation at stake. But once they do it, they’re like, oh, man, this is great, right? You know, Rob, bank us all the time for letting him do what he goes and just change my month just now doing this show tonight, you know, Eddie is in the middle of one setlist set. And he’s doing great too. But at one point, he gets a topic and he turns to the earnings and just goes This is fucking hard. And it’s like, it’s it’s, it’s more than just random stuff. It’s a real challenge. And the comedians who do it are brave. And I think they trust us that we never make them look bad. And that’s one of the things we did it as a series in the UK, we did 14 episodes of it for what was sky Atlantic at the time. And we haven’t been able to sell it in the United States. And it’s very frustrating. But one of the reasons that we didn’t sell it, we have a lot of interest, but the American concerns that wanted to do it all want to make it a competition. And we said absolutely not. It’s the antithesis. The whole point is that there is no judgment. You just it’s just let’s see what happens. It’s a celebration of the creative process, not about a victory or a failure or winning or competing. The comics aren’t competing against each other. They’re competing against the list.
matt nappo 1:33:29
In suits ruin everything, man. I’m telling you, they just don’t get it. But I get it. Yeah, no, there’s no I hate competition in any art form. You know, that whole idea of making it a competition? It then it should be sports, you know, sports and things. Keep your competition over there. And yeah, well, I’m sorry to hear that. Because there was a great idea. And I can imagine
Paul Provenza 1:33:58
Angeles at the improv every month at the improv lab and it’ll pop up again and actually TJ Miller was doing it as his closing of his show he did a week at the Irvine improv and he closed his show with like a 15 minute setlist segment every night. So you may be or that and we did a we did a full Rick Overton did a full one hour special in the setlist format which is available if you click over 10 plus setlist you’ll find it online and he’s a Maestro and watching him work is like going to you know comedy college watching you do setlist in particular because he doesn’t have the bit yet you watch find it and
matt nappo 1:34:41
wow hope we just locked up. Big we’re froze up. Well that’s a shame. We’re getting to the point where we’re gonna close up view that Paul Yeah. Now the phone is telling us you know what You guys got to wrap it up we have the people render on there
looks like he’s still connected anyway folks I’ll just edit this out did it the day to day that that that that that that that need to add it there you are yeah there you go yeah so yeah
Paul Provenza 1:35:38
the records if you if you google Rick Overton and setlist you should be able to get his setlist one hour special and watching him you know work is like going to comedy college and also we did we did a couple of them nowhere comedy shows we did one with Gilbert Godfrey where he just Gilbert doing setlist for an hour so that was great. We hope we’re hoping to do more of that with Gilbert. We’re hoping to do a whole tour of Gilbert just every night doing setlist that’s it no prepared material just Gilbert with setlist
matt nappo 1:36:15
what a gift to the world that would be I know he’s so funny
Paul Provenza 1:36:19
and watching Gilbert try and find the joke, right? There’s nothing funnier. There’s nothing funnier even if he doesn’t find it which is rare if ever right it’s hilarious watch try and find so that’s the thing so the audience’s that come out they know that this is a real challenge to comedians and they know that the comedians are really on the heels and so they really they tend to be really supportive they tend to be like yeah come on we’ll pull in for you We know you can make us laugh You know
matt nappo 1:36:43
no heckling at the setlist I get it. Yeah, cuz they’re all they’re all rooting for the underdog, because even the best comics in the world become an underdog in that. Great stuff. Well, I do appreciate your time here. And I wish you great success moving forward. And please let me know when and if the anti documentary comes out. So I can Oh, well, yeah. Well, getting there. Thanks for Thanks for coming. And, you know, please don’t please come back to great and fabulous Paul provenza. Great, great guy, great insights in there some really important things for me to think about there, you know, and what comes across is very clearly his his love and admiration and respect for the art form. And as he mentioned in his commentary on that is, it can be a double edged sword, when you have that much respect and admiration. A lot of comedians start out basically imitating their heroes. And so with that being lost on the younger generation, to some degree, we do have a lot more original voices and people who are able, because they don’t have that influence, to really take things in a very unique and new direction. So I just love to hear your thoughts on it. Please write to me at info at my bookkeeping. I can’t tell you who’s on the next program because this is pre taped, folks. So I don’t know when exactly this is going to hit next at this point. So I hope you enjoyed this program. Until next time, I’m Matt nappo. Thanks for coming. Have a great day and bye for now. What you want round
Transcribed by https://otter.ai