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Entries in Shatter (1)

Tuesday
Jul132010

Michael Patrick O'Brien: SHATTER @ The UCBT - 7.7.10

By: Paul Gale

SHATTER is a journey into the absurd notepad of Michael Patrick O'Brien, a former Second City Mainstage performer, founding member of the Chicago improv troupe The Reckoning, and current SNL writer.

With SHATTER, O'Brien creates a spectacular hour-long solo show, filled with bizarre short scenes and smart satire, which is sometimes gut-wrenchingly funny.  Like any form of art, comedy is just as much about what's not there, and O'Brien's one-sided conversations, as well as a glass-aided makeout session, highlight the humor in the absent.

I talked to the now Emmy-nominated man behind the (giraffe) mask while we were waiting for John Lutz' and Peter Grosz' 2 Square to start. We discussed his process as well as what he's currently up to.

What's the difference between writing at Second City and SNL?
Almost all of the writing at SNL is group--you write with one or two other people, so that similarity actually translated nicely--getting together with people in a room to talk about something until it makes you laugh. The difference is at Second City, the writers would put up the sketch together, and for SNL, we hand it over to the actors, who might even be in the room with you while you're writing it. With Saturday Night, instead of getting more nervous, I am kind of done, you know? At 11:30, I hand it over to the trusty actors, and I'm like "You guys are hilarious, go rock it," whereas my nerves used to get heightened at Second City as the evening came, because I had to perform it.

So, when you're writing for yourself, do you go through the same motions? Is it harder to write by yourself?
Writing for myself, for a solo show like this, is easy because it's not as regimented of a process as writing other material. I don't set down a time, sit, and mathematically calculate solo stuff. This is all of the stuff that comes into my head while life is happening. I have a little notebook where I keep these ideas. So it's actually kind of a by-product.

Is this show especially fun, now that most of your work is behind the scenes?
Definitely. I love getting to go back to Chicago and do a Reckoning show too, because I miss playing with people. But the cool thing about solo work is that you can control everything, which is also the fun thing about group work -- you can't control, and you have to learn that lesson: something goes weird, and you just have to go with it and be weird. But with a solo show, I can literally be like "I want this song, at this volume, at this point in the song." For example, during SHATTER, I picked the middle of the Black Eyed Peas song to get loud, because it's most annoying there. For a somewhat-control freak like myself, the solo work is fun for that reason.  After a lot of that, I just want to be with a group, and let it be a mess.

Yes, that Black Eyed Peas part was a very weird, very great part of the show. How long is the run?
Well, this was to get me ready for the Montreal Just For Laughs Festival and then one more here on July 26th. This is the first performance here, besides the one I did in March.

Anything else you'd like to let the readers know about?
Well, The Reckoning will be at the Del Close Marathon in a couple of weeks. I'm also going up at little open mikes, but those are just me starting to figure out standup.

Had you done any standup in Chicago?
Oh, probably only five times the entire time I was there.

Wasn't your thing?
No, it's just that I had four improv projects, three others that I was coaching, and your time just gets eaten up by it. I wanted it to be my thing, but I just never got out to do it.

Catch both The Reckoning as well as one last performance of SHATTER at the UCB Theater later this month.