By Zach Schepis
Photo courtesy of Paul Hudson.
Loosen up, folks. Seriously, toss away the black and white editorials and inject some color into the daily mix. It’s Comedy Week on BTR, so we took a moment to talk with one of our very own comedy podcast DJs, the host of Spit Take Comedy, George Flanagan.
Flanagan invites stand-up comedians from all walks of life, fame, and talents to appear on his show and share in oddball absurdity. It’s not another rehashing of investigative questions and answers–Flanagan takes pride in fostering an environment where the studio becomes the stage, and improv reigns between moments of deep bellied laughter.
But in case you are looking for some straight (for the most part) Q&A to wet your whistle, here’s Flanagan on what makes a great comedian, discovering the stage, and what to do when you completely bomb your routine.
BTR: For those of us who are leading too somber lives, in need of a good laugh, why “spit” and why “take?” Give us a little history behind the show.
George Flanagan (GF): Well the name comes from the classic (or cliche) comedy trope from back in the day. Someone is drinking a beverage, and the other person says something crazy which causes the drinker to spit out what he’s having.
It’s probably good we’re clarifying, because I’ve had people ask who had no idea what a spit take is. I actually had one person ask me, “how the spittake show” was going (laughs). Which made it sound like some creepy Japanese fetish.
BTR: Or some weird take on shiitake or wasabi.
GF: Exactly. But anyways, the show started as a monthly comedy show that I did out of a DIY space in Brooklyn called Fort Useless. Back then it was called Spit Take Friday. I don’t know, but I think it has a nice ring to it.
The show in its current incarnation on BTR has been going on for around eight months now. The monthly comedy show went for around four and a half years, and it’s currently on something of a hiatus.
BTR: What’s your selection process like? How do you choose comedians for your show?
GF: I’ve been to a lot of shows and met a lot of comedians from booking shows. For my show, it tends not to be so much answering questions like “how do you write a joke?” or “how did that start?” I think there are a lot of podcasts already doing that, so the best moments for me are the ones that kind of end up going off the rails. It’s more about trying to be funny instead of just talking about it.
I usually go for people that are more animated and absurdist, people that can kind of roll with whatever crazy things I throw their way. Improvisation definitely plays a role; it’s just a lot more fun to get wacky with it.
BTR: In your opinion what are some of the attributes that make a great comedian?
GF: It’s really subjective, but I always like it when there’s a natural comfortability onstage. There’s a lot of confidence involved. That being said, some people will take it from a different angle and have their whole shtick be uncomfortable or awkward on stage. Comedy Central comedian Joe Pera is a great example of that.
I tend to skew towards absurdist comedians, not a guy whose routine is “hey everybody, what’s the deal with masturbating?” Something more unusual and not so standard in structure I find usually piques my interest most.
BTR: You speak from personal experience as a stand-up comedian yourself.
GF: Starting the show was my launch pad to start doing stand-up. It came out of a space that was originally for bands, but my friend and I decided to start booking comedy nights there. During concerts I’d always enjoyed the between-songs banter, and felt like it was taking that element to the next level.
I started going to open mics and began putting together my own show. I usually spend more time booking comedians than actually doing it myself, so I’m definitely not the most ambitious guy in this respect. It’s a really tough game, but I knew as long as I could make my show good I’d be providing a window into this world.
BTR: Speaking to that confidence, was it a struggle for you initially? Or have you always felt a sort of ease performing?
GF: It definitely was a struggle. I’m thankful that I wrote jokes for close to a year before taking to the stage, because man I wrote a lot of garbage (laughs). And I still wrote garbage when I got up on stage too of course. There’s this thing that people do in their head, they’ll think “oh man, this is totally something that everyone will relate to” and people do, but the punch line is missing.
They forget the joke. Sometimes you can mistake shared experiences for what stand-ups do, but it’s about how they spin that relevance into something that can make you laugh.
It took a while, and I’m still nowhere near the professionals who perform around New York City and whom I’ve been fortunate enough to have join me on my show. I’m really just a small fraction of that.
BTR: Let’s say you put together a routine, and you think it’s going to be a huge hit with the audience. You get up there with enthusiasm, but you suddenly realize you’re being hit with the proverbial crickets. What do you do?
GF: For me, and I think a lot of comedians do this, you rarely go up with a whole batch of new stuff. You pepper it in along with some tried and true things that you’ve seen work consistently. You do a few jokes that you know will be sure to get the audience on your side, and then you can move onto the material that you wrote that day.
Some people that are really great can walk into a club and just start riffing, but they’ve already earned that. I heard a quote from Louis CK about how he does theater shows and just wings it. Sure, he’s got tons of experience under his belt, but he also has a legion of fans that want to hear him, that want to laugh. It’s different from an open mic, where most of the people are comedians who are waiting to go up there, who might think to themselves, “well, that was kind of funny.”
BTR: How about some of your most memorable experiences, the good, the bad, and the ugly?
GF: Fortunately there have only been a couple complete train wrecks for me. There was one night in particular that I thought was abysmal, in the sense that it was a really important night that I didn’t want to blow. The details aren’t important (laughs). I remember I was about halfway through when some girl’s phone went off and she answered pretty loudly and said, “no, trust me it’s okay to talk right now.” So then I tried to riff off it, and that even ended up failing (laughs). It was dreadful.
It was hosted by this guy Vince Averill, who’s a fantastic comedian. I felt terrible because he booked me for the show, but when I sat down at the bar with him after it was over he patted me on the back and said not to worry about it. It happens all the time, he said, and it was a particularly weird room. And the audience, believe it or not, is just as important as the comedian.
To hear the rest of the interview with George Flanagan, tune into this week’s episode of Third Eye Weekly,
and be sure to have a few laughs yourself by listening to this week’s Spit Take Comedy.