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Thursday
Dec112008

Inside With: Matt Little, Persistent Joke WriterBy: Andrew Singer

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THERE'S ALWAYS THE NEXT DAY "The only frustrating part of my career evolution is my own impatience" --Matt Little | Photo via Matt Little

New York comedian and comedy writer Matt Little has his hands in many pans. Well-known in the improv community, Little has been working to earn a spot in the latenight comedy pantheon, recently earning airtime for a joke in David Letterman's monologue. In addition, he has produced a comedy show for New York Comic Con, which he hopes to branch out further. The Apiary recently discussed with Little the pursuit of a job in comedy and the importance of being persistent.

How did you get involved with The Late Show with David Letterman?
I had a friend that was a page at Letterman, and passed along my resume at a time when I had no job. I wound up splitting time between paging part-time and desk jockeying part-time for about a year. While I was there, I approached the head monologue writer, Steve Young, and pitched myself. He was polite, but said they had too many writers on staff at the time. I e-mailed him every few weeks until there was some room that opened up. I got my first joke on the show last August, and happened to be working in the balcony when Dave said it.

Matt & Late Night Interns | Photo via Matt Little
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They like you to be quiet and non-disruptive while Dave's talking, and I'm sure the audience members that were near me at that moment were wondering why the goof in the polo shirt was jumping up and down in the dark with his hand over his own mouth to keep from screaming (fun fact: I'm a 14-year-old girl).

So what's it like to freelance write for Letterman?
Freelancing for a latenight-show monologue is unique because it's more like playing the lottery than having a typical assignment. You send in your submissions in the morning, then watch the show that night, listening to the words, checking to see if they match up with the words you have. And if so, you're all high-fives. If not, well, there's always the next day.

You have your own talk show. Tell us about that.
I do -- Matt Little's Big Show. The concept is a latenight talk show, straight up. I host the show from a desk, and we use all the conventions of the latenight talk show world to maximum effect. We have character bits, musical guests, stand-up comics, and guests. I try to keep the guests to a roster of people that fascinate me; we've had wine experts, child psychologists, and cartoonists on the show in the past. Unfortunately, I had to put the show on hiatus for most of the past year, as my friend and former co-host Kasey had way too much going on to be able to commit to the show. Adam Bozarth is my new co-host, and we had our first show back Wednesday, Dec. 3, at Under St. Marks. We'll be doing it again in February.

Describe your role in putting on the comedy show at New York Comic Con.
Again, it was just persistence. I attended the convention in 2006 and realized it would be a great place to put on a show full of jokes about comics, sci-fi, and fantasy, that you wouldn't necessarily be able to put up anywhere else. Seriously, I can't really do a joke about my abject terror of Grant Morrison and Warren Ellis invading my dreams, or make fun of Secret Invasionstar Galactica in a bar without a drawn-out explanation of their histories. That's less of a challenge, I know, but it's pretty sweet to be able to say, "We all know what the subject matter is, now let's just poke fun at it." But I e-mailed and e-mailed and e-mailed the company in charge of the convention, comics bloggers, and anyone I could think of to find the right person to talk to. Heidi MacDonald, bless her heart, got me the proper person's contact info almost immediately.

What did you end up doing?
I served as host and producer. I wrote sketches and videos for in-between segments, and wrangled together talent for the show. I would like to take it on the road to other conventions in 2009. That's my next goal for that show.

Matt Little at The Living Room | Photo: Aemiessence Fine Arts
Photo by Aemiessence Fine Arts

Tell us about your improv group, Thank You, Robot.
The majority of Thank You, Robot met at UCB while taking a class with Chris Gethard, who should just be handed shovelfuls of money to be hilarious for a living (seriously, MAKE THIS HAPPEN, America). He really opened up for us the idea of what can be done with improv -- literally, ANYTHING -- and jazzed us up enough to start an independent team. We've been together for almost two years now. We host a twice-monthly show at Under St. Marks called Summer Fridays and co-host a monthly show at Parkside Lounge, called System Error. We're all excited by the idea of not having any clue what will happen on stage, and trying to wrangle that into something entertaining. People seem to think we succeed at that, which is encouraging.

Is there anything else performance-wise you do that I'm missing?
Performance-wise, no. But I did just start writing freelance for Weekend Update last week. Writing for Weekend Update (as a freelancer -- I'm not staff) is pretty great. It's something I've always wanted to do, actually, and I've been doing it for about five episodes now. It's a bar-raising challenge, mainly because the staff over there is so damn good to begin with.

Did you have to adjust to the Weekend Update "style" of joke writing?
I worked on that writing style by posting a semi-weekly series called "The Week That Was" on my old blog, where I'd take a few news stories and write jokes in the WU vein. Off of the strength of that, and submitting to Letterman for over a year, I was hopeful that I could put together a decent packet based on current events. Thankfully, they agreed! I've not gotten anything on the air yet, but when I do, you'll probably know by the ear-splitting girly scream that will come out of my mouth and crack every window in Manhattan.

When you first started performing, where did you envision your career heading? Are you still moving toward that goal, or have you gone off in a different direction?
I think I'm still working toward what I wanted to do from the outset, which was make a living as a comedian. There were specific goals that I had that, since then, I've been able to brush against, and that has been incredible. But I feel just like anything, your idea of a career evolves as you evolve. The only frustrating part of my career evolution is my own impatience; I want everything to happen NOW! What's funny about that, though, is that when things do eventually happen, I look back and realize I wouldn't have been prepared for what I wanted to do back when I was frustrated about it. Does that make sense?

With the knowledge you have now, how would you have acted differently at the outset of your career?
I'm a learner. I like to learn, even if that means making mistakes to do so. And the mistakes I've made have taught me what I need to do to push myself further along, so I don't know that I would. But if I HAD to go back and talk to me when I started, I'd say, "Have more confidence in your abilities. You're funnier than you think. And be PERSISTENT."

--Andrew Singer is a contributing editor for The Apiary. He performs regularly as "Soce the Elemental Wizard." He recently wrote about online animator Odd Todd.

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Reader Comments (2)

So glad this piece was written! Without exaggeration Matt Little is a "very talented" improviser and "delightfully entertaining" as a stand-up! I get excited to watch him whenever I know he's on a lineup, and his show is "similar" to going to Letterman without the freezing cold ambiance.

PS: I avoided using "genius", "the best" and "just like", in keeping with my omission of hyperbole.
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