Tony Hinchcliffe is a Los Angeles based comedian and writer, and he’s one of those comics that has a lot ahead of him, but you probably don’t know him yet. His first special One Shot premieres on Netflix January 15 and he will be headlining Caroline’s on Broadway February 5 & 6. Amy Hawthorne talking with Tony about his first stand up special.
While the phrase “Netflix Originals” probably brings to mind scripted programming like Beasts of No Nation, Narcos or Orange Is The New Black, the streaming service has been no slouch when it comes to stand-up specials. They’re firing on all cylinders with everything from prestige pieces like Bill Burr’s incredible 100 minute black & white opus and Chris Tucker’s long-awaited first special, to wildly varying takes on what a special should even look like from TV stars Chris D’Elia, Brent Morin and Aziz Ansari, to treats for comedy nerds of all flavors featuring Demetri Martin, Jen Kirkman, John Mulaney and Tom Segura. But they’re taking the biggest leap of faith yet with this week’s release of Tony Hinchcliffe One Shot. It not only features a comedian who is relatively unknown to a traditional television audience, but the special is filmed as one single take, no cuts or edits.
“I was in the middle of watching Birdman and all my favorite movies are Scorsese and Tarrantino and they all use long shots without edits to keep the audience locked in and it hit me, ‘Why not shoot my special that way?’” Tony explains, adding “I always hated overproduced specials with cuts back to audience members laughing. I look at it as, if somebody needs to see an audience member laugh in order to know they should laugh, I don’t want them to be my fan anyway.”
“What’s crazy about this is that my first stand-up set on TV is this one hour on Netflix. I never did Adam Devine’s House Party or The Tonight Show or Conan, this is where I start. They always say everybody’s paths are different and I don’t think that could be any more true in this case”
“What’s crazy about this is that my first stand-up set on TV is this one hour on Netflix. I never did Adam Devine’s House Party or The Tonight Show or Conan, this is where I start.
#KILLTONY is a natural fit to showcase Hinchcliffe’s strengths, as both a longtime host of The Comedy Store’s Potluck night and a frequent contributor to The Comedy Central Roast franchise. “Jeff Ross came to The Comedy Store and I was just amazed that I was this close to The Roastmaster General. He asked me if I was the host that he heard that makes fun of so many people and I said, ‘Yeah, I make fun of everyone that I bring up when I host.’ and so we became friends and then I helped write some roast jokes and we’ve been working together ever since.”
While Tony was born and bred comedically at The Comedy Store, he opted to film his special a few miles east at The Icehouse in Pasadena. It’s not only a beautiful and historic venue, but Tony was well acquainted with the club thanks to years of weekly Deathsquad shows held there. “It’s actually the oldest comedy club in the world, but believe it or not, I’m the first person to shoot a special there. The people there were great, they were amazing, we had to rehearse it a couple of times without audience to get the camera positions down. And I’m excited it’s the oldest club in the world but this was shot in such an innovative way, it’s old school and new school coming together.”
Tony was actually born and bred in Youngstown, Ohio, one of the poorest and more crime riddled cities in the state. He was raised by a single mother who ran numbers out of and made delicious meatballs in the family kitchen (despite the very Anglo last name, Tony’s main ethnic heritage is Italian) while his biological father lived a comfortable middle class life across town with his “real” family. “When I was growing up, my way of defending myself in a tough neighborhood was verbally. I have a small frame and I was raised in the most dangerous neighborhood in the country at the time. I had to be armed with a way to get people on my side and a way to make big people not want to mess with me. My way of doing that was making fun of people. No big bully wants to get made fun of by a little guy and have everybody laughing at him. It ended up being a muscle that got stronger and stronger with me, I loved the feeling of making my classmates laugh.”
After moving to Los Angeles, Tony quickly found a home at The Comedy Store. Following the very traditional Store path, Tony regularly showed up for the open mics, began to do well at them and was hired to work the phones and the cover booth. That job meant very little in terms of money but everything in terms of stage time and comedic development. Eventually, Tony moved from a mere 3 minute spot on the weekly Potluck shows to splitting regular hosting duties with (now) Not Safe with Nikki Glaser writer and fellow Roast contributor Benji Aflalo. The two ruled with iron fists and acid tongues, always more interested in getting a laugh from the audience than making friends. Bombing at The Comedy Store mic meant that no matter how quickly you could make it to the back of the room, you were sure to hear the crowd laughing harder at Tony or Benji’s biting outro than any of the jokes you had attempted. At one point, a competing open mic actually made flyers advertising “No Benji! No Tony!” to attract more takers.
Working at The Store also gave Tony the opportunity to jump into the usually insane and highly improvised hijinks of late night. Often he’d hop onstage to play guitar for the Barris/Kennedy +Overdrive, but even more frequently his contributions would come out of the dark recesses of the back row. Before The Store’s recent resurgence, a 1 am spot on a Tuesday (and sometimes on a Friday) meant working a crowd that was made up of five times as many comedians as audience members, and those who were still in their seats were usually there more because they were too drunk to drive home yet than because of their great love and knowledge of comedy. So the comedians on stage had quite the task trying to keep both groups engaged and often relied heavily on crowdwork and banter with the offstage comedians. As low man on the totem pole, Tony started out contributing only rarely. “I’d sit there in the booth just trying to think of the funniest thing I could add at that moment, but I’d only say it out loud if I thought it could make everyone in the room laugh, including whoever was on stage.” After proving himself, “I’d just sit there lobbing missiles.. boom! boom! boom!”
That breadth of experience early on has strongly shaped Tony’s act and the special. “Part of shooting it in one shot… I like to go off the cuff a little bit here or there, I could be a crowdwork comedian and I could do just an act but I love massaging the two together, making it a personal experience. I wanted to give viewers a chance to see what it’s like watching a real one hour show at a club, literally one show.”
Inevitably, Tony was made a Paid Regular at The Comedy Store and began going on the road with Joe Rogan and Jeff Ross. He contributed his writing talents to many of The Comedy Central Roasts and Ross’s roast-themed series The Burn, and got to combine his love of roasting and wrestling as a mainstay of the Roast of The Iron Sheik in cities across the continent. While the climb hasn’t always been steadily upwards, one thing has remained constant – Tony’s self confidence. Just about everybody who has spent any amount of time at The Comedy Store in the last decade has a Tony Hinchcliffe impression that starts with “My set was an 11 out of 10!” And while you might think a comedian going in on such a big gamble as this new special would be riddled with doubts and fears, Tony doesn’t even consider the What Ifs of potential failure.
“I’ve worked with Comedy Central in a lot of writers rooms, so they really only look at me as a writer and I figured what better way to change that perception of me not being an on screen guy than by being the only person on screen. I’m the only person on screen the entire special – I hug Joey Diaz when he introduces me and I high five Redban on my way out and that’s it. It’s just me. I’m on the screen the entire time. No better way for a writer to change their perception about themselves than that. You know I’m a comedian who just so happens to write, but I need these network people to figure it out as well. I’m a roaster, I need to get on one of these daises. That’s my biggest goal right now, that’s my Johnny Carson or my SNL. Once I do that, everything else will fall into place.”
Like all the comedians who have recently done Netflix specials (and quite a few whose specials have aired on network TV), Tony is wildly enthusiastic about the platform’s format and reach. “Netflix is exactly where I wanted to go because the commercials [on a network] would have done a huge injustice to it. When I came up with the idea, it was where I hoped it would go. It’s the only thing I have on my television, I don’t have cable. I’m in love with all their content from House of Cards to Making a Murderer, which incidentally was my second choice for the name of this special. I could not be happier.”