In every local scene, comedians will tell you who to watch. Everyone has their favorites, but very few of those names are undisputed no matter where you go. Often, comics question why the acts they love are not better known, especially to the non-comedy world – Nate Bargatze comes to mind, as does Jackie Kashian. One of the best current examples of a “comic’s comic” is New Orleans native, and current New Yorker, Sean Patton.
Patton is currently wrapping up his Number One U.S. Tour (Part 1), which — while the title sounds self-obsessed — actually refers to his lifelong struggle with being a bedwetter.
His new hour is powerful, personal, reflective, humiliating, and emotional, both for himself and for the audience. We followed Patton for four nights of his Number One tour, and each night, the audience fought back tears as he told of listening to his father break — and, each night, the audience watched as he quickly took those tears away with one little joke.
Between shows, we chatted with Patton about his new hour, his upcoming month-long residency at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival, his place in comedy as a white male, and how Hurricane Katrina shaped his comedy career.
July 7, 2017 / Dragon’s Den / New Orleans, LA
Normally a free weekly showcase, tonight’s edition of Comedy F*ck Yeah! doubled as a welcome home party for New Orleans native Patton. Hosted by Vincent Zambon, the show is one of the city’s best, and this week regular co-host Mary-Devon Dupuy did a feature set, along with soon-to-be NYC-based comedian Julie Mitchell.
Things began awkwardly, as the band downstairs was really loud — it was reminiscent of Mitch Hedberg’s debut album, Strategic Grill Locations, except with a funky New Orleans bass player rather than the laid back styling of Chuck Savage. The noise didn’t distract the crowd of 70+ people, though, as Patton (wearing a t-shirt that perfectly blended in with the color of the stage wall) delivered a set that lasted an hour and twenty-five minutes, filled with plenty of crowd-pleasing local references that drives his new hour.
A few years ago you were performing a one-man show called American Bedwetter that focused on your struggles with wetting the bed well into your adult years. This new hour, Number One, focuses a lot on the same subject matter. How much of this new hour is from the previous one-man show?
Pretty much all of it is. I built this show a couple of years ago; I’ve always been intrigued by the one-person thematic show, because I feel like most American stand-up is all about just jokes, but I’ve always noticed about myself that I’m sort of a long-winded guy — I don’t write very short jokes at all. I just like the idea, and it really resonated with me. I was doing the New York Comedy Festival in 2015, and two months before I was like, f*ck it, I’m going to write a show using my stand-up bits, and string it together into a themed show. The most embarrassing thing is this bedwetting thing from time to time.
I wrote the show then, and debuted it there. It was much longer and much sloppier. Over the past year and a half or so, I’ve been slowly turning it into a show I can do in a club situation, whereas the early versions of that show, I don’t think I could have done in a club — it was too long and I didn’t use a microphone. I did that to myself as a challenge, to try and see what happens, but I [use one] now because I feel like it does not matter.
How many times did you perform Bedwetter in its entirety?
I’ve probably done it 50 times total, but only 10 times like it is now, where I interjected bits of stand-up into it. Really, the material I do in the show now, I’ve done in clubs in New York.
July 8, 2017 / The Secret Group / Houston, TX
The Secret Group is a brand new venue located in Downtown Houston that, while focusing heavily on comedy, also brings in live music. Hosted by local favorite Dusti Rhodes, the crowd of almost 100 people braved a thunderstorm that put most of the surrounding streets under water. Locals Andrew Youngblood and Jaffer Khan opened the show, proving that stand-up comedy in Houston has drastically changed in the last few years. (Remember that Kyle Kinane quote from the Jordan Brady documentary I Am Road Comic? Houston is now great again.)
Where do you find time to work the bits out, especially with all the callbacks?
In New York generally, every set you are doing is a 15-minute spot. If I have a 15-minute spot, I’m going to do these two bits from the show. I feel that if a story is longer than 15 minutes, I’ll do those when I’m on the road, during a standard headlining set somewhere.
You make time to work it out, and if you can’t do the whole story, you take out the part you need to really punch-up. You take the part where the joke is, and find a way to work that out on its own and insert it back into the story.
This is why I love storytelling: it’s basically a treehouse for a bunch of jokes. The story itself is this treehouse, and the jokes go there and hang out, and you can have many of them in there at once. You can just take those out if you need to when you’re doing a bunch of 15-minute sets. I’m going to work these jokes in, because I know the story is in place and I just want to pepper up these parts.
This new hour of yours covers many things, from OCD, to New Orleans, and so much more. This whole new hour is one giant callback. How do you know when it is cemented in the audience at the beginning where they will “get it” and respond at the end?
That’s always been the hard part. If you notice, structurally speaking, the way this hour is, up front I don’t really tell too many stories. Up front is more like a stand-up set — I’m laying the groundwork. Here is what you need to know about what you’re about to go through. I do that up front, so that at the end, when I call back, I’ve established the sh*t out of it.
Has appearing on shows like This Is Not Happening pushed you to perform more of your stories?
Oh, absolutely. That’s why that show is so amazing. I feel This Is Not Happening is now known as a storytelling format, just as This American Life is. What’s interesting about that is the two guys in charge are named Ari and Ira, which is just the same name flipped backwards.
Ari Shaffir is such a cool f*cking dude. He’s been doing this show for awhile, since before the TV show. I remember in the early stages of the show, what was so f*cking funny was that you would get a couple people on there, like big name comedians, who just thought they could riff this story, and then they would eat it. Because, A) they hadn’t worked out the details, or B) they didn’t take the storytelling part seriously. Sometimes, they would just do a set and Ari would give them sh*t afterwards.
He opened that door up to a lot of guys and girls who were already telling comedic stories in stand-up. His show was always the best and when it became a TV show, that audience was always great. And the producers listen to it first, to make sure it’s good before they put it on, but they don’t tell you how to tell it, nor do they tell you what to take out. They will give you little notes, just for ideas, [but] you tell it how you want to tell it.
What was the first story that you did on there?
It was about my friend Tommy, and us getting gay bashed in the French Quarter. That’s a story where people are always like, is that true? And I’m like, if I could make stuff like that up, I would be a novelist.
Like, this story tonight that I told — about drinking that spiked drink; when I worked at that restaurant — people always ask, is that true? And I’m like, yes! They ask, why haven’t you told that story before? Because it’s f*cking humiliating. For the longest time, I really didn’t think there was humor in it, because when I did it, it wasn’t a thing where the next morning I was like, “guys, you’ve got to hear this.” I didn’t tell anyone about that for a long time; it took time to realize there was humor in that.
With this new tour and hour, are you looking to record it as your new special?
Yes. When I leave here, I’m heading to Norway for 10 days and doing the show there. And then I’m doing the Edinburgh Fringe Festival the entire month of August. It’s crazy. Americans either come back shell-shocked, straight up wounded, or they come back completely enlightened. I’ve talked to so many people who’ve done that festival. It’s going to be an experience, like boot camp, but that’s why I’m doing it.
Take Shane Mauss for example. I love Shane Mauss. I think he’s a brilliant comedian. I talked to him about it, and he said he had an awful time. He said he came back and it took him awhile to believe he was funny again, but because of that, he became a better comedian. He kicked himself into higher gear to recover from that experience, and the show he is doing now is f*cking brilliant. It made him better.
Michelle Wolf just did it, and she had a splendid time, and she is now ready to do her new special. She kicked herself up into the next gear as well.
Everyone who does it, they come out on the other side with either, “god dammit, I gotta get better,” or “that was great, I am ready now.” Michael Che and Hannibal Buress have gone multiple years and just love it.
I want to go because it seems like an experience where, when I come back from it, I want to be able to tour the world. I don’t want to wait for some TV credit that may never come. Do the festival now, get good, get good reviews, and go do the world.
Also, when I come back from Edinburgh, I want to eventually film it. I don’t have an hour special yet because I want to do something unique. I feel that you have to these days. I’m just another white guy with sometimes a beard who’s pudgy, and that will prevent a lot of people from wanting to hear what I have to say. So, what I have to say has to be 100% unique and 100% from myself. I want this first special to be this thematic thing, because it’s different and, as a white heterosexual dude in comedy, your number one priority is to be as unique as possible, because there are 1,000 like me or maybe more. There are a lot of great ones too, so I have got to stand out and this is the way I’m standing out coming raw from me.
July 9, 2017 / Club 337 inside the Doubletree Hotel / Lafayette, LA
Club 337, a nightclub nestled inside a Doubletree Hotel, is home to Lafayette Comedy’s Two Trees Comedy Show; hosted by myself, and featuring local comedian Tyler Arceneaux, this week about 70 audience members gathered to see Patton on a Sunday night,
What you said about standing out is something you hear a lot from comedians trying to get on festivals. That seems to be common — and so is the blowback that comes to those who get selected for festivals. Often, it’s the standard white male comedian who is complaining.
I follow you. It’s the name of the game right now. I know a lot of people bitch about it, and I get it. Look, as straight white dudes, we’ve had the run in comedy since it began. It only makes sense now that we are the ones who need to be that much better if we want to stand out.
Yeah, give that opportunity to women or minorities who wouldn’t have gotten that opportunity in terms of how good they were awhile ago. If it’s based on who they are, that’s f*cking fine if they’re good, but I almost like the challenge now. All right, as a straight white dude I got to stand out, and I can’t just rely on the fact that I’ve had access. Now it’s like, f*ck that, I have rise up and get better. Maybe you get passed over for festival spots for certain reasons — but if you’re good, you don’t stay ignored. If you’re good, sh*t starts happening.
Looking back to your first special, Standard Operating Procedure, and your first Comedy Central half hour, what do you see in your growth from those early days? It’s been what, five years?
I think I’ve become more me on stage. If we’re talking five years ago, I think then I was more about being super loud and a spectacle. I’ve always pushed myself to go bigger and better every time I sit down to write. Then I tried to f*ck with the audience a lot more, and I tried to do a lot more bait and switch. I tried to be a little more subversive when it wasn’t necessary, but I enjoyed doing it. I tried to be totally unpredictable on stage. That’s kind of been 100% my thing, to stay unpredictable.
There’s a thing that happens a lot when you watch a headlining set, and I’m not saying anything to anyone specific, but I’ve seen it before and I’ve experienced it before: the first 15 minutes is f*cking amazing and explosive, and then it’s dull for a while. That happens when the comedian becomes predictable, and when the audience clocks in to the rhythm and starts to understand that, okay, this is the kind of humor we’re getting. It’s not that they aren’t enjoying it — it’s just kind of locked in.
I’ve always tried to stay unpredictable, where they don’t know what’s coming next, so you stay interesting. You need to be interesting just as much as you need to be as funny, and if you’re doing it right, those things happen together: you’re funny in an interesting way.
But I think, five years ago, I focused a little too hard on staying unpredictable, so I was just bigger and louder. The bits I was doing were far more absurd. Now, I think I’m a little more myself, and I don’t try so hard onstage. Now, I’m a little more trusting of myself and that’s a good feeling. It’s a risky one, but it’s a good feeling. Sometimes I think I am more myself onstage then I am in the rest of my life. It’s a weird thing to think about sometimes. The me you see up there is realer than the me you’re talking to right now.
Well, you’re brutally honest.
But I feel onstage I’m a shy person. I’m a very shy person, I kind of like to just be chill. I don’t like to grab attention when I’m offstage. Onstage, I’m all about it.
When I started doing comedy, I always heard from the scenes in the South, especially New Orleans, “You’ve got to see Sean Patton!” My only experience seeing you, up until then, was your half hour or listening to your album. It wasn’t until I saw you live that I realized, “I f*cking get it.” Seeing you live, and on things like This Is Not Happening, for me, there is a huge distinction between who you are now and who you were as a performer those four or five years ago. It is almost drastic, especially with this new hour.
Thanks, and in your defense I’ll say this: I don’t think, outside of my clips on This Is Not Happening, that my album or my half hour are a very good representation of me as a comedian. I really don’t.
Like, my album — I should not have recorded it then. I’ll put it like that. I was in a weird place, because I recorded that album twice before. I recorded it at the Laughing Skull in Atlanta and I hated it. I re-recorded it six-months later at Denver Comedy Works, and liked it when I recorded it, but when I listened to it, I remembered that the audience was a little too drunk, rowdy, and loud. What am I screaming into the microphone for? I hated it and threw it out, and then I recorded three months later at Go Bananas in Cincinnati, and that recording was good. Then I switched labels and the new label said they would rather record it and be there for the recording — so, I did it one more time at the Meltdown.
It was a weird time of my life, as I was going through some emotional sh*t and also I was very poorly prepared for that album. I don’t know what the f*ck was wrong with me. I think I was overconfident, which was stupid. When I listen, it sounds like I made a set list and knew what I was going to do, but the way it sounds is like I was trying to make it all up on the top of my head. There was no direction to that album, and no build. It’s a constant up and down.
Now, the material I love, and part of me wants to one day re-record all of that. I really love all of those bits, and Paul F. Tompkins did the same thing — he took his Comedy Central hour and re-recorded it as Impersonal, which is a f*cking fabulous album.
A for my half hour: I hate it. I can’t watch it. It’s on my website and I don’t know why I leave it on there. I don’t hate it for any other reason other than I feel like, at the time, I was trying too hard on stage. I watch myself and I’m like, “Jesus Christ, turn it down a tad, dude.” When I watch what I do on Ari’s show, I love those clips. Nailed it! I’ve gotten better at it anyway. I’m looking forward to recording an hour, so I can finally put something out there that I feel is accurately a good representation.
What point in your career were you at when you did the hour and half hour?
I’ve been doing stand-up for 16 years. The first four and a half years were in New Orleans. Now, New Orleans has a comedy scene where you can get up every night, but when I started there were two open mics, one of them was bi-weekly, and maybe five monthly shows. So, if you were good in New Orleans you maybe got up six or seven times a month. And we thought that was enough.
I moved to L.A. for a year, and then to New York; it took me nine years before I was doing it professionally. At the time I was recording my album, I had been a headliner for a year and a half. The half hour was after three years of doing it professionally. It wasn’t that I wasn’t ready — if someone does that half hour and it’s perfect, it’s because Comedy Central waited too long to give him a half hour. It’s almost like the half hour you do should be slightly raw. Also, no one watches those anymore.
The truth is — and the comedy industry will never agree with me — both the half hours and the Montreal New Faces should be once every four years, like the Olympics. Now, they put them out every year and it’s too much. It’s too much new fresh comedy, and it’s diluting the process and diluting the craft. There’s a sh*tload of comedians, but it doesn’t mean you have to give everybody a half hour. If the half hours were every four years, it would mean something, and so would Montreal.
Do you think comedy is too accessible now?
Yes and no. I think yes, there are definitely too many comedians out there, and that’s only because we are in a comedy boom. Comedy is cool right now. It’s in, and you have people doing comedy who have no business doing comedy. But the thing about being funny in comedy is that your average person looks at a band or an actor like it’s a gift, and that’s a talent. But everyone thinks they’re funny. Right now, people are doing comedy because it’s a track to success. Twitter and Instagram and Vine, when it was around, make everyone think that they could be good onstage.
When the bubble bursts, comedians like you and me will be fine, because we’re in it for real. So will the other comedians like us. They’ll be fine. It’s the posers that will get shaken off. It’s the bad comedy clubs that will close down. It’s the sh*tty festivals that will stop running, but it will make comedy not cool, which is when it’s best. The moment something becomes cool, it ceases to be. Comedy is not an art form meant for the mainstream — it belongs underground. It’s a subversive-minded thing, and should be sought out in rooms where people know they’re going to have their views challenged, and they’re going to laugh at it. You should go see a show because you know you’re going to hear ideas that change you, and make you think differently.
Comedy belongs underground, where only the super in-the-know are into it — that’s where comedy f*cking belongs. It doesn’t belong on America’s Got Talent on NBC. There shouldn’t be comedy classes. I hate shows like Last Comic Standing, I hate what it does. It presents this competition but it’s impossible to judge who is funnier, that’s a complete subjective thing. I get it that it gives people breaks, but I don’t like the way it gives them breaks.
So yes: there is too much comedy, but can be good. When I started, you would hear road dogs telling horror stories about sh*tty clubs in the middle of nowhere. Now, to be honest, sometimes when you do, a one-nighter in the middle of nowhere, usually the audiences are pretty good, because they can go online and not only watch stuff from me, they watch good comedy and they want to come out to these shows now. That’s only because of the Internet and how much is out there.
July 10, 2017 / Kerry Berry’s Atomic Pop Shop / Baton Rouge, LA
Listening Party is a monthly showcase created by Baton Rouge comedian Evan Rabalais that takes place in the back room of a record store. Supported by the owner Kerry Berry, and sound guy, Matthew Polito, the show is hosted by Mike Honore, who just recorded his debut album there, and tonight the crowd of about 30 made this small room feel like a speakeasy.
Let’s talk about Hurricane Katrina and how it fits into your new hour. It’s been 12 years. Why do you still think it is a big part of your set?
Here’s the thing: January 2005 was when I decided I was going to move. By that point, I had been doing comedy in New Orleans for four years. I gave myself a year, I was going to save as much money as I could and then go. That year, specifically, was a personally bizarre year. I was 26, and I had stopped talking to a lot of friends — at 26 you’re outgrowing people. Then, out of nowhere, Hurricane Katrina happens, and it was like, “what the f*ck am I going to do now? Am I still leaving?” I didn’t know anything.
After the storm, I started working in demolition, gutting houses, because people had this FEMA money and insurance money, and you could make a lot. My plan was to gut houses for a few months, save up enough money, then leave. But in that time, it just becomes your reality. People ask me, what was it like? It felt normal, that was the thing.
It wasn’t until almost one year after the storm, while I was living in L.A., the Spike Lee documentary When the Levees Brokecame out. I think parts one and two are f*cking amazing, I think he captures it beautifully. There’s one scene where this guy is walking his eighty-year-old mom through their house for the first time since they got back, and she is just freaking out about how destroyed everything is. I just sat there on that couch and a year’s worth of emotion I didn’t know I had came right out. So, looking at it, it’s a big part of me because it wasn’t why I left, but it’s part of why I didn’t stay.
If you happen to be in the UK, you can catch Sean Patton at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival; he’ll be back in the States, and on the road, at the end of August.