Monday, April 4, 2011

Paul Brittain Interview -

Yes, this is what you think it is. A Q&A with featured player Paul Brittain, conducted via e-mail by yours truly.(!!!)  I want to extend my enormous thanks to Brittain for taking the time to provide such detailed and insightful answers and to NBC for facilitating the interview.

(And if this is your first time stopping by the blog, why not check out the interviews I have done with Bobby Moynihan, Alex Baze and Michael Patrick O'Brien?)

1) Firstly, could you just describe how you initially got into comedy? (Was it something you were always interested in pursuing? What led you into it?)

Yeah, I was always very into comedy since I was kid.  SNL and stand-up comedians were just my favorite thing from a pretty young age  My friends and I would make ridiculous videos in junior high and high school too.  I always planned to get involved with performing comedy once I moved to Chicago after college, but I didn't know exactly what path.  I knew you could take classes at Second City, and I'd heard of Improv Olympic (now called iO).  When I moved to Chicago, a couple of friends were already taking classes iO and were raving about it.  I think I signed up for level 1 before I'd even seen a show there, and then once I did see a show- a long-form improv show by some of the best in the world- it was kind of mindblowing.  It was the funniest thing I'd ever seen in person, and somehow they were completely making it up as they went.  I pretty quickly became one of those students who's coming to watch shows multiple times a week. 

2)   Who/what would you consider to be your main comedic influences?

Oh jeesh, there are too many.  Seriously, jeesh, I say.  I started watching SNL when I was 9 and so that whole cast was a big influence -  Phil Hartman, Dana Carvey, Jan Hooks, Jon Lovitz, et al.  And they also used to show re-runs of shows from the first 5 seasons, so Bill Murray, John Belushi, Dan Aykroyd, Chevy Chase and everyone.  I loved Andy Kaufman's appearances.  SCTV, Monty Python, Gene Wilder, Peter Sellers, Mr. Show.  Is that enough?  Let's see, This Is Spinal Tap.  I loved John Ritter on Three's Company when I was a kid, and a neighbor gave me an audiocassette of Eddie Murphy "Comedian" when I was probably too young to be listening to it.  Airplane. Fast Times at Ridgemont High...

3)   What was your audition for Saturday Night Live like? Did it feature any characters/impressions that we have since seen on the show?

They saw me at the showcase at iO last summer and then the following week I got the call that they were flying me to New York to audition.  Very exciting.  It's so surreal being up on that stage for the first time.  The one where the host gives the monologue.  Among other things, I did "Sex" Ed Vincent, Johnny Depp, Matthew McConaughey, and a version of the anchor from the ESPN Deportes sketch.

4)   One of my favourite characters so far this season has been the hilarious Sex Ed Vincent, which you created and performed while at iO.  Could you talk about the origins of that character and what it was like to showcase him on Saturday Night Live? Also, can we expect him to recur at any stage this season?

I originally did "Sex" Ed on show at iO in Chicago called The Late Night Late Show.  It was like a fake late-night talk show but with real guests/musical guests, and comedy pieces and characters.  Amazing people worked on it and wrote a brand new show every week for about a year and half.  I joined the show for about the second half of that run.  When I got to the writing meeting one week it came up that I'd play this sort of sex ed instructor.  So that week I wrote it up with some of the ideas we'd come up with and I figured out the character and voice and costume and it's almost exactly the same way I performed it the first time.    
He's very well meaning and wants to help, but his advice in some way is always...uh, sucky.  So I did it a couple times on that show and then later had the idea of creating an entire solo show that would just be his seminar and I performed that for several months.   The main difference visually when I did it on SNL was the hair.  I described what I was thinking and Bettie made that killer wig- kinda Mike Brady.

5)   Another of my favorite sketches was Sportscenter Deportes in which you and Gwyneth Paltrow played Spanish-speaking sports news anchors who sprinkle American names and ridiculous catchphrases like “Snowpocalypse” and “No soup for you!” throughout their reports to hilarious effect. Could you talk about the conception of that sketch and what it was like to share a newsdesk with Gwyneth Paltrow?

I had had an idea jotted down in a notebook for years that was basically this sort of proper news anchor I remembered from when I studied in Spain, and for some reason his top story is a strange, unlikely thing involving Jeff Van Gundy- and he really overdoes it with the English pronunciation.  I thought it would be good as a short audition piece, so I did it for my audition in New York. 
Then the week before the Gwyneth Paltrow episode, both (writer) Rob Klein and I noted that Gwyneth speaks Spanish and we thought to try to do something with that piece.  I think Seth suggested that it could be ESPN Deportes and Rob and I and Colin Jost wrote it up that way.  We had a ton of fun coming up with the catchphrases and it was so fun to perform live, and to be sitting there performing it with Gwyneth Paltrow?!!  My God, it was the best.  So memorable.

6)   You drew a lot of attention for your hilarious portrayal of James Franco on Weekend Update. Could you talk about the genesis of that impression? (How it was decided to play him, the writing etc.)

A couple of years ago I started working on some impressions and that was one I did.  I watched this clip of him on a talk show telling this really funny story and he's just laughing throughout and I really loved it so I tried doing it that way.  It was super fun to do and I'm a big fan of his - to be as funny as he is in Pineapple Express and then his performances in Milk and obviously 127 Hours, he's just great.   
So I had worked on an update feature as him earlier in the year and then (writer) Tom Flanigan saw a news article about him thought we should try another one.  So he and I and Mike O'Brien wrote it up.  I loved doing all the parts where he tries to do the news story and the cue cards and then cleaning up the desk at the end was added between dress and air.

7)   What have been some of your favorite sketches to not make it to air?

There are so many, but sketches can all potentially come back and eventually appear on the show.

8)  Finally, have you learned anything from your time at SNL thus far?

Yes!  Hopefully I'm learning how to translate my sensibility and ideas into things that will work well on the show.  There's a lot to learn and get used to- there really isn't any other job like this.   So over the course of the year you just get more and more used to the entire process, and get it in your bones.   It's a lot of work and a lot of fun.

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