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Interview Tue Mar 01 2011
Following a sold-out run this past fall, Chicago Meat Authority's "Funniest Comedian in Chicago," Sean Flannery, is getting a second run of his one man show, Never Been to Paris, starting this Friday.
Flannery is both a warm and hilarious storyteller; the show spins what seem like tall tales but in fact are real-life experiences of the baffling number of ways Flannery has nearly killed himself (or friends, or siblings), as well as other just plain dumb things one does when drunk and lives to tell about (don't we all have a Taco Bell parking lot story?). The show also features the only acceptable use of a Power Point presentation.
I sat down to my laptop last week to ask Sean a few questions about the show and comedy in general.
Any new material in the second run of the show?
Yes, there will be new material, but I wouldn't sell it to someone as a sequel or major change. So, if you saw it, please don't come expecting to see a fully different show. I'd say there's a core to the show -- say 70 to 80 percent of it -- that will be the same every week. But, in that remaining space, I'd like to switch around new stories, week to week. Maybe have one week where I focus more on employment stories, versus a later week where I focus more on drinking stories.
I found some old school photos while home for the holidays and might add some school stories (I didn't have any school stories, in the previous run... which is a little surprising I suppose: the show's about the day-to-day costs of living each day like it's your last and nowhere are those costs more sudden and visible than in your academic record). For example, I was once locked inside a car for almost a full day in 20 degree weather after a poorly planned attempt to skip school went awry. I might talk about that and some other really dumb plans for trying to avoid school.
I heard a rumor that the show might have an LA run -- any truth to this? What are you looking to in the future with the success of this show?
I'd like to do a LA run, yes, but I think that will be further off in the future. I think it would be a fun place to take the show, but I think it might need a more proven track-record behind it, since it seems like quality stage time is harder to negotiate in LA. I'm also wondering if LA is as important, as early in the process, as we all think. I used to have this view -- that I think many comics have -- that I just need to get (my) good material in front of the people whose job it is to promote it -- manager and agents and the like -- and then they will take care of everything for me and I only need to worry about being funny.
That view is not really aligning with my experience, however. You still need to do most of the work, it seems, which then makes you wonder: well, if I can book this show myself in venues in Chicago and then possibly book it myself in venues across the US, what does LA really provide me?
I'd definitely like to do a run there, but I don't view it as the essential next-step that needs to happen soon.
Speaking of LA, any plans to move there? (Seems like several Chicago comics have done really well lately in NY and LA)
Yes, a lot of Chicago comics are doing great in LA (and NYC) , all of whom are good friends of mine, and that is great to see. But I have no immediate plans to move there. Maybe in the future (my wife nearly packs the car, ever winter, to move there). Who knows. I would eventually like to do comedy full time and LA might offer the best path for it. But, at the same time, I really love my life in Chicago: the bars are open till 4; there's countless free things to do with my kids; quality standup shows each night; I can walk everywhere; and the people are cool. My quality of life here is very high. But we'll see what the future holds.
Some of the material in the show involves dumb things that happened when you were a kid, which begs the question... have your parents seen the show? What did they think?
My parents saw the show and both loved it. I think every big, eccentric family feels that "someone needs to make a movie about this stuff," so, me doing this show -- while obviously not to that scale -- is a kind of validation of that believe. Them sort of saying, "Yeah, we really were having that much fun, right?" Where strangers are laughing at the stories.
With the sheer absurdity of some of the stories in the show, how will you one day explain them to your sons?
This is a question that I get all the time. I still don't quite have an answer, though I guess, given their ages (3 and 3 months), I have a little time.
First, this question usually comes from young people and I think our generation has this belief that you have to reason with your kids, that you have to believe something, before you can force them to obey it. But I come from a long line of jackasses and the conversations were more like:
"Hey, don't do that!"
"Because I'm your dad!"
So maybe I could try that route: the old, do-as-i-say. Of course every generation of the Flannerys became a bigger jackass than the previous one, so maybe that strategy is flawed.
It's a tough balance to teach kids. I want my kids to realize life is short, to embrace each moment and to follow whatever plan grabs them. But they should also know that, when I tell these stories, I focus on the comedy and not: 1) the sheer luckiness of some of these outcomes -- of falling on to a highway, somehow between all cars -- and 2) the amount of extra work I created with a lot of these events. I'll probably just take the easy way out and tell them the whole thing is a lie. Hopefully by that point in their lives, I'll have bullshitted them enough, on say homework questions or board games, that they will take it on faith, that the entire show is a fabrication, relieving me from the hard work of having to make a difficult point.
I just think it's funny to imagine a kid one day getting a copy of a video of your show and you having to explain the photo of people swimming in standing water in a flooded bar.
I agree, would be funny if they see photos of flooded bar I stupidly stayed in. In which case, I'm just going to lie to them and say, "we didn't know any better back then.... You are not to do anything like that." Never underestimate how much smarter and well informed the current generation thinks it is. As a parent, this can be used to your advantage because you can dismiss all your errors by saying society itself was too stupid to realize they were bad: "we didn't know you should get out of a pool with ungrounded electrical equipment. It was a different time." And, thinking old people had access to no information, your kids will buy that excuse.
Our parents do it all the time, claiming they didn't know cigarettes or drinking and driving are bad -- in the 1970s. Impossible. You just wanted to act like a jackass.
You've been doing Visitor's Locker Room just about forever it seems. What do you think of the role podcasting has come to play in comedy? It seems just about every young comic has one - will this become the new website/blog for comics?
I think podcasting is great for comedy. It allows comics to be in a more natural, conversational state, which I think is appreciated by fans / listeners. I think, if you commit yourself to a schedule with podcasting, it also helps you as a performer by forcing you to develop material and also -- perhaps -- forces you to be comfortable performing with less of a plan (I always thinking having no plan helps people... ...that is probably terrible advice in almost every circle of life, however).
That said, I think the market is getting close to saturated with podcasts, if it's not already. Mike Bridenstine and I once had an almost identical conversation 7 years ago on comedy blogs.
My feeling -- and it's the same for podcasting is -- once the technical challenges are removed -- and podcasting software is now so easy to use; and most computers come with sufficient mikes -- the market gets flooded with people who were only really being kept out because of technical, rather than creative, reasons.
That then creates a lot of noise and it gets harder to become noticed. Additionally, new podcasts often launch with no focus: just a person's random thoughts, as blogs did, which doubles the noise.
Eventually people realize: it's a lot of work; I'm not getting noticed in this haystack; and there's no money- so people stop podcasting so regularly, making things less saturated.
So, while I think it looks like the new blog now, I don't think it will be considered as mandatory in five years, when there's likely a bit more structure to podcasting. Of course, I could be fully wrong.
But, I definitely like podcasting and think it's great for standup.
Sean Flannery talks about beer commercials:
and being color blind:
Never Been to Paris runs every Friday at 9pm, March & April 2011, at the Chicago Center for Performing Arts, 777 N. Green St.; tickets are $12 and are available here.
*When I attended the first of the show run last fall, my partner and I were seated next to a couple that were likely our parents age (we're in our 30s), and they both laughed throughout -- although at the end of the show the mother turned to us and said, "he is every mother's worst nightmare."