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Wednesday
Apr142010

Inside With: Mick Betancourt

Mick Betancourt | Photo by Hal Ardell

Former Chicagoan Mick Betancourt is a bit of a post-modern Renaissance Man. Perhaps known best for his myriad work on Law & Order: Special Victims Unit, as writer, story editor, and co-producer, he is also a noted actor, director, and comedian. His most recent project in entertainment is a foray into Web 2.0, in the form of ActuallyFunny.com.

We had a chance to ask him about this newest addition to the Internet's ever-escalating comedic offerings, in addition to how a stand-up in Chicago went on to be a writer for one of the most popular television crime dramas of all time, and when, if ever, we will officially meet and consequently woo Mariska Hargitay.

On Comedy in Chicago...
I started doing stand-up in Chicago about thirteen years ago, I think. I went through Second City as well, and used to do the jams over at ImprovOlympic (iO). Around that time, the rooms were at the Birds Nest, on N. Southport Ave. Me and a Chicago comic now out in LA named John Roy walked in and tried to get on the list. Two comics, I won't say their names, wouldn't let us on the show. They acted like they were protecting a Broadway stage. That was my first exposure to stand-up comedy. The good and the shitty. Other rooms were the Monkey Bar, Zanies, the Elevated. I started a room at the Morseland Music Room in the Northside neighborhood of Rogers Park and eventually settled on a weekly show at Coyle's Tippling House that ran almost three years. It was a pretty great time to be doing comedy.

We never really shot a ton of stuff; it was all about performing live. I was asked to perform in the Chicago Comedy Festival in 2001 and consequently got discovered by a talent agency in Los Angeles. I didn't really want to move but I flew out to take some meetings and meet some people. On the morning of 9/11, I watched the second plane fly into the tower and had a realization. I live in the greatest country in the world and am playing it safe. I was raised by my grandfather who, as an immigrant, would always remind me about the American Dream and how you can do anything here as long as you work hard for it. As soon as flights were back up and running, I flew out and moved to LA.

ActuallyFunny contributor Doug Karo's take on Christmas Future.

On Writing for Television...
I'd done some stand-up on TV and was trying to book roles on half-hours. At that time, I was too old to play the young kid and not old enough to play the dad or the dad's friends. The WB and CW networks were huge and I looked like a blue collar guy so I couldn't get a role on any shows. I started booking roles on dramas in, oddly enough, blue collar roles. I would hang out with the writers on set and, through this, ended up befriending the guy who gave me my first real break. He had written a pilot I booked as an actor that was never picked up. After the network passed on it, I called and asked if I could take him to lunch and tell him an idea I had for a drama. He liked it and we ended up selling it to CBS. They never made it but that was my introduction to the world of TV drama writing. His name was Vince Ngo, a great guy who I feel very fortunate to have worked with.

Since then, I have written on a show called The Black Donnellys with Bobby Moresco and Paul Haggis and then onto Law & Order: Special Victims Unit. I am coming to the end of my third season on that show. The people I've been able to work with have blown me away, personally and professionally. They really know their shit and were patient and kind enough to share their craft with me so I could raise my game up a little.

On Actually Funny...
Throughout my time writing dramas, I never stopped doing stand-up. Sometimes I would rent out a theater and just put up my own show, with comics I really liked. I love producing. I love watching the audience have a good time as much as I love performing. Which is why I launched ActuallyFunny.com -- I scooped up the domain a couple years ago and was waiting for the right time and concept to do something with it. The idea behind it is that there is no upload button. It's a group of handpicked writer/performers who create original content and post things they find funny. Ideally, a strong comedy community will develop where we will shoot each others' projects, act in them, direct them, etc., pushing each other to be prolific and challenge each other.

ActuallyFunny contributor Shannon Hatch goes on a waxing mission.

Right now we have some really strong Chicago people and LA people. Over the next month, I'll be reaching out to NYC and a couple other cities. I would love to have 6-10 new pieces coming out a day as well as videos the creators find funny. Here's who's on board so far: Ricky Carmona (Chicago), Danielle Stewart (LA), Guy Nicolucci (NYC now in LA), Dan Bialek (LA), John Roy (Chicago now in LA), Christina Pazsitzky  (LA), Andrew Santino (Chicago now in LA), and, most recently, Doug Karo, from the Conan camp. We're very happy to have him on board.

Eventually, I'd like to have an ActuallyFunny.com tour. I see that happening about eighteen months from now but right now I am excited about building the site out slowly, making sure only really funny stuff gets up.

We are looking for writers and people making shorts in all different parts of the country. People can contact me at mickbetancourt@gmail.com if they want to submit or be a part of ActuallyFunny.com.

On Mariska...?
If you are ever in NYC and I'm shooting, I'll bring you on set to check shizz out.

!!!!!!

--Kristy Mangel