Sean Patton is New Orleans native who has worked the New York comedy scene, and now currently lives in Los Angeles. His accomplishments include: The Melbourne International comedy festival, The Montreal Just for Laughs comedy festival, Comedy Central’s Live at Gotham, Late night with Jimmy Fallon, and Conan. His album, Standard Operating Procedure, is available on iTunes.
Sean is a one of a kind act. He’s witty, he’s entertaining, and he’s incredibly gifted. Sean is on the rise, and he’s one to keep an eye on. After performing at the Improv, we had the chance to chat with him and his opener, Dave Little, about the comedy life, advice, and dealing with hecklers.
Your fans love you. They don’t wanna stop talkin’ to you. Does it ever get old?
Oh no—it doesn’t happen all the time. But you know, I’m actually a real shy dude when it comes to that sorta thing. And I have had shows where afterwards, nobody wants to talk to you. And you’re just like, “Okay…sorry…” [laughs] Like what am I gonna walk up to people, “Hey! Did you enjoy that?!” [laughter]
And some comedians can do that! I’m shy…I’ve always been bad at that.
How can you say you’re shy when you get on stage and speak in front of people for a living?
It’s a weird poetic twist…stagefright is something I’ve never ever suffered from. But, I still get nervous. You’re supposed to get nervous. If you don’t get nervous it’s because you don’t love it—you’re just tryin to do it ‘n get it overwith. I’ll get up in front of any crowd of people and do comedy, but one on one, I am the shyest dude—and it makes NO sense. But, it is what it is.
You didn’t sell any merch after the show—why not?
Ah I just feel cheesy… And there’s only been one real good t-shirt that I’ve ever seen—Brent Weinbach, he’s great! On the front, it’s a small picture of his face with his eyes closed. And then on the back, it’s a giant picture of his face with his eyes wide open. [laughs] It’s just goofy!
And I get it, you have a bit that you do, you put it on a shirt, and it sells—I understand that. But I just feel like a cheese-ball! Even when my CD was released, I would try ‘n stand out there afterwards ‘n sell copies, but to me it’s like, “You just graciously sat there and let me open up about all these dark things, and now it’s time to…hustle you?” [laughs] It’s like, “If you really want my album, go to iTunes, or www.ASpecialThing.com and get it. And I appreciate that, I love that.
DEALING WITH HECKLERS
A heckler caused trouble during the show. Do hecklers stay angry even after the show?
Na, the only time I’ve ever had any sorta “beef” after the show was way, WAY back before I was even headlining. And it was just a dude who didn’t like my set and he was actively telling people during the show. [laughs] And afterwards, one of the other comedians was like, “You should probably watch out for THAT guy…’cause he really hated you.” [laughs]
And afterward he did approach me and he asked me, “[redneck voice] How long you been doin’ comedy?”
And as I tell him, he goes, “Not long enough!”
And I was like, “Well…I’m sorry I didn’t make you laugh…”
And he goes, “Who DID you make laugh??” [laughs]
The dick part about it was when he goes, “I swear t’God, if I was who I was five, six years ago, I’da waited for ya in the parkin’ lot ‘n just fuck’ju up! You were sayin’ some bullshit!”
By the way, he didn’t have a southern accent, but I’m givin him one. It’s just kinda natural…
[moment of laughter]
So I’m like, “Are you telling me that you’re gonna beat me up? Like what are you sayin…?”
And he’s like, “Naw, I’m jus’ tellin’ you, you’re LUCKY—that I’ve matured as an adult!”
It’s like, “Have you? ‘Cause you’re in my face over jokes.” But that’s fine. You’re not gonna please everyone, so I don’t see any point in tryin.
Aside from hecklers, what do you tell people when they say, “Oh you’re a comedian? Tell me a joke!”
For someone who LOVES being a comedian as much as I do, you would never know by how much I HATE telling people that I am a comedian.
I used to have a really dirty, filthy, terrible joke for when somebody would be like, “Tell me a joke!” I’d tell them—and it was an awful, tasteless joke! I’ll tell you…
Why did the teenage girl shove frozen dog poop into her vagina?
‘Cause she wanted to confuse her mentally disabled brother as to which hole the candy came out of.
[Coincidentally, at this exact moment, someone outside the green room shouts, “Ohhhhhhh!”]
And that’s not even funny! But I would just be pissed off, like,”All right, fine! You want me to tell you a joke?! Here ya go, bye!”
[moment of laughter]
What are some other pet peeves?
The three things I like MORE than when somebody asks you to tell them a joke are:
1) When they tell you how funny THEY are, and how much THEY should be doing comedy. And they get one of their friends like, “[redneck voice] Tell ‘im, tell ‘im I’m hilarious!” And their friend’s like, “He’s hilarious!” And they’ll give you a story that’s like FIFTEEN MINUTES LONG, like, “Ya know, last week, ma car wou’nt start, so ma friend was like, ‘Well les go ren’acar!’ BUT—he knows I don’t have ‘ny money! Haa!” It always ends with, “I dunno man, it was funny at the time…”
[moment of laughter]
2) When they offer you jokes. That’s one of my fuckin favorites! When people go, “Oh! I got one you can use!” And it’s always a street joke that everyone’s heard. Comin up in the South, people would be like, “Man, do you do nigger jokes? I’m like, “[screams] Noooo! No one does! But tell me one so I can hear how stupid ‘n racist you are!”
[moment of laughter]
3) Now, I LOVE this one. When they give you advice. It’s AMAZING! You’ll talk to a person, and regardless of class— everyone from bartenders ‘n musicians to lawyers and doctors—will be like, “[redneck voice] Ya know whatcha gotta do? Ya gotta really have a good character up there! And ya gotta have some good skits! And ya gotta move to L.A.! Where ya live?”
“Ya gotta move to New York! Gotta get in the clubs! Ya gotta put yourself out there! Ya gotta get in movies! Gotta get an agent! Do you have an agent??”
“Okay, gotta get an agent! And ya gotta get in movies…”
And it’s like, “You do what again? You’re an auto mechanic??”
[Dave chimes in]
Dave: Or they’ll tell you what they didn’t like about your show.
Sean: Oooh yeah…like, “[redneck voice] Ya know, I was laughin’ ‘til you started talkin’ ‘bout how women should make as much money as men!” [laughter] And it’s like, “Oh! Okay…sorry…”
Dave: And you wouldn’t say that to anybody else, like to a doctor and go, “I like everything you do, except I didn’t like your waiting room, or your nurse, and I don’t like how they took my pulse…”
Sean: “You’re a good lawyer, but I didn’t like the fact that you quoted that one case—even though you got me off the charges…” [laughter]
Why do you think people act like that?
Dave: Everybody thinks they can tell a joke. In their eyes, comedy is something that anybody can do. If you make it look easy, then everybody thinks it’s easy. But the reason you’ve made it look easy is because you worked really hard at it.
Sean: And have done it forever.
Thoughts on the comedy industry today?
Sean: I wasn’t around in the late ‘80s and early ‘90s during the first comedy boom, but I believe we are definitely right in the midst of a second one. Because it’s fucking everywhere! The internet has just opened that door WIDE OPEN. And you’ve got podcasts and web series ‘n all that. And back then there were only like, SIX channels to put TV shows on. Now, there’s dozens, and EVERY CHANNEL wants comedy.
Dave: But it also dilutes it…
Sean: Just like then, THOUSANDS of mediocre, derivative comedians have popped up… And of course, there’s still great ones out there. So there’s still great, awesome comedy. But the awesome comedy has to fight harder to out-do the shit comedy.
Dave: It rises to the top eventually, but it takes a lot longer.
Sean: Yeah, I mean the way people talked about comedy in the mid to late ‘90s, as long as you were different, people started payin attention.
ADVICE FOR COMICS
Advice for younger comics?
Sean: Don’t quit. I don’t know how many people I’ve met that are like, “Well, ya know, I was in dental school, but I dropped out ‘cause I wanted to do comedy.” Yet, four years later, they’re not doin comedy. And I get it, live your dream. But is it your dream? Or do you just wanna do it ‘cause you think it’s gonna make you famous?
Dave: It’s like, “Why don’t you just become a great dentist?”
Sean: Exactly! The world needs more dentists!
Dave: And we don’t need any more mediocre comics! But if you really love it, then do it!
Sean: But make sure you’re good! Get good! Get GOOD.
What does it take to ‘get good’?
Work. I mean, some of the best comedians I know don’t write on paper. They write on stage. But some of the other greatest comedians I know DO write on paper.
Write as much as you can. I rewrite A LOT. And when I think somethin’s GOOD, that’s when I rewrite it the hardest. ‘Cause I’m like, “Okay I’ve gotten it GOOD, now I wanna get it GREAT.” So I push it a lot harder.
Perform as much as you can—even when it’s obviously gonna be terrible. That mic last night—St. Danes—was OBVIOUSLY gonna be rough—but so what? Just go do it.
What separates the great comic from the good comic?
I think the real thing to realize, take Louis C.K. or Bill Burr—they’ve been doing it for SO goddamn long! With comedy, talent is obviously involved. But to turn yourself into something more—it’s a transformation you hafta be willing to put yourself through.
And don’t pay attention to what’s going on around you. Which gets a lot harder—nowadays with the internet where you constantly know stuff about everyone.
[Brunette waitress walks in]
Waitress: [In a British accent] Is everyone all right?
Sean: [Also a British accent] Yes love, might I have another Pepsi with lime, please? Diet Pepsi…
[waitress smiles at Sean and walks away]
Know stuff like what?
Like as of today, it was decided which pilots got picked up and which didn’t. Which is some shit NO ONE knew five years ago, unless you were in that world. Now it’s just common. And you see all the pilots that got picked up, and the ones that didn’t. That kinda shit WILL distract you.
BALANCING RELATIONSHIPS & COMEDY
This transformation you speak of, does it affect your relationship with friends and family members?
Certainly. My family—it took ‘em a while. I was doin it about three years before they finally came ‘n saw me. Now they’re super supportive. Of course they weren’t at first. You always hear about the sacrfices you gotta make. And yeah man, there were friendships from high school where we aren’t really friends anymore. But it was like: me missing wedding showers, or not showing up to birthday parties, or not going on some weekend fuckin bro fest—all because I chose to stay in town to do sets.
They just don’t understand?
Yeah. And that’s part of the sacrifice. People are gonna leave your life because they don’t get how you can love something SO much. But that’s the fuckin game. That’s part of it.
I’ve had TONS of relationships end. Not tons…more like, three. But to me, that’s tons. [smiles] Probably, the love of my life, my soul mate and I, will never be together because I couldn’t be around. I HAD to move to New York City. I HAD to live there. It was something I’d wanted for so fucking long, and it’s just the way it is. And she’s great, we’re still great friends.
Maybe things will pick up later down the road…
Probably…not. She lives with a guy now. [moment of laughter] And he’s a good dude and they’re happy together. I’m happy for her. ‘Cause the truth is, she just wants a secure husband and children, and I don’t know if I could have ever given her that. But, I want her to be happy. You really learn as an adult what that shit means, man.
What about friends who criticize you for chasing your dream?
Think about it like this, I mean, it’s a fucked up way to look at it [chuckles] but, say you’ve got the friend that’s like, “What the fuck are you doing with your life?!” They’re not your friend. Unless you were dopin up ‘n fucking prostitutes every night, and trying to sell your organs for money so you could pay your mom to live on her couch… Like there, there’s a level.
But for the most part, if they’re like, “What are you doin takin chances lovin somethin so much??” Then it’s like, “Well, clearly you’re not a friend.” Doing comedy exposes who the REAL people are in your life—the people who understand you and understand that it’s something you want. That’s for sure.
Do you still have civilian friends?
My best friend in the world who I grew up with, is STILL my best friend from 15 years of age. And he’s remained my best friend because he’s gotten it from day 1. When I was like, “Yeah, I wanna do comedy.” He was like, “Yeah why are you startin so late?!” And he’s still ma boy, he’s always supported me. When I was super broke, he would pay for my flights so I could get to shows. He would lend me money from time to time. And I paid him back—in friendship. [laughs]
How does success affect friendships with fellow comedians?
I have friends that have far, FAR professionally surpassed me. But, you can’t get jealous about that. If you think of comedy as a gift, everyone gets their gift in a different way. If the gift’s a bike, somebody gets the bike and it’s already put together, and then they just get on and ride.
But you might get the bike and it’s still in the box. And you gotta put it together yourself. And that takes a while. And then you gotta learn to ride it. And that takes a while. But eventually, you’ll be riding. And you’ll catch up—but it’s not even about catching up! It’s not a race.
You just gotta work, and really, really understand that for about the first six or seven years, you’re gonna deal with alotta bad stuff. And you’re gonna have alotta bad sets—which happen at every level. I’m only twelve years in… But I’ve seen the greats have bad sets. But you also see that they’re necessary ‘cause you learn from ‘em.
[waitress brings Sean his drink]
[smiles] Thank you!
COMEDY AS A CRAFT
How do you recover from bombing?
Never let it dissuade you, never let it throw you—it’s hard! I STILL get inside my head and beat myself up and HATE myself, and think about what the fuck I SHOULD be doing instead of this… And then all of a sudden I go, “Oh! That just reminded me of a joke I never finished!” [laughs]
But on the flip side, don’t let the good sets do that to ya either. Don’t be like, “I just killed 3 fuckin shows! I’m the best!” Because then, you’re gonna bomb. And it’s gonna bring you back down. It’s like the inverse—the great sets will bring you high, but the bombs will bring you down. So balance it out. Every set, whether it went good or bad, figure out exactly what went right and wrong in all of it. And just make it all go right.
What’s it like to be a stand up comedian?
It’s work, man. It is by far the hardest performance craft out there. It’s the hardest, most difficult, yet rewarding thing you’ll do. No other art form yields other art forms. Like how many directors and writers and actors have come out of stand up? Tons! Judd Apatow was a stand up—that’s crazy to me! Woody fuckin Allen! One of the greatest directors of the 20th Century was a stand up! I know its sacrilege to bring up Robin Williams to comics, but he’s a great actor, ya know? Or Adam Sandlar—he can act! Chris Rock! People forget about New Jack City—that dude was ACTING. It was no phony role, he was diggin deep!
[Blonde waitress walks in]
Waitress: I was just checkin on ya, makin sure you have EVERYTHING you needed for this evening. Do you remember me? You may not…but it’s good to see you again, so glad to have you back!
What should be the comedian’s goal onstage?
Alotta comedians focus on killing, and I don’t think that’s the goal. I think the goal is being funny. And those are different things. Because, you could have a donkey takin a dump on a clown on stage—that’s gonna kill. People are gonna lose their minds over that! But it takes a REAL comedian to be FUNNY.
Here’s an analogy, think of it as a night of drinking. When you go out drinking, your goal shouldn’t be to get fucked up. Your goal should be havin drinks, hangin out with friends, crackin jokes, meeting a lady, getting laid, havin a wild time—and getting fucked up should be the side effect that just happens because you’re doing all those things. But if you flip it over and just go out with the intention of gettin fucked up, none of those other things are gonna happen, and you’re just gonna be wasted.
So I see alotta comics who just…all they care about is killing, but they don’t develop as comedians. They just kinda go out there and repeat shit, derivative material. They’re treading very safe territory. And they’re killing with premises that DOZENS of other guys before them have killed with.
What do you think of the saying, ‘No premise is unique’?
I don’t 100% agree with that. But I will say, that IF no premise is unique, then there are ENDLESS amounts of unique ways to execute. And if you do that, sometimes you’ll kill with it, and sometimes ya won’t. But be funny. Just BE FUNNY. And understand that sometimes that’s the longer path, but it’s the more rewarding one. That’s the one you want. It’s definitely the one you wanna take. And it’ll be harder—but greater when it actually happens. Let the kill happen naturally.
THE SEAN PATTON JOURNEY
How did you begin your comedic journey?
Well, I dropped outta LSU, and moved home. I found an open mic in New Orleans and started doin it. Stayed in New Orleans for like, 4 years, then moved to L.A. first. Was livin there for about a year, kinda miserable. L.A. sucks when you’re an open micer. It’s the worst. But I made some friends and learned a lot and saw some great comedy.
And at the end of that year, I went home for Christmas, and a guy I knew in New York was like, “Hey, a really cheap room just opened up in this apartment, do you want it?” And it was like, “Fuck it, let’s do it.” I left my car with my parents and I just moved to New York—900 dollars in my pocket. And, luckily this room was cheap as shit. It wasn’t even a room, it was a cubicle. It was a corner of living room where they just built a sheetrock wall. No door, just a curtain. But it was cheap, so it was like, “Hey, let’s do it!”
Sounds like a prison cell.
Yeah! [laughs] But it was nice! Like a nice prison cell. And eventually they put a door in. I remember coming home and being like, “Whoa! There’s a door??” And the guy leasing it was like, “Yeah, figured this would help ya out a little bit.” I’m like, “Yeah! Thank you! This is my door! I got a door now!”
[moment of laughter]
How long were you in New York? And what was it like for comedy?
I lived in New York for three and a half years just poundin it. That first year in New York was one of the roughest years of my life. That city is designed to weed out the posers. If you can’t live in New York, you learn quickly. That city is rough and it doesn’t give a shit about you or your emotions or your dreams.
How’s the stage time out there?
There’s SO MUCH stage time in New York. You just hafta be willing to start at the bottom. Alotta people will go there after performing on the road for a few years and be like, “I’m not gonna do that shitty open mic, I’ve been on the road for four years!” And it’s like, “Well no one cares. EVERYONE here has done this for some time.” You just hafta be willing to do it, to make the rounds at those TERRIBLE midnight open mics that you hafta pay 5 dollars to even get on stage. And it’s fucking terrible! Just get GOOD at those, get the attention of other comedians who put you on other shows…and you just climb the levels.
What was your day job out there?
For the first six months I worked at a coffee shop on Wall Street. Which is the only part my mother ever heard. “[Sean’s mom’s voice] You work on Wall Street??” Like…yeah…at a coffee shop…
[moment of laughter]
What was your daily schedule like?
I would hafta be at work at 6:30AM, which means I had to leave my apartment in Brooklyn at 5:45 the latest with the way the trains were lined up. It was brutal. And then I’d get off work, and just fight sleep ‘cause I knew if I went home, I’d just zonk out. But I was workin at a coffee shop, so I was fuckin fueled up, and then I’d go hit as many open mics as I can, and usually get home about 1:00 in the morning and then hafta be up. It was fucking HARD! But you do it, ‘cause you’re like, “I know this isn’t gonna last forever. I know I will push.” And then I got a better day job…and then eventually was able to quit the day job.
How did you know it was time to quit the day job?
Ya know, everybody wants to quit their day job in a very dramatic fashion. It wasn’t like that for me. It got to a point where I started gettin more and more work, and then I got an agent who was like, “I’m gonna set you up!” And he wasn’t lying, he’s a great agent. So when I was supposed to call into work the following Monday to get my schedule, I just didn’t. And that was it. And there was a paycheck there that I had waiting for me that I never picked up. I was just like, “Let’s consider that reverse severance. I kinda just quit on you guys without lettin you know, so keep it.”
TOP COMEDY SCENES
Your thoughts on the L.A. and New York comedy scenes.
L.A.’s got a great comedy scene out there. So many great comics, so many great rooms. The Meltdown is one of my favorite places to perform. I recorded my album there.
BUT…I still feel, if you’re gonna move somewhere to become a comedian, I still feel New York is the better choice. There’s just SO many stages. And as long as you stay good, you’ll get a chance at all of ‘em.
What are your top comedy scenes besides New York & L.A.?
I’d say your top 5 outside of New York and L.A. would be: Chicago, Austin, Atlanta, Portland, and Minneapolis. But saying Austin, I include the Houston and Dallas triangle. Texas is a really good place to be, coming up as a comedian. Those cities are close enough to make the rounds and get some good stage time.
Working dirty VS working clean.
The truth is, you wanna get work? Be Funny! Have integrity. Be funny. And yeah, you can get work clean. Sure. But you can also get work being dirty. Just be funny!
I recognize that I get up there and talk about some filthy things but I kinda like to dive into the taboo and, while in it, get as intelligent as I can. It’s what interests me. And there are guys who write amazingly clean and clever jokes—Myq Kaplan is one of them. Christian Finnegan’s another. Ron Funches—he’s great! Nate Bargatze—super clean! Won’t say ‘Fuck’ or ‘Shit’ on stage.
But when I think about what interests me, what I wanna talk about, alotta times those topics can be dirty, or taboo, or a little out there. But, that’s what gets me excited to talk about it, so I’m gonna approach it. And if it’s a topic about eating butthole, I’m gonna take it to the most intelligent level I can take it to. [laughs]
Why stand up comedy?
The feeling of truly being on stage and truly sharing your artistic mindset with a crowd, and them being into it, is just an incomperable feeling. And I feel like you could do some good with it. You could change people’s opinions of things. You could maybe open up their minds to new ideas. You can piss them off, but get them thinking about something, and maybe they’re like, “Ya know? He had a point!”
Or, you can just flat out entertain them in a way they’ve never expected. I LOVE making people laugh at things I can tell they don’t wanna laugh it. When they are FIGHTING it, but end up laughing—I LOVE that. Where they’re like, “All right, ya got me.” It’s a beautiful feeling. Use it for good.
We are all flawed. But there’s something beautiful about human flaw. Expose it. I will expose it through my own flaws verbally shouted on stage.
Beautiful. Thank you Sean.
Interviewed & Written by: DAVID GAVRI