Owen Smith’s name is familiar to comedy fans on both coasts and his face is familiar to television viewers, who may still just know him as a “Hey, it’s THAT guy!” thanks to his numerous guest roles and memorable commercial appearances (he was the guy who did a choreographed dance with his State Farm agent on the jumbotron). He’s also a prolific writer who contributed to Are We There Yet?, Deon Cole’s Black Box, and 2013 reboot of The Arsenio Hall Show.
His new special Good Luck Everybody explores his long and bumpy road through singledom (he’s now a recently and happily married man) while bringing together two major trends in modern comedy specials – Do It Yourself and Real Comedy Club Feel. It was shot over two nights at Westside Comedy Theater in Santa Monica with regular crowds who just came to watch some great comedy and didn’t realize they were going to end the show with a tight hour that would be memorialized.
“I wanted it to be organic, so it wasn’t produced like with a guy who went up before me and said ‘All right, Owen’s about to come up, we want you to laugh at the jokes and clap a lot.’ We didn’t have any fluffer. If you watch the special, those people thought I was doing ten minutes. Then it gets to twenty, then I win them over and finally got a standing ovation. I just wanted to show a real night at a comedy club.”
“I asked Neal Brennan and Nat Goldberg if I could hop on the end of their shows. So basically they did their shows and then just said, ‘Hey, we got one other guy who’s gonna hop on!’ So I went up and did the special after they’d watched the whole show and they had no idea I was doing it.”
Owen got the idea to film on iPhone after recording a series of sets at The Comedy Cellar on his old Flip camera. After looking at the quality he was getting, he realized he could shoot a professional looking special on a shoestring thanks to the rapid evolution of the technology. He took the budget slashing even further, vowing to return all 10 iPhones used on the shoot immediately after dumping the footage.
“When I bought my first iPhone and I unpacked them, I thought ‘Oh man, I’m gonna return these!’ Just the way they packaged them, I told my team, ‘We’re going to shoot the special, dump the footage and then return every iPhone so this is the special I make for free.’ The next day we returned the iPhones to the Apple Store at Century City and we recorded that too. I got all my money back and I was on Cloud Nine.” He got a great deal on the crew and marketing budget as well. Most of the camera operators were friends of Owen’s from The Improv, who he paid, but a lot less than he would have paid a camera operator and DP. Then Emmy winning Editor Jeff U’ren volunteered to be a part of the groundbreaking experiment because it was so disruptive. Even his Marketing budget is non-existent. “I’ve just been leaning on my friends and peers to help get the word out about the special.
I got a quote from Chris Rock, ‘The best iPhone special of all time!’ I’m using that…
Owen did spend a (very) few dollars. While Westside Theater offered the use of the room for free, he got a custom backdrop from Universal Studios for about $100. He bought a few telephoto lenses from Olloclip at about $99 a pop and bought a couple of iPhone steadicams and monopods at Samy’s Camera. Owen was driven to make this special on the cheap after his experiences with his first hour. He put out “Anonymous” in 2007, which he refers to simply as “The most expensive demo tape on YouTube.” Owen elaborates, “I learned a lot of lessons from that, but basically some of the footage was unusable. The main camera guy was what they call ‘soft focused’ so I was really hurt by that and was unable to sell the special. I spent my life savings at the time making that and I didn’t want to get burned again. A lot of time had passed and I had something I wanted to say, but I didn’t want to break the bank doing it and I didn’t want to have to wait on Hollywood to give me permission.”
“With this one, once my Manager Barry Katz went to go sell it, but I think the Powers That Be didn’t want to buy it because they were like, ‘We can’t do this, he made it for nothing!’ So we self-released, it’s available on my website powered by VHX. There’s so many things in this business that you can’t control. You can do your best work, make the best product, but ultimately it’s in someone else’s hands if it moves forward. But the beautiful thing with stand-up comedy is that’s something I can always do and determine whether it gets seen or not. I don’t have to go to a network for notes or approval or money, especially with technology.”
It was really a themed special, too, he said. “I was engaged when I filmed it but I have years and years and years of dating material. And the stories were just getting crazier and crazier as I got older, so I just wanted to tell the story. You know, women have to kiss a lot of frogs to find their prince, but no one ever talks about how many women we frogs have to take to dinner or dancing or movies or on trips to hopefully get a kiss and not get the shitty hug at the end of the night. I didn’t realize I was really always looking for love. I tell people I’m surprised I’m still alive with all the places I let my dick take me. So the special is everything that got me to the point where I found my One. I call it Good Luck Everybody because it’s rough out there.”
“There’s a statistic out that people are waiting later and later to get married and my wife and I are a shining example of that. I was 40 when I proposed. My wife was…I’m gonna say mid thirties, I won’t say her age. It’s so funny socially how people treat that. There are no books out for that, there’s no cliched thing you can say to a 40 year old man who’s about to get married for the first time. If you say, ‘Old ball and chain, hunh?’ it’s like ‘No, man, I’m 40, I’ve been out there, this is not scary to me.’ I have friends who still choose to be single at this age, and god bless ‘em, but it just gets that you want a little more.”
“It’s so hard because everybody is trying not to get hurt so you develop so many years of habits to keep yourself safe, but you don’t learn how to be vulnerable and intimate and trust that someone else won’t hurt you. And the way that manifests is hilarious sometimes, but once you discover that’s what it is, you can do the work to acknowledge it. Just being aware of it is sexy. I was dating a lot of women who were gorgeous externally, but they weren’t really turning me on because they weren’t being honest about who they were.”
“I wanna make more stuff, just this experience and looking so closely at my material, I wanna make a movie and my wife says I need to write a book.”
Visit Owen’s Website for more information and to get the special: owensmithisfunny.com
Follow Owen on Twitter: OwenSmith4Real