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Inside With: J.D. Durkin of 'Stephen Colbert: Hire Me'

Photo: Eric Michael PearsonBy Meghan O’Keefe

Everyone in comedy has their dream job: a producer they want to work with, a venue they want to sell out or a late night show they want to write for, etc.  J.D. Durkin wants to write for The Colbert Report so badly that he’s created Stephen Colbert: Hire Me, a live comedy show to act as his resume.

How did you get into comedy in the first place?

I knew I wanted to write for television and Googled all of my favorite writers/producers/correspondents and found out they had been improvisers as well.  I took the 101 class at UCB when I was 19 and actually had a Colbert Report writer in my class named Eric Drysdale. I remember asking Eric about the best path to follow, and he basically said, "Just keep doing this stuff." And I’ve stuck with improv since then.
You first developed the show at iO West. Can you describe how it came about and what eventually brought the show to The PIT.?

In Los Angeles, I worked with a super brilliant former SNL-writer named Michael McCarthy in this weekly show he created called Comedy Lab Live. I started writing sample Colbert Report segments because I realized I wanted to be a writer for that show, and McCarthy let me perform them on stage during Comedy Lab Live on Sunday nights in the grungy Andy Dick Theater in Spring 2010. It was a very crude setup, me in a mismatched suit on stage reading off of printed scripts on the little round table in front of me. No projector, no slides, no experience.

After I moved back to NYC and hosted SketchProv at the PIT last year, the Artistic Director Jeff Lepine and I were trying to think of some kind of show I could do, so I enhanced what I did in L.A. to a full-fledged giant.
What is it specifically about Stephen Colbert and his show that inspires you?

I feel like The Colbert Report is a commentary on something bigger in the world. While tackling politics and foreign affairs isn't easy, it lends itself to the realm of education or almost social justice. I think my favorite moments in The Colbert Report or The Daily Show, aren’t the big laughs or applauses, but those eyebrow-raising moments of revelation. "Truth bombs" as Tracy Jordan would say. Jon Stewart said his show "highlights absurdity in a comical way that is a catharsis and not a sadness," so I’ve always liked that.

As for Colbert himself, I think his upbringing, which is laced with tragedy, is very admirable. I can see how his mother's insistence of having a positive attitude has served him in a very "yes, and" kind of way. Then again I’ve never met him. He could be a prick, but I doubt that.
What’s the process behind writing the show? Do you work with any other writers? How close to the performance time are you still writing and re-writing?

For good or for bad, I’ve never consulted with any other writers. Even my tech director doesn’t see the script sometimes until the afternoon of a performance. The point of the show is to demonstrate my writing and market myself as a potential job candidate. I even write guest correspondent bits verbatim. Because I want the show to be current, I usually end up doing 90% of the writing the week of the show and a good chunk that day. Even while I’m on stage during the show I make changes, but this is what real television writers and producers do every episode.
J.D. and that guy from the Rent is Too Damn High Party | Photo: Eric Michael PearsonThe show uses guest correspondents to highlight topics such as sports, international affairs and domestic politics. Since The Colbert Report doesn’t feature any correspondents, why did you decide to incorporate them into your show?

The guest pieces do a few things. Firstly, they get some more people involved and let me have fun interacting with someone else directly. Most importantly, they’re a subliminal break for the audience. I know it would be boring staring at one kid behind a desk on stage reading scripts off of a music stand, so getting people involved is always good.
If Stephen doesn’t decide to hire you, would you take a job from another topical news comedy show (The Daily Show, Onion News Net, etc.)? Or is it Colbert or bust?

It’s actually either Colbert or the as-of-yet-not-announced late night show on TruTV starring Carrot Top. I’ve got a huge arsenal of firecrotch jokes I’ve been writing for years, and I hope he gets his own show so I can finally put them to good use. Either him or Julianne Moore.

Stephen Colbert: Hire Me runs the first Friday of every month at the People’s Improv Theater. The next show is Friday, May 6 at 7 p.m. Tickets are $8. For more information visit

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