7 Questions with Owen Smith

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by Ryan Meehan

Comedian Owen Smith has performed stand-up on “Conan”, “Comedy Central’s “Premium Blend”, “Russell Simmons Presents: The Ruckus”, HBO’s “Def Comedy Jam”, BET’s “Comic View”, and at Montreal’s prestigious “Just For Laughs Comedy Festival.”  He is a regular at the world famous Comedy Store in Hollywood, CA and the famed Comedy Cellar in New York City.  He has two One Hour Comedy Specials under his belt: “Anonymous” which plays in heavy rotation on SiriusXM and “Good Luck Everybody” which made history by being the first ever Stand Up Comedy Special shot entirely on iPhones.  Owen is also a widely-recognized comedic commercial actor who’s work includes principle roles in the long-running State Farm “Fan-Cam Dance” commercial and other humor-themed national spots for brands such as McDonalds, Kmart, and General Mills. In addition to his stand-up and acting work, Owen is an accomplished television writer.  Writing credits include:  “Deon Cole’s Black Box”, “Whitney”, “Are We There Yet?”, and “Everybody Hates Chris”.  Owen is currently writing on “The Arsenio Hall Show” and lives in Santa Monica, CA with his fiancé and he’s our guest today in 7 questions.

RM:  What percentage of your time do you spend in Los Angeles as opposed to the East Coast?  What’s the biggest difference you notice between those audiences at standup comedy shows?  Have you ever had a show where you feel like the material would have gone over better if you were on the opposite side of the country?

OS: Where I spend my time depends on where the work is.  Lately, I’ve been spending 95% percent of my time in Los Angeles because I’ve been fortunate enough to keep getting jobs here.  I went from Whitney to Deon Coles Black Box.  And now I’m on the Arsenio Hall Show.

The biggest difference I’ve noticed between East Coast audiences, more specifically a NYC audience vs. a Los Angeles audience is laugh volume!  When I perform in NYC the laughs feel bigger and louder probably because those audiences are made up of people who are NOT in showbiz.  I guess its like being a magician.  People who don’t do magic and don’t know anything about magic will be way more impressed by your tricks then if you were performing in a room full of magicians.  Performing in front of LA crowds at times can feel like you are performing in front of other magicians.  They appreciate and respect what you do but at the end of the day they think they can do it too.

Also another big difference between LA and NYC is when people in NYC say they will come to you show – THEY COME!  In LA if someone says they will come to your show there’s a 50/50 chance of them actually showing up.

RM:  In 2001, you turned down a morning radio gig in Chicago and moved to Los Angeles…How hard of a decision was that for you to make?  Did you consult with your family quite a bit before finally settling on California as a destination?

OS: At the time, the decision wasn’t hard to make at all, because I had just finished shooting 12 national commercials for a Blockbuster Music campaign (remember them); and with the money I expected to make from those spots financially I figured I’d be okay, so, I passed on the radio gig and decided to try my luck in Los Angeles.

A week after I arrived in Los Angeles, I got a call telling me there was an in-house legal dispute at Viacom resulting in them pulling the entire Blockbuster campaign and replacing it with some spots featuring former Chicago Bears coach Mike Ditka.

So instead of living the lavish life in the Hollywood Hills, I ended up spending the next eighteen months sleeping on a friend’s floor in Long Beach, CA.

RM:  On the “You Know who you look like?” portion of your website, you list a bunch of celebrities that you have either been mistake for or compared to…But I couldn’t help but notice that on the first shot (of you) where you have your hand on your forehead you kind of look like Ja Rule.  Have you ever heard that one?  Are there any of those comparisons that bother you at all?

OS: Ha!  Which Ja-Rule are we talking:  The before jail Ja or after jail Ja?  LOL  The comparisons used to bother me but now they are all funny to me.  I guess that happens with age, you accept the way you look.  I think Jay-Z says it best in Public Service Announcement when he says, “…man, you was who you was ‘fore you got here.”

RM:  What does your standard workday consist of when you are working as a writer on a television show?  Could you take us through that process a little bit and describe what goes on in the writer’s room?

OS: It all depends on the show.  Right now I am writing on the Arsenio Hall Show, a late-night variety show.  We start every morning with an 8:00am meeting going over all the scripts we wrote for the show the night before.  Making this meeting on time every morning is probably the most challenging part of this gig for me because 8am is not exactly primetime for comedians.

Then around 9am all of the writers go off individually to work on their various assignments which could be monologue, sketches, field pieces ideas etc.  We do this until about 11am when we meet with Arsenio to pitch him everything we wrote.

In that meeting we shape the show for the day and then around 1:30pm we meet on Stage 6 where Arsenio rehearses the monologue so we can see how it plays before taping the show at 4:30pm.  The show takes a little more than an hour to tape and then around 6:30pm we have an evening meeting where we go over pitches for the next day’s show.

On most days I’m in my car between 8:30pm and 9:00 either heading home or to the Comedy Store to do a spot.

RM:  Do you consider comedy to be an artform or a science, providing you cannot answer this question with “a combination of both”?  What or who is it that influenced your belief that it is more one than the other?

OS: I believe comedy is most effective when it’s treated as an artform.  When it’s treated like a science it’s not as fun, that’s when you get comedy by the numbers.  When you are watching a performance by someone who approaches the work as an artform you love it more because you don’t know where they are going to take you or the artform next.

A lot of things influence that belief for me.  Just watch some of the great comedy performances caught on film like: Richard Pryor’s “Live In Concert” or Bill Cosby’s “Himself”.

RM: What’s the biggest mental mistake you see other comedians make? What do you think causes performers to do that; and how do you avoid such pitfalls?

OS: I don’t know what the biggest mental mistake other comedians make because we all are at different stages of our development.  A newer comic generally wants to be liked so much that they often bail from their bits or present an untrue version of themselves just to get laughs.  Veteran performers usually have some other thing they are struggling with and that varies from performer to performer.

Lately I’ve noticed the more prepared I am before I hit the stage the less afraid I am to live in the moment and create.

RM: Out of everything in the entertainment industry that you haven’t had the chance to do yet, what would you most like to pursue in the near future? Do you think that in ten years you’ll be able to say that you’ve done it?

OS: I want to write, direct and star in successful movies.  I also want to write, direct, and star in a successful sitcom that saves a television network.  But mainly I want to get an audience that will support me in whatever I do whether it be art I create on the big screen, small screen, or in print.  And yes I believe with every fiber of my being that all these things will come to fruition.

RM:  What’s up next for you in 2014?  Anything big in the works that we should know about?

OS: Yep.  I just made history by shooting the first ever hour comedy special shot ENTIRELY on iPhones.  It’s called “Good Luck Everybody” and it will be coming out real soon.

Oh and check for my podcast with Ali LeRoi called Alias: Smith & LeRoi on iTunes.  I also have a few other very cool projects in the works but as I learned from my Blockbuster Music campaign experience — don’t say anything until after it’s aired.

In the meantime you can follow me on all things social:

Official Website: www.owensmithisfunny.com

Owen on Twitter: www.twitter.com/owensmith4real

Owen Facebook: www.facebook.com/owensmith4real

Owen’s Podcast: www.aliassmithandleroi.com

Once again thanks for visiting First Order Historians and enjoying more of the internet’s finest in user generated content.

Meehan

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