Tell me about how comedy grew out of your Brooklyn upbringing?
I started doing stand-up at 17, so comedy was something I connected to with early. Growing up in Brooklyn, it was the best of both worlds of having the big city life mixed in with the bucolic suburban vibes. My comedy has a focus and interest on real people & real problems, since that’s the Brooklyn that raised me (I come from a working class background, being raised by my grandmother, in the Flatbush/Midwood area). The part of Brooklyn I was raised in was Caribbean & Orthodox Jewish, and those flavors definitely show in my work, as well as my personality & humor lol.
What did you bring to HBO’s Crashing in terms of being a comedian trying to survive in New York City?
I knew the show’s protagonist Pete Holmes from the comedy circuit (I was one of the first comics in New York City to book him a spot on a show when he moved to New York). When he recreated his beginnings for the series, he reached out to me for a small scene on the pilot. I initially thought it was a prank, but then I realized even if it was a prank, it was an opportunity I couldn’t pass. It definitely was one of the best showbiz experiences of my life, and working with Apatow and on HBO for just that one day gave me the confidence and esteem to know that I wasn’t wasting my time, and I do belong here as a comedian & performer. So in other words, I brought myself fully for it lol.
How then did your past bring you to PN & Friends and what was the impetus to create this web series?
I always wanted to do a sitcom that was based on my life. Even at 17, when I started out, I mailed an outline/pitch to CBS, and they actually sent me a nice rejection letter lol. Once I committed to stand-up obviously the ideas would come and go and develop and wane. I also had a pretty awful upbringing, and would joke about it with a comedian buddy of mine, Nick Albano. One day, while coming home from work I got jumped & hit by a truck; I was laid out for a couple of months and it was the first time I was not doing stand up in years. I was down and out about it (I was creating regular youtube content and gaining traction – this was before the youtuber era – and the incident stopped my momentum). The only person I was talking to regularly was Nick and while we were joking about the absurdity of me getting jumped and hit by a truck, it became the basis of my first written pilot, and the idea of PN finally manifested itself on paper. Ever since then I’ve been writing and saving ideas here and there for it, building a mythology for it without even realizing it. By the time I did Crashing, I was trying to pitch it around but the regular industry hacks didn’t get it, so I figured let me just make it myself so at least I can get it out of my head, and PN & Friends was born. And it’s been a wild ride since.
Episode 21 begins very seriously. If you’ve never seen the series, you think that there’s going to be some deep dive into the world. That doesn’t happen. Why did you choose to begin the episode that way?
PN & Friends is a very satirical show (we constantly riff on what’s going on in pop-culture). It’s about a “Man-Child trying to be a Man” and because of that we constantly address & make fun of the idea of “Being a Real Man” in the 21st century. We’re doing a major story arc where PN has an “enemy” that “looks just like him” & is the leader of a Bugaloo Movement (they’re an alt-right group that started as a meme and became an actual serious terrorist group, look it up) and when I sent our animator Chris “Ohmister” Wilson my outline of what I wanted in the animation, he incorporated the Capitol Insurrection footage, which only happened days before – because it just fit the absurdity of what we’re going for. It became kind of a meta statement that because of the pandemic the world has become just as absurd as our web series lol. The opening animation hints at all the absurdity that borders on the uncanny that’s in store coming up in future episodes.
It’s a little hard to put your finger on what makes PN & Friends funny. So how do you describe what makes the series work?
Even though the show gets wild & out there, it’s still grounded in real character types. A recent critic called it “Seinfeld but for YouTube” & I appreciated that take! The relatability and familiarity of the characters is the main ingredient to the comedy (and what makes it so fun for both the viewer & the performers on our show).
As I stated in your film review, “You can’t help wonder if pen ever makes it to paper.” So what do scripts actually look like and how much improv takes place?
We outline the episodes ala Curb Your Enthusiasm style and then we have the actors improv within the beats of it. We’ll have specific lines for characters to say here and there, but we trust pitching the scenario to the actors and having their interpretation of the scene; it makes a more authentic experience on the “vlogcast” style we’re going for. Once we get on a bigger platform that might change.
What message is the “Black Laughs Matter” theme about in Episode 21 and how important is it for you that people pick up on the themes in the series?
I had a situation a couple months back where I did an online focus group on baking and the prompters were angry at me because I wasn’t really a baker like they wanted (I only baked chicken, they wanted a BAKER baker, like someone who baked cookies and banana bread everyday). They were so angry at me it was hilarious so I combined that scenario with the “not black enough audition” skit I had in my pocket I wanted to do, and thought to myself “Hey, I can actually do this ‘not black enough audition’ skit via zoom, because that just kind of happened to me!” I just folded it into the PN & Friends narrative because it’s totally a situation PN would get involved in lol. Basically I combined two awkward life experiences into one funny scene. Glad you enjoyed it! As for messages & themes, I rather “Show than tell” Once I create something for consumption as an artist, it’s not mine anymore, it’s now for the audience, the group & the zeitgeist. One’s interpretation today will be different from someone else years from now, and who am I to tell them how to feel about it? Even when I’m clearly saying something I want to say, the viewer will take from it what they want, what they feel is helpful & beneficial to them and go their own way. I just hope they enjoy the ride, and if they DO see the themes, they’ll enjoy the richness of it all the more. Oh, and enlightenment, definitely that too.
The show takes a unique type of comic/actor. How did you go about casting?
Being a comedian and producer in NYC, I bump into lots of great comedic performers. Comedians are naturally great actors because they go up and perform their act more than any other performer group (most comics get up daily). Most of the cast are comedians or have a comedic background, and it helps with the fluidity of the show’s language. Kenzie Klem, for example, I found via a casting group on Facebook. When she sent me her materials, even though she wasn’t a stand-up, I could clearly see she’s NATURALLY funny, and I casted her for an episode on the show. She was so good I had to incorporate her into our universe more, because she’s a definite star.
The scenes look like the (zoom) camera goes continuously. There’s a complete free flow and runs from beginning to end. How much rehearsal takes place? How much start, stop and direction is involved?
There’s a lot of “coaching” in my direction, I don’t want to influence the performer too much, I want them to bring their ideas and ticks to their roles. So I usually do a run, then give a couple notes, and we go and do 2 or 3 more runs of the scene. We do this till we cover all the beats that are needed to be covered. Zoom is interesting because we started using it during the pandemic and it’s turned our series into a classic multi camera sitcom. It has really helped shape & rounded the main characters in our show, and also tightened up my editing skills. So shout out to Zoom! Ya ain’t all that bad lol.
In New York City everyone has a web series. What is the process of understanding what’s out there and then creating something that really stands out?
Honestly, the best thing you can do in being a filmmaker in general is to zone out everything out there and just keep creating and pumping out content on a regular basis. People are worried to create something because it’s not the perfect situation or are just scared to confront if their special idea is good or not. If it’s good, people will compliment and ask for more, if it’s not, nobody will care. Also, even if the project you’re doing sucks, you’re still learning how to be a filmmaker, because failure is the ultimate instructor. Before I shot PN & Friends, I wrote 2 seasons worth of scripts in hopes that when I got my call up from the major networks I’d be ready to go, but alas, that’s not what happened. When I started my web series (which is I think is my 3rd one, I had two before), my plan was to promote the show’s universe: I would have a full episode I would then chop up into 30 sec-1 min pieces and post on them on Instagram stories daily so people would constantly get PN the character on their feeds, and it just grew from there. To keep the momentum going, I had to outline the episodes in curb style, because I was aiming to post an episode a month. We’ve gotten really good with that style, and even though I still have my 2 seasons worth of scripts for “PN:The Series” on deck, I’m glad we also have that format we can utilize with confidence. We’re finally ready for the big leagues. So, in other words, if you’re going to embark on a passion project, makes sure it really is your passion and just hyper focus on it & nothing else.
How are you angling to find a wider viewing audience for your PN & Friends – Netflix, Amazon, etc.?
We’re going to incorporate NFTS into our project, with the idea of funding our show with crypto. Also the NFTS (hereby called PN-NFTS) will be a major story arc/function in the PN-Verse going forward, which nobody else is doing right now. I have a feeling it’ll get us LOTS of attention once we start releasing our PN-NFTS to the public.
Can you describe your latest project (NFTS, CRYPTO & COMEDY) and how did you come up with the idea?
Like I said previously, we’re going to use our PN-NFTS to fund our show. The idea being that if our show blows up, the tokens will blow up in value as well, which would reward our fans and supporters and turn them into active investors of our show. When I first heard about NFTS, I thought it was absurd, but then the more I thought about it, how I can incorporate it’s vast almost limitless features, I had my Eureka moment: What if these NFTS are portals? To a metaverse that can lead to all these other universes? And that’s when I realized I needed to run with it! It combines philosophy, technology, sci-fi and mysticism all in one, and I HAD to incorporate that into the PN-VERSE! (see? It’s already happening lol) this has opened up a new avenue of storytelling and I CAN’T WAIT to showcase that.
Who’s doing the artwork for the coins? Each drop will have and feature it’s own artist.
The first four of our PN-NFT project are: Jonathan Kaplan (Actor/Comedian, Creator of “Grading Animals”), Quentias “Magic Bragg-Guy (Artist from North Carolina). David Woodard AKA BMFUNKMOON (Filmmaker, content-creator) & La-iya Etc. (Artist, LA) The project will be developed in a way to also promote the artists behind the PN-NFTS as well.
How do you hope the value of the coins and the quality of the comedy will feed into each other to make PN & Friends more successful?
Each PN-NFT drop by an artist will be like their comic book run that will build on to the mythology of the series. Also: the PN-NFTS will be limited: There’s only going to be 1100 PN-NFTS throughout the entire PN project. (1,000 for the public, 100 for friends & family) & they’ll be connected & intertwined with our series. (like a PN-NFT could be a major plot point, like an Infinity Stone, to use a comic book analogy) It’ll literally connect the fans to the PN-VERSE in ways nobody has thought to yet. This is going to be FUN, and that’s the ultimate value we’re giving with this, and ultimately, the ultimate purpose of PN & Friends: Connection through absurdity.