Susie Felber Interviews Colbert Writer Eric Drysdale
(Each week, comedian Susie Felber interviews a different star of the comedy world for the CC Insider. You can read more of Susie on her blog, Felber's Frolics. After an introduction, this week Susie interviews Colbert Report writer Eric Drysdale.)
In my continuing quest to introduce you to talented comedians who ply their funny in many wondrous ways, I bring you a scintillating interview with Eric Drysdale. Eric Drysdale is a writer and comedian who spent years at The Daily Show, scooping up Emmy awards and contributing to the long time bestseller, America, The Book. In 2005, Eric joined The Colbert Report, where he sometimes appears on-screen as Stephen's beseiged stage manager, Bobby.
He’s also written and produced three live shows, the latest of which was an official selection at the 2005 HBO U.S. Comedy Arts Festival in Aspen, Colorado. Eric has also appeared on TV doing his original comedy and continues to make comedy outside of work hours, performing, doing readings, and presenting short films or whatever (and stuff) at venues around the city. His schedule can always be found at his homepage
Oh,and most of what you just read was brazenly stolen from his bio page, which has way more info and can be found here .
Read on to find out how Eric got his big break at 19, and what you don’t know about Stephen Colbert...
When and where did you start performing comedy?
First time doing stand-up ever? When I was 11 or 12 at a summer camp talent show. I bombed. I tried again when I was 18 at Yuk-Yuks in Vancouver and I also bombed. Come to think of it, I’m still bombing.
Do you still perform?
I’d say I’m 79 to 84 percent retired. I never loved doing stand-up. I always saw it as a means to an end-- a way to showcase my writing. However, once I got the Daily Show gig, I found I missed the instant gratification and rapport with the audience of performing. I tried staying with it but after a while I burned out on the joke writing part of it, since I was doing pretty much that all day. Eventually, I realized that I got a lot more satisfaction putting together these stupid -- intentionally stupid -- variety sketch shows that I’ve done at the UCB theatre, which I perform in and write. I haven’t done one in a while, but I might again someday. I do other things now-- prose writing, short films, etc. that don’t overlap so much with what I do during the day.
What TV appearances have you made?
As a comedian, Premium Blend, and the late (and late) NBC Late Friday Show. I also did some sketch stuff on Conan a couple of times, and I actually had the opportunity to do a correspondent bit for the Daily Show once. It had a lot of fart jokes in it. Really.
Rumor has it the Premium Blend audiences were the best in the world, like crazed groupies. Was that your experience?
I felt well received, but it wasn’t over the top. After my year (2000) they moved venues and that’s when it became crazy. I went to some of those shows to see friends perform and the reaction was totally out of proportion to what was going on. Not that my friends aren’t funny – they’re just not the Beatles. The place would just explode at a set-up. I guess it’s good for a comic’s confidence, but maybe not so much for his timing. And I don’t know if you’ve heard, but that’s a big part of comedy. Not good timing -- I mean a lack of confidence.
Have you ever written or performed in something that never made it to air? Like a pilot?
I had one pilot in development at Comedy Central a couple of years ago that I wrote with Matt Walsh from UCB and Jodi Lennon, from Exit 57. It was about a very eccentric and wealthy family who couldn’t deal with the sudden departure of the father. Sound familiar? Arrested Development premiered just as we were doing our final presentation. I don’t know if that’s actually what killed us, but whatever. I thought what we did was funny, and I learned a lot by going through the process.
How did you originally hear about writing for the Daily Show and land the gig?
I don’t remember exactly how I first heard about an opening. At the time, I was just submitting packets for everyone, Conan, SNL, AbRoller infomercials. I had one friend from the stand-up scene who was on staff at TDS, and I guess that didn’t hurt, insofar as he could assure them I wasn’t a crazy person. I had just done Premium Blend so the Comedy Central talent people knew my stuff too. But really, the hiring on this kind of show comes down to the writing packet one submits.
Stephen Colbert: Ruthless taskmaster or unforgiving tyrant?
OK, seriously, Colbert is universally thought of as one of the nicest people in showbiz (unless you're Bush, of course). Can you tell us something about him we don't know?
He is a huge music lover, and has what seems like a photographic memory for lyrics. He’ll often do something like illustrate a point he’s making by reciting an entire Randy Newman song. But it’s not just music that’s just part of this joyful hunger he has for knowledge of all kinds. It’s fun to be around.
What was your first writing gig for pay? How did you get it?
In 1988, soon after I graduated from high school in British Columbia, the CBC was putting together a so-called “hip late night show for teens.” They advertised an open casting call for on-camera talent in the paper, but two friends (who were still in high school) and I showed up with a writing packet instead of head-shots. To our shock, they called us a week or two later and hired us as a group. I was 19, had just started at community college, and was still living in my parents’basement. Valri Bromfield, who was Dan Aykroyd’s sketch partner, was on the very first SNL, and had written for SCTV was a consultant on the show, and I felt like I had hit the big time. It was pretty exciting, but to a degree the experience was wasted on someone who wasn’t ready. The thing about being 19 is you think you know everything, and you don’t -- and that makes it hard to learn anything. Though, maybe I should rephrase that as an “I” statement. Anyway, the show was horrible and I didn’t have another job in the business for 12 years. Incidentally, one of the guys I wrote that first packet with, Mike Benyaer, went on to play Kalid Sheikh Mohammed in that “Path to 9/11” movie, which was weird to see.
Your sister is a comedian who's been making big news. Are you close?
I am close with Rebecca. When I was performing in the clubs in Montreal, she was about 15 and my best test audience. She even wrote some of my jokes at that time. And she is in New York now. She got unbelievable buzz from her show at the Aspen comedy festival a few years ago and moved here to pursue some development opportunities. She was profiled in Variety and Time magazine, all this crazy stuff all at once. She’s still got her deals going, and she worked for LOGO a bit. Performance-wise, she always has so much stuff going on, I can never keep track. I’ll plug her website so people can catch her, though.
Are there other funny Drysdales out there?
There’s a third Drysdale kid. She’s a teacher in Vancouver. She happens to be hilarious, just not for a living. People ask what our parents did to make such funny kids. The short answer? Neglect.
What's the best advice you have for young comedians?
Keep writing and performing as much as you can, but listen to yourself and listen to your audience. If you’re doing a joke for a while and audiences are continually not laughing, it’s probably not because they “don’t get it" and don't understand what a genius you are. It's because the joke's not funny and you have some work to do.
Above everything else, work hard and be patient. It takes time.
Who are the comedians or comedy writers you admire the most?
As a kid I loved George Carlin and Bill Cosby. The first 45 I ever bought with my own money was Steve Martin’s “King Tut.” Later, I fell in love with SCTV in syndication on Canadian TV. Re-watching them now, Rick Moranis really stands out. People only familiar with his film roles or the Mackenzie brothers might not have any idea the range the guy has. He wrote a lot of his own stuff, and the quality and consistency is just amazing. Oh, and my bosses, Stephen Colbert and Jon Stewart, of course are hilarious. (They are also very wise and virtuous and courageous and handsome.)
And finally, what's your sign?
I’m on the cusp between Pisces and Aries, but I don’t believe in astrology. It’s ridiculous to think that there are only 12 different kinds of people in the world divided in groups based on when they were born. I ‘m pretty sure that there are exactly 17 different kinds of people grouped based on a formula factoring in height, hair color and area code.