Interview: Sean Kent from Last Comic Standing 3
by Rachel Jaffe
Published: October 1, 2004
If we've learned anything from watching Reality TV, it's that it's hard to get a complete picture of the real person behind the edited image shown on the screen. Sean Kent, who was on the first season of Last Comic Standing, might be remembered for being the first comic to be voted off the show, or for his battles with cancer, both before and after filming that first season. But fresh from his eviction from the third season of Last Comic Standing, Sean graciously agreed to field some questions from The-Trades.com's Molly Bishop, and showed some of what we've been missing.
Molly: Were you surprised that you left when you did on Season 3?
Sean: No, I figured I'd get exactly as far as I did. Maybe one week longer, maybe not. Hence the sarcastic utterance of the word "shocker" when my name was called. You don't need a masters degree to figure out how this stuff works.
Molly: What's your usual act like in the clubs?
Sean: My "usual act" is a lot more direct, and a lot more fun. Normally I share a lot more about myself. I talk about drugs, illness, politics, religion, women, sex, the circus -- and I do a great William Baldwin impression.
I don't hold anything back when I'm working, and sometimes later I can't believe what I've shared with an audience. But I never wanted to be the "cool, detached comedian" guy. Okay, that's not true. I did want to be that guy, but it just wasn't me. So instead I became the vulnerable, alternately sympathetic, scary, angry, dangerous, pathetic, hilarious guy. The guy you want to listen to but you don't want to be, because he has too many voices in his head. That's me. If it sounds complicated it's not when you see it.
I certainly wouldn't say I'm a nice, non-threatening, 1980s Evening-at-the-Improv type act.
Molly: In Season One, an audience heard you perform, unedited, for ten minutes and voted while the TV audience only saw an edited performance and the results of the vote. In Season Three, you perform for two minutes, unedited, and the TV audience votes. Which do you like better -- having the chance to perform and be judged on a more complete set but possibly be misrepresented on TV, or to have your future in the game be based on such a small amount of material but have it shown intact?
Sean: I don't give a shit either way. I'm just thrilled to be involved with the show -- period. Ultimately I suppose I'd rather have it shown intact since they fucked me pretty hardcore the first season, but I think to get a sense of what I really do you're going to have to come see me live or wait 'til I record an HBO special. Network TV is just not ready to broadcast my type of act. I know this sounds incredibly pompous, but it's too dense to come across completely in the 2- or 10-minute format. I will have a CD out this December, so that will be kind of a good way to experience my funny ha-ha's.
I am accepting suggestions for the name of the CD, by the way. Folks can email me through my website www.seankent.com if they have any ideas. Right now the working title is "The Attorney General Doesn't Masturbate."
Molly: Briefly, take us back to the comic house the first season. What was it like there? Were there cameras there all the time, or was it just for parts of the day?
Sean: The house was crazy. Cameras were there 24/7. I actually had to call crew members when I wanted to go to bed at night because they had to take down the friggin' klieg lights in my bedroom. I didn't get a lot of sleep anyway, because I shared a room with Geoff Brown, who is a great guy but who snores like a fucking grizzly bear with a head cold.
I don't like being filmed all the time because, you know, I'm not Madonna or someone with a psychological disorder. I had my methods of getting around it, however. Whenever a camera was filming me and I wanted some alone time, I'd just turn to it and say something awful and inflammatory directly into the lens. My favorite was, "You know, the Holocaust never happened." That usually sent the cameramen scuttling on their merry way. Of course that could come back to haunt me if someone gets ahold of the outtakes. (BTW -- I know the Holocaust happened, so don't email me with angry comments, please.)
Molly: What did you think when you watched the first season? Has there been any talk about releasing a DVD of the season?
Sean: Watching the first season was not much fun because I was in a hospital getting chemo. So honestly, the only thing that was fun was seeing how many different colors of bile I could puke in a day. Also, the nurses used to treat me like a celebrity, which was nice until they wanted to discuss the show and tell me how funny they thought Dat Phan was. I just kind of, like, you know, wasn't in the mood for it.
The effect on my career has been phenomenal. It took me from
headlining occasionally to headlining A-rooms full-time. It has gotten my name out faster and more directly than ten Tonight Shows could do. The amount of people who watched is just amazing when you think about it. Something like six to eight million an episode. I'd be hard-pressed to fit that many folks in a room at one time. I mean, Woodstock was only half a million folks, so that should give you some perspective of the exposure I received.
I hope there's not a DVD, because our back-end is so tiny, I don't want to want to waste my time cashing a bunch of 40-cent checks.
Molly: What did you think of the second season?
Sean: I didn't watch Season 2. I was usually onstage when it aired. And I don't like the way they edit the comics to make them look like assholes. Those are my friends, after all. I mean, yeah, sometimes comedians act like dicks, but who doesn't? Especially under those types of trying circumstances.
It's just kind of gross to me, the whole process. So I stayed away from that aspect of it.
Molly: When did you find out about the third season?
Sean: I was stepping out of the shower when they called. It was about a month before filming began.
Molly: Bonnie McFarlane, from Season Two, decided not to participate in Last Comic Standing 3. Did you consider not participating? Do you know if other comics had doubts as well?
Sean: Of course the other comics had doubts. You should always have doubts about signing any contract that has words or phrases like, "We have the right to defame you or present things in a manner you may find fictional."
Once they told me there was only stand-up and no house, I was in. Plus they paid us better this time.
Molly: How much time did you spend on an episode of Season 3?
Sean: We would rehearse all day Monday -- clear our sets with the censors, hit our marks, that kind of thing. And Tuesday we shot it live in real time. You'd be amazed how much work goes into a show so simple. Because of my contract I can't really say more about the process, other than that they beat us with chains and put things in our bottoms when we get too mouthy.
Molly: How much strategy was involved in determining who would perform when? What sort of factors were taken into consideration?
Sean: Very little strategy went into anything. Honestly, we Season One folks knew that because of Season 2 being on TV so much more recently we didn't really have a chance.
Molly: I suspect that a lot of us who watch Last Comic Standing are armchair stand-ups. Tell us what it's like on performance night at a club.
Sean: You'll have to read my upcoming book for the full answer. Mostly stand-up is long periods of boredom. Basically you travel all day, then sit around until showtime. You take care of whatever business you have to do, then see a movie, surf the internet, do radio, and try not to masturbate until your cock falls off.
Largely being on the road is a battle to stave off self-loathing. When you have so much time to think, for whatever reasons comedians tend to skew negatively.
So you spend a lot of time tearing away at the corners of your psyche until your self-image become so infected with regret and guilt and sorrow that you turn to drugs or drink or rampant consumerism or anonymous sex. Whatever defense mechanism you engage in during the daytime is usually a futile attempt to soothe the third-degree burn inside your head that can only be healed during that moment on stage when the laughter washes over you like morphine. For me it fills in the cracks of my soul like some kind of existential spackle, and it helps me to eke out a small measure of meaning in my existence.
So there's that, and knitting. A lot of comedians knit.
More specifically, at the club before I perform I tend to be incredibly grumpy. But only in a way that it's hard to talk to a starting pitcher on game day. I just don't have energy to fuck around with people. I'm never rude, I just don't fully listen to people or respond in depth to anyone in the couple of hours before I perform.
Molly: Besides your stand-up material, you've also done a lot of comedy writing for television, such as for The Best Damn Sports Show. Is that an area you're still pursuing?
Sean: Essentially, I'm only interested in autobiographical prose right now. TV writing pays great, but at the end of the day all you created was more TV. And I don't find that to be a good use of whatever time I'm alloted here.
TV is also not that much fun because people are in it for money, usually, rather than to make good art. I think Seinfeld said it best when he said that if you just concentrate on being funny, the financial stuff will take care of itself. Too many executives think in reverse -- hence, According to Jim. Yeah, that show makes money, but I'd rather stab myself in the eye with an infected hypodermic needle than watch five minutes of it.
That's why stand-up is more fun. Because you are totally in charge of the material. Unless of course some jack-ass club owner tells you to "keep it clean." I usually ignore them when they say that, and I find the audience is usually grateful that I did. I mean, people are being beheaded on CNN, is the F-word really going to offend America's sensibilities? Especially in the context of a 21-and-over nightclub with a cover charge.
See, that comes from those stupid comment cards. Most people want a funny show and they don't care how it's funny as long as it's funny. But one asshole complains and the rest of the audience is then forced to sit through a bunch of clean comics so that one asshole isn't offended. People who are put off by coarse language shouldn't go to a comedy club, they should go to Saturday-night Bible study so they can hear the one about the 12 Apostles walking into a bar.
Molly: In addition to comedy work, you also co-host the "Free Speech Show" on the radio. How often do you do that? What's a show typically like?
Sean: I co-host it with the regular host Bill Bronner usually two nights a week. A lot less lately, because I've been too busy with LCS and road gigs. It's a political show with sardonic humor. I've interviewed everyone from Arianna Huffington to Craig Unger (Fahrenheit 9-11). You can check out the website www.freespeechshow.com or read more about it on my site. We're just a little show with a lot of big guests. It's a labor of love, since I'm certainly not getting rich doing it. But politics and social issues are my passion and this is a great outlet. We just got our Arbitron ratings back and we're actually getting the biggest share on our station, so we're hoping to go national soon. Apparently there's an audience for what we do, which is take the piss out of politicians (both Democratic and Republican) and pundits on a nightly basis. Kind of a radio Politically Incorrect with waaaaay less famous panelists.
Molly: Tell me about Choose to Laugh. How did you get involved in that?
Sean: Choose to Laugh is an organization founded by Shane Rahmani and others which is all about dealing with cancer through laughter. I work with them because, as you can imagine, we're sort of a natural fit. I've had them on the radio show, and I performed at their launch benefit show. They have a couple pieces of my writing up on their website. I really think they're filling a part of dealing with cancer that up 'til now has been ignored. I mean,
what's wrong with laughing at the bleakest things in life? You have to or you'll scream. I always say that when I was going through treatment I had to get drunk and read "Chicken Soup for the Soul" if I wanted to laugh about being sick. It sounds weird, but it's not.
Molly: I saw a picture of you and Charo on your website. Did you and she compare life on Reality TV, since she was on The Surreal Life?
Sean: Charo and me? I don't talk about my love life, thank you.
Molly: Speaking of other Reality TV stars ... rumor has it that you roomed with Brian Dunkleman, who co-hosted the first season of American Idol. Was that before or after he was on the show? Did he give you any insights into the genre?
Sean: Dunkleman and I lived together for about two and a half years. This was pre-American Idol. We used to have a poker game at the house that was also regularly attended by Ross Mark -- whom you may recognize as one of the prelim judges from LCS.
Molly: Do you read message boards to see what people write about you? What's it like reading the comments?
Sean: I scan the boards occasionally. I don't find them particularly helpful since -- and I think you'd agree with this -- most of the people posting aren't particularly qualified to give advice to comedians. Also, one of the worst things you can do as an artist is to try to make everybody happy. Then you wind up rich, bloated, and not funny. Not that there's anything wrong with being rich and bloated.
Of course I love it when people say nice things, because everyone likes to hear that they're talented and pretty. However, I find putting too much weight behind either kind of comment -- negative/positive - isn't really very healthy, so I don't do it.
Molly: Anything else we should know about you?
Sean: I'm a good husband, son, and pet owner. Ultimately that's all that really matters, isn't it?
I'll add to the list that Sean is a good sport, for answering these questions -- thanks, Sean! Check out Sean's website for touring info, backstage photos, and -- my personal favorite -- some evocative essays reflecting on his experiences in the past year or so.
Last Comic Standing is on Tuesdays at 8 p.m. Eastern Time, on NBC.
More Resources on the Internet: NBC.com's Official Site | SirLinksalot.net