"Do you want insight or do you want funny?" Dylan Brody asked at the beginning of our conversation. His new stand-up comedy special is filled with both.
Brody began as a "machine gun comic," firing off an average of four laugh lines per minute. He wrote for Jay Leno, opened for David Sedaris, and was dubbed "brilliant" by Robin Williams.
Now Brody is more of a storyteller, a self-described "artful anecdotalist." "Dylan Brody's Driving Hollywood," premiering February 14, 2017 on NextUPComedy, is a very funny and beautifully constructed series of autobiographical tales ranging from his wildly ambitious second grade theatrical production to discussing collective nouns in a phone call with his mother, to a hopeful drive to meet with someone who could give him a career boost. He weaves them together so that by the end they are all connected and they illuminate each other.
Brody said he began "reverse engineering" jokes as a child, watching George Carlin on television and later he toured for 15 years doing stand-up. He learned that for a "machine gun comic," virtually everything you say on stage must be either set up or punch line "and there are all kinds of ways of disguising that so that the audience can again when you begin speaking after a laugh suspend disbelief and believe that they are following your thought before you take them by surprise with another punch line. But it's exhausting and though there are some comics who do it brilliantly, for me it's a pace of comedic delivery that seems to me ultimately unnatural and contrived. When I was doing the road I was meeting the 4 to 1 laugh per minute ratio. It was joke on a joke on a joke. I would set a topic and then I would get as many laughs out of it as I could before I moved to the next subject and it was largely political and driven and I had a real reason behind every piece I did but it was always in that framework of 'if I'm not getting a laugh again within 15 seconds I'm not doing my job."
Brody said he might return to that format to do political humor. "I am sincerely thinking about taking off my jacket and rolling up my sleeves and getting back to a 4 to 1 laugh per minute so that I can get out into the Trump belt and really talk to people who might not agree with a lot of my ideas and have them laugh hard enough that maybe some minds are changed because nothing is more powerful for changing a mind than a good joke."
But in this show he wanted to explore something more personal, and he is glad to have the opportunities created by new media to be able to bypass the traditional layers of commercial compromises.
The real theme of the show is that there is a natural conflict between art and commerce, I talk a lot about my father in the show and one of the things that I don't say about him is that he went into academia to protect his art. He wanted to be able to write novels and later plays without needing to worry about the concerns of the marketplace. When I was young I was certain that I would be able to bring my art to the marketplace and it would be so good that I would find great financial success doing exactly what I wanted to do without having to make any concessions to the needs of the people who seek to make money off of me. And the truth is it is impossible to keep the art entirely pure if you're making concessions to the marketplace and it is impossible to get the pure ideas of the art out to the world unless you are willing to make concessions for the marketplace. So, it's part of the conflict between me and my father and it's really the conflict of the show. In one way or another all of the stories that make up this show are about grappling with that friction. Even when it's a grade school production I'm dealing with a budget and I have to negotiate with people about the budget and what is appropriate to the audience that they need to serve which is more important to them than what is my grand vision of what I want to say.
Part of the beauty of NextUpComedy is that it is creating an outlet for material that is not necessarily going to find its way into mainstream release. And I realized last week that there is a sort of a call back quality with being on a British platform because it was in England that I really learned how to be funny. I started in New York but it was the year that I spent in England that I figured out what I was doing because there was an openness to intellectual work in the arts that was not available for me in the US. They are willing to explore things like long form humor as opposed to machine-gun comedy for release. There is a splintering, a fracturing of both audience and performers, in the same way that there's a splintering and fracturing of news media consumption. Even as the ownership of mainstream media consolidates and monopolizes, the polarization allows people to stay within their own bubbles. And we're having the same thing happening in the arts and in entertainment and it is both wonderful and dangerous because we want to reach a wider audience and we want to find our narrower devoted audiences. It's a very narrow line to walk and at the same time because I am constantly self-examining and self-reflecting, it is causing me to really think about what I want to do to reach the wider audience and what I'm willing to do to reach the wider audience and how satisfied I can be knowing that there is an audience for me and settling into what living I can make through that, knowing that I may never make a killing. More exciting, lately in all of that I've found ways to tailor pieces to the requirements of the pipeline that can reach the wide audience while maintaining the style and the technique I am using in even my purest work.
There are stories in the special that build laugh after laugh, like the conversation with his mother. "I love those pieces but I don't find them frankly as satisfying as the ones that have room to breathe, that have room for silence, that have room for an image of the dark night and blue streak of moonlight slipping through the trees, it's never going to get a laugh but it's going to hold an audience in a moment with me seeing a place that they are not."