The Just for Laughs Festival has been going on in Montreal, and over the weekend, the full text of the keynote address delivered by my favorite comedian, Patton Oswalt, hit the web. Oswalt’s keynote was a two-part open letter, one to fellow comedians, and another to “gatekeepers in broadcast and cable executive offices, focus groups, record labels, development departments, agencies and management companies.”
Here’s that one:
Dear gatekeepers in broadcast and cable executive offices, focus groups, record labels, development departments, agencies and management companies:
Last month I turned in a script for a pilot I co-wrote with Phil Rosenthal who has had a share of luck and success I can only dream of. Thanks for the notes you gave me on the pilot script. I’m not going to be implementing any of them.
And no, I’m not going to call you “the enemy” or “the man.” I have zero right to say that based on the breaks I’ve gotten from you over the years. If I tried to strike a Che Guevara pose, you would be correct in pointing out that the dramatic underlighting on my face was being reflected up from my swimming pool.
I am as much to blame for my uneasiness and realization of late that I’m part of the problem, that I’m half asleep and more than half complacent.
And I’m still not going to implement your notes. And I’m quoting Phil Rosenthal on this, but he said after we read your notes – and I’m quoting him verbatim – “We’re living in a post-Louie world, and these notes are from a pre-According to Jim world.”
I just read a letter to my fellow comedians telling them what I’m about to tell you, but in a different way. Here it is.
You guys need to stop thinking like gatekeepers. You need to do it for the sake of your own survival.
Because all of us comedians after watching Louis CK revolutionize sitcoms and comedy recordings and live tours. And listening to “WTF With Marc Maron” and “Comedy Bang! Bang!” and watching the growth of the UCB Theatre on two coasts and seeing careers being made on Twitter and Youtube.
Our careers don’t hinge on somebody in a plush office deciding to aim a little luck in our direction. There are no gates. They’re gone. The model for success as a comedian in the ’70s and ’80s? That was middle school. Remember, they’d hand you a worksheet, fill in the blanks on the worksheet, hand it in, you’ll get your little points.
And that doesn’t prepare you for college. College is the 21st century. Show up if you want to, there’s an essay, there’s a paper, and there’s a final. And you decide how well you do on them, and that’s it. And then after you’re done with that, you get even more autonomy whether you want it or not because you’re an adult now.
Comedians are getting more and more comfortable with the idea that if we’re not successful, it’s not because we haven’t gotten our foot in the door, or nobody’s given us a hand up. We can do that ourselves now. Every single day we can do more and more without you and depend on you less and less.
If we work with you in the future, it’s going to be because we like your product and your choices and your commitment to pushing boundaries and ability to protect the new and difficult.
Here’s the deal, and I think it’s a really good one.
I want you, all of the gatekeepers, to become fans. I want you to become true enthusiasts like me. I want you to become thrill-seekers. I want you to be as excited as I was when I first saw Maria Bamford’s stand-up, or attended The Paul F. Tompkins show, or listened to Sklarbro Country….
I want you to be as charged with hope as I am that we’re looking at the most top-heavy with talent young wave of comedians that this industry have ever had at any time in its history.
And since this new generation was born into post-modern anything, they are wilder and more fearless than anything you’ve ever dealt with. But remind yourselves: Youth isn’t king. Content is king. Lena Dunham’s 26-year-old voice is just as vital as Louis CK’s 42-year-old voice which is just as vital as Eddie Pepitone’s 50-something voice.
Age doesn’t matter anymore. It’s all about what you have to say and what you’re going to say. Please throw the old f*cking model away.
Just the tiny sampling at this amazing festival…. I’m excited to not be the funniest person in the room. It makes me work harder and try to be better at what I do. So be as excited and grateful as I am.
And if in the opportunities you give me, you try to cram all this wildness and risk-taking back in to the crappy mimeographic worksheet form of middle school, we’re just going to walk away. We’re not going to work together. No harm no foul. We can just walk away.
You know why we can do that now? Because of these. (Oswalt holds up an iPhone)
In my hand right now I’m holding more filmmaking technology than Orsen Welles had when he filmed Citizen Kane.
I’m holding almost the same amount of cinematography, post-editing, sound editing, and broadcast capabilities as you have at your tv network.
In a couple of years it’s going to be f*cking equal. I see what’s f*cking coming. This isn’t a threat, this is an offer. We like to create. We’re the ones who love to make sh*t all the time. You’re the ones who like to discover it and patronize it support it and nurture it and broadcast it. Just get out of our way when we do it.
If you get out of our way and we f*ckin’ get out and fall on our face, we won’t blame you like we did in the past. Because we won’t have taken any of your notes, so it’ll truly be on us.
I don’t know if you’ve seen the stuff uploaded to Youtube. There are sitcoms now on the internet, some of them are brilliant, some of them are “meh,” some of them f*ckin suck. At about the same ratio that things are brilliant and “meh” and suck on your network.
If you think that we’re somehow going to turn on you later if what we do falls on its face, and blame you because we can’t take criticism? Let me tell you one thing: We have gone through years of open mics to get where we need to get. Criticism is nothing to us, and comment threads are f*cking electrons.
Patton Oswalt [via TheComic'sComic]
It’s all smart and well said, and the people he intends it for would do well to heed the advice, though I don’t expect them to. We may be living in a post-Louie world, but networks are still trying to create the next Two and a Half-Men for the enormous, underground cave full of mouth-breathers I assume exists somewhere near Idaho that actually watched that show. (C’mon, advertisers! Cave dwellers don’t even buy sunscreen!). I predict a good 10 years of us all knowing that a change is coming and being bored as sh*t while we wait for it to actually come. Kind of like Game of Thrones. You know how they said “Winter is coming?” Then a whole goddamn season goes by, still no winter. (Though in Game of Thrones’ case, I forgive the lack of winter on account of all the horseback fingerbanging).
Also, I think he totally meant to mention the Frotcast along with those other podcasts. Probably just an oversight. Oh, and commenters, you’ll be happy to know that even after years of open mics, comment threads do occasionally hurt my feelings. Usually because of the poor spelling, but every once in a while genuine sadness that someone hates me. But that’s what keeps me grounded, you know? That and this prosthetic leg.