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When Bad Things Happen to Funny People 

Doug Stanhope, Elayne Boosler, Merrill Markoe and other standups on the pitfalls of comedy

Wednesday, Aug 12 2009

L.A. is filled with un-sitcomed standup comics. Many are extremely talented and will make you laugh till you hurt yourself. These are the professionals. As a service to our readers, who could use a break from their worries, we’ve asked a sampling of the best comics (some you’ve heard of, some you will hear of) to share their best Hollywood horror stories — auditions, day jobs, head shots, meetings gone very, very wrong. Go ahead, feel their pain.

—Libby Molyneaux


By Matt Braunger

click to flip through (4) PHOTO BY MATT HOYLE - Matt Braunger bleeds funny.
  • Photo by Matt Hoyle
  • Matt Braunger bleeds funny.

I don’t have a problem with how I look. Like most people, I did when I was younger, but not so much anymore. In college I had a goatee, then later a beard. I grew them partly to look less like an adolescent boy but mostly to cover my weak chin. When I was a teenager people said I looked like a thinner John Candy. Lately I’ve been told I look Will Ferrell–ish. In my act I’ve described myself as being “built like a long baby.” Anyway, all things considered, I’m not an ugly man. At least, I don’t think so. I’m a comedian, after all. Not being conventionally stunning helps. No one likes having the wacky foibles of life pointed out by a model.

Years ago, I walked into the casting office of 200 South ready to hit it out of the park. Even if it was an ad for kitty litter, or whatever. Back then all I went out for were commercials, but it was always exciting. Into the room I’d bound full of vigor and enthusiasm pretty much every time. Being a comedian, you get used to rejection and humiliation on a lot of levels. So when I started auditioning for things in L.A., I thought I could take whatever. In this particular instance I had no clue what role I was there for, but I didn’t care. Head shot in hand, with a smile on my face, I walked up to the pretty girl holding the sign-in sheet.

Me: “Hi, how are you? I’m here for the audition.”

girl: “Hi. Name?”

Me: “Matt Braunger. Um, my agent didn’t tell me what role I’m auditioning for.”

girl: “Matt Bron ... ?”

Me: “Braunger. B as in boy, R, A, U ... ”

Sign-in girl: “Oh, here you are, Matt. Yep. You’re going in for the role of ... UNATTRACTIVE MAN.”

Jesus Christ.

She walked away, leaving me stunned. Honestly? A noise came out of my face, unbidden. It was kind of a sad grunt. It felt like a physical blow. This is why I came in? This came over the breakdowns and someone — who represents me — said, “Unattractive? Let’s send in Braunger! He’s perfect for that!”

You’re here for the role of Unattractive Man. You are. By name.

When I was in sixth grade, I went to my very first school dance. While there, a friend said a girl wanted to meet me. Oh, I felt like a king! I walked over to where she was, but as I got closer she began to frown. “No, never mind,” she said to my friend. Clearly. Loud enough for me to hear. I turned and went back to the part of the wall I had been holding up a minute before.

This felt like that.

Gathering my ego, I walked over and learned that it was just a wide-ranging description. It should have been called “Creepy Man.” He was a guy who kept hitting on a woman who didn’t like him. That’s all. He wasn’t a shirtless Joseph Merrick. Relieved, I sat down and watched the other guys arrive to be told they were hideous, too. It was awesome.


By Doug Stanhope

The problem started with the fact that I lived in L.A. and I had a couch. You can’t own a couch in Los Angeles. When you have a couch in L.A., you have a youth hostel. Your friends from the road who move out to take their shot at the big time want to stay with you until they “get on their feet.” A week turns into a month turns into three months because they can’t find a job!

L.A. is the only place in the world where getting a job is a bad thing. Everywhere else, people go out to dinner and celebrate when they get a job. In L.A. it’s a point of shame. “Ya, I had to get a day job.”

It would get to a point where I would look for jobs for the couch dwellers, and one that was always in the paper was for gay phone sex. Nobody bit. I thought, Hell, if I were looking for a job, I would do it! At least it would keep you laughing. Finally it got to a point where I said, “Fuck it, I’ll do it.” At this point my mother had been living with me for five months, claiming that she couldn’t find work to support herself. Two years later she still hadn’t found a way to pay her bills, even quitting a job two days a week at a thrift shop because it was “too exhausting.”

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