[b]Sean, thanks for doing this interview (especially since I panned your performance in my review). I’d like to start off by asking you what you’d like to say to your critics?[/b]
Remember Marlon Brando? The greatest (in my opinion) actor of the 20th century. And all anybody could say about him for a while was, “He’s fat.” So who the hell am I to get upset over being criticized?
[b]How long have you been a comic? How did you come by this career?[/b]
I’ve been a comic for about 7 years (with almost 2 years off because of illness). I started when I was 23 almost 24 and I’m 30.
I came by this career because I can’t do anything else. Basically I was working at a coffee shop in Los Angeles, they had an open mike, I tried it and was hooked.
I then did an open mike every night for about 7 months ‘til I became a paid regular at the Improv. After that I still did open mikes for at least another year and a half, just to get stage time, which in Los Angeles is a tough thing to come by. It’s like – hmm, who should we put up tonight? Damon Wayans, Adam Sandler, or that new pimply kid from Texas, Sean?
[b]What was your upbringing like?[/b]
My upbringing was a dichotomy of race, class, and religion. I grew up Episcopalian in a racially mixed working class neighborhood in Northeast Austin and went to a very expensive private Baptist school that was like 99% white and 100% fundamentalist. The school in my district wasn’t the greatest, so my mom taught at the private school in order that I could attend it for a steeply discounted rate and maybe get a better education.
So at home people were tolerant of other races, non-judgmental, and middle to lower class in income. However, at my school everyone was driving new luxury cars, were racist in their belief systems and actions, and were very, very, disapproving of other people’s lifestyles and ideas if they differed from theirs. Basically the most intolerant, self-absorbed group of people you’d ever care not to spend time with.
It was an environment where individuality was crushed and Baptist ideology was taught as gospel truth, literally and figuratively. They used to tell us things like gay people were going to hell along with the Jews. Rock music was satanic. Noah’s Ark really happened. Masturbation is a mortal sin. Protecting the environment is pointless because the apocalypse is imminent. Just ludicrous shit based on their interpretation of scripture.
Growing up in this environment made very clear to me the dangers of organized religion and how 9 times out of 10 it seems to lead to more hate than love which if you read the Bible is kind of the main fucking theme – love, that is.
Having been forced to read the Bible about 100 times by the time I was 18 I can quote all kinds of crazy shit from it to go along with anything the fundamentalists want to throw at me. Like for instance, I don’t think the Bible has a very progressive policy towards slavery since it sets out rules and regulations for slave trading. In the New Testament, by the way. I also don’t think we should put to death people who work on the Sabbath. But you know what? The Bible does.
This was the Reagan years in the south. It was the beginning of the new conservative movement and the rise of the religious right. Trickle down economics and AIDS and Jesse Helms going after the NEA. The rise of global corporations and the consolidation of media. The demonization of the word “liberal.” Rush Limbaugh railing endlessly against “welfare moms” and “feminazis.” And people thought it was hilarious. But look at the coarsening effect it’s had on our society and on our politics. All this happened during my formative years. I have to tell you that what’s happening to our country right now I saw coming back then. I just never thought it would be like it is today. So extreme. I feel like I’m back in high school in some regards. Still having the same arguments.
One of the main things this kind of upbringing did or me was inspire a love of debate and a contrarian streak a mile wide. Another thing it did was crush my spirit and sense of self-worth because I thought everything I liked was bad. It took me several years to get over that after I graduated. Basically it made me who I am today, which is someone I like, so I can’t complain.
[b]The show mentions your bout with cancer. Would you mind talking a little bit about that? How did you discover you were ill? Are you in remission now? What was the process like? How did it change you?[/b]
Sure. I had Hodgkins Lymphoma and had gone into what we had hoped would be a permanent remission just before LCS 1. Unfortunately it came back shortly after the show wrapped and I had to undergo a bone marrow transplant. So I spent most of ’03 – from March ‘til October – undergoing massive doses of chemo, surgery, blood clots, infections and frequent hospitalizations. The process was horrifying, soul-draining, and filled with moments of abject terror, misery, and degradation. It reminded me of the boat trip in “Heart of Darkness.”
That being said, here’s the good news. I’ll have almost a year of good health next month, I’m headlining clubs everywhere, and my life has never been better. Read my essay “The Last Year” on my website for more info on what I’ve been up to. It’s at this link: http://www.seankent.com/essays.html
So basically I did what I had to do to have a shot at getting better and going on to live a good, happy, and worthwhile existence.
It changed me in ways I’m only beginning to understand. It certainly opened me up to the possibilities of love more than I had been before. It also has helped me to understand others better and be more patient with them. Also just to let stuff go. But really, what happened to me over those months hasn’t fully sunk in yet and is changing me everyday in ways I can’t begin to predict.
[b]How much of your material is based on your real life? Your marriage? Basically, I’d like to know where you draw your inspiration from.[/b]
All of my material is based on my real life or on people I’ve known. Some characters may be exaggerated or an amalgam of folks I know, but all of it has a kernel of truth. Some stories I tell (no specifics) are absolutely true.
I do a lot of external stuff as well about politics, but I try to make even that personal in some way. Like I’ll tell people I can’t vote Republican because I like pornography, drugs, and the gays. Or I’ll talk about stem cell research in the context of me having had stem-cell therapy to treat my cancer.
If that doesn’t work I just do dick jokes.
My inspiration is whatever comes into my head as I read the paper, watch CNN, or talk to friends, family or the crowd. A lot of stuff comes out for the first time onstage without me even being consciously aware of creating it. That’s nice when that happens because it takes the grunt work out of writing. But sometimes you just sit down and go – how am I gonna take this topic and make it funny? And sometimes I do and sometimes I don’t succeed at doing that. Again, sometimes I just do dick jokes. Why? Because they’re funny.
[b]What sorts of qualities do you think a good comic should have for those of us who are still aspiring to it? Why?[/b]
Integrity. Don’t steal anyone’s characters or material. Be nice to everyone, including the MC, the open miker, the feature act and the crowd. Always say thank you to everyone at the club. Sign everything a fan asks you to sign. Know what’s funny about you, know you are funny, and fuck anyone who thinks you’re not. Blow off a bad set, let it go and move on to the next one. Have a life outside of comedy that fulfills you. Have perspective about how well you did. If you go up at 3 am with 5 people in the room don’t get upset when you don’t blow the roof off the place. Understand that the second show Friday crowd is always tired and there’s nothing you can do to change that.
Don’t use comedy to get laid all the time because you’ll become “that guy.” Don’t talk shit about other comics, it’s a waste of energy. Don’t have sex with comedy club waitresses unless you love them or are really, really horny. Don’t become an alcoholic or drug addict. It’s easy to do on the road, trust me.
Read a lot. It kills time and you get ideas. It also helps you develop knowledge on a broad range of subjects which can help keep your act fresh. Not all about one topic all the time.
[b]In Season One, you had an early departure. What was it like being on the show and losing so early? Did it change the focus of your career? Why or why not?[/b]
Quite honestly I was in such a fucked up headspace due to issues outside of comedy that getting out of the house couldn’t have come sooner. I was newly married, wanted to be home with the wife, and was having some health problems I thought might be a sign of recurrent cancer. So I was in no mood to be filmed 24 hours a day.
No, it didn’t change the focus of my career because I couldn’t pursue my career for almost a year after the show because I was in treatment.
Honestly, I think everything worked out for the best. At the time of the first show I was also very rusty – performance wise. That’s because for the previous year I had been writing for a show, going through treatment, and not going on stage. So when I performed in Vegas I was only on my 5th or 6th set back in a year.
So I’m glad I didn’t make it any farther because I don’t like the jokes or the performances I was capable of delivering back then. I think I got as far as I deserved to go and no further. It worked out perfectly.
[b]How did you feel when you got the call to do the current season of LCS? What’s the experience been like so far?[/b]
When I got the call to do Last Comic Standing 3, I had just gotten out of the shower so my main thing was – I don’t really want to take this phone call naked. So I called them back and told them I’d think about it. Then the next day I said yes, after they explained more of what it was going to be.
[b]Why do you think the show has become so popular?[/b]
I have no idea. It’s not something I’d watch, but I’m around comics all the time so it wouldn’t have a very big voyeuristic appeal for me. I suppose it appeals to people because we all like things that make us laugh and we like to see funny people interact with each other. I think people who watch it should be aware that doing stand-up in the time or way NBC allotted to us is very difficult and that if they want to really pass judgment on us as comics they need to buy a ticket. But if it gets people into the clubs, whether for me or for other comics, then it’s good for comedy.
[b]Is the Season One crew really funnier than Season Two’s? Why?[/b]
No, on any given night any of us could blow a crowd away. I mean, we’re all pros. The thing is to remember that comedy is subjective. Think about Jeff Foxworthy versus Bobcat Goldthwait. Totally different styles that appeal to totally different segments of the population.
[b] You’ve written for several television shows including The Best Damn Sport Show Period and Yes, Dear. Do you prefer writing to stand-up? How come?[/b]
I used to prefer writing to stand-up. Now I prefer stand-up. I like being around the crowds and I hate the bullshit that comes with TV writing. Execs sticking their noses in where they don’t belong, that kind of thing. TV writing is never going to be a lot of fun because it’s too collaborative. That’s why most of it is mediocre. Truly funny things are usually the product of one person’s vision – Mel Brooks, Larry Gelbart, Buck Henry and Neil Simon spring to mind as examples.
[b]Who, besides yourself, do you think will take the title of the Last Comic Standing this season?[/b]
I have no idea but I wish whoever it is lots of success.
[b] You are a co-host of a radio show called the Free Speech Show. How did you come to be a part of that? What sorts of topics do y’all discuss? Tell me a bit more about it.[/b]
I’ve been political my whole life. So I was a fan of the Free Speech Show before I was on it. I actually just called the host, told him who I was and that I wanted to sit in. He agreed and we hit it off and have been working together ever since.
I’ve had the chance to do so many great topics and talk to so many great people it’s hard to pick just a few. But some of my favorite interviews have been with authors Arianna Huffington, Craig Unger, and David Cay Johnston. We also just did a show with former Democratic candidate for mayor of New York Mark Green. He was actually running against NYC mayor Mike Bloomberg on the morning of 9-11 and had some amazing stories from that day.
[b](Author Note:[/b] If you want to check the Free Speech Show out, you can go to the web site at http://freespeechshow.com. If you’re local to the Los Angeles area, you can listen to the Free Speech Show from 11pm – 1 am PDT on 1540 AM!)
[b]What is the one thing you’d like the public to know about you that we may not get to see in the competition?[/b]
That I’m funny as a motherfucker in a club. You may not get to see that to the extent that I’d like because of the time limits and the restrictions on material.
[b]Is there anything else you’d like to mention?[/b]
I think we covered it!
Wow! Thanks so much for your honest and awesome answers, Sean. You’ve just made a new fan. Remember, everyone, Sean can be seen along with the comics from Season One and Season Two of Last Comic Standing every Tuesday night @ 8pm est/7pm cst on NBC. You can also visit Sean on the web @ http://www.seankent.com
If you’ve got comments or questions about this interview, or you’re a comic on Last Comic Standing 3 and you’d like to do an interview too, contact me. I’m at email@example.com.