Walking into the famed Comedy Store on the Sunset Strip on a weekday morning, I got that same feeling you get when you step onto an empty New York Yankees' baseball field. Great moments have happened here, legends have been born. But, instead of home runs; hilarious punch lines. Instead of the World Series; sitcom deals and Emmy nominations. Richard Pryor, Robin Williams, Jim Carrey, David Letterman and Chelsea Handler, the list of comedy legends goes on, and on. Today there is a new generation of comedians taking the mic and only a select few will make their mark. Brent Morin is among these special few and is undoubtedly one of the next movers and shakers of comedy.
After moving to Los Angeles for film school, Morin began the nightly stand-up grind. He initially worked as a PA on “The Tonight Show with Conan O’Brien” and ultimately made the transition to performing on “Conan” as a guest comedian. He’s also appeared on Comedy Central and “Chelsea Lately.” Beginning Thursday night, the comic will star on NBC’s new show, “Undateable,” produced by Bill Lawrence. The cast is comprised of Morin’s real life friends: Chris D’Elia, Rick Glassman, Ron Funches and David Fynn. Playing a perfectionist bar owner with no dating skills; the role of Justin Kearney is a great showcase for Morin’s comedic and acting talents. He even gets to break out his impressive vocal range and sing in an episode or two.
Watching Morin on stage and screen, it is clear that he is a star of tomorrow. I sat down with the comic at The Comedy Store, on the stage where he performs nightly, to discuss his journey from stand-up to his first prime-time sitcom.
Do you think that comedy is your calling?
I don’t know. I think it’s something I’ve always done since I was a kid. It’s always been a defense thing. I think I always find the funny in a situation. I was the kid who would make the jokes, and wasn’t afraid to initiate something, such as a conversation with a girl for my guy friends to make them laugh. I definitely moved out here with aspirations to be a serious filmmaker, I think. And then I slowly realized at 18 that I’m not going to be Spike Lee. Then I realized that my mind made me take forever to write something dramatic. But with anything that involved comedy — it could be a funeral and I could find the funny in it.
You spent some time working with Conan O’Brien, would you consider him a mentor of yours?
Yes. I would watch and learn from him. I didn’t make much money, but I would be able to watch him do sketches, or the way he handled things. He would have his writers, who were amazing, come in with some sketch, and he would sit there and play his guitar and then he would be like, “Hmmm, what if I change this, do this, and then this and this” and probably 95 percent of the time he was right. I would try to see if I could do the same thing in my head. When I booked the show we had drinks and just talked about comedy and life. He’s always been a mentor.
With comics such as Jerry Seinfeld, Louis C.K. and Ray Romano; They went from stand up to a series. Do you think that is the end goal for a comic, or at least the next step?
I think that probably was a goal at one point. Now with the way that Louis C.K. did it and how certain comics do it, the goal now is to have your own brand. You want to be your own brand. I think Kevin Hart, Dane Cook and Louis are doing a good job at that.
It’s also about having your own voice. Still the most joy I get is doing this [stand-up]. After I’m filming something, I can come in here and I control it. I write it, and I perform it. I get the reaction and so if it sucks, it’s my fault. If it’s good, it’s my fault.
Is that something you want to do, be your own brand?
Ideally, I would like to be able to create my own content. I think the end goal for me would be to write, direct, act and produce projects that I want to make.
Bill Lawrence has had a lot of success in TV, but with so many sitcoms and series today, few are memorable. What do you think sets “Undateable” apart from the rest?
In multi-cam, network sitcoms, there’s usually not the freedom to get to play as much as we got to, and for some reason, they’ve steered away from having comedians in sitcoms. I think that’s a big benefit, as opposed to just having actors who are trying to be funny. You have people that are funny trying to act, I guess would be the best way to put it. They are able to play and give something that’s a little different. Ron (Funches) would come in with some gem. I would always ask him beforehand, ‘Ron what are you writing?’ and he’d say, ‘You’ll see.’ And I’m like, ‘You have to tell me because I’m going to laugh.’ And then he would come out with an awesome line. Then Rick (Glassman) would do something weird and off the wall, and Chris (D’Elia) would do something physical. You’re going to see these elements. I think people are going to notice,: One, ‘Oh, these guys are friends,’ and two, ‘Oh, that’s different.’
Going from the stage to a multi-camera sitcom like “Undateable” — what was the biggest challenge for you?
Well, first I’d say going from stand-up to a live audience multi-cam was comfortable because we’re used to a live audience and you just want to make them laugh. It’s an instinct for you to want to make an audience laugh. I think the challenge for all us comics on the show was when we’re saying somebody else’s words. Sometimes if it didn’t get a laugh, you could sense that we were trying to compensate. We had to act and that was a very interesting thing. I think that Conan helped me because I was a stand in for Andy Richter. I didn’t realize until I got to a multi-cam set that I already had the training for it because Conan’s such a multi-cam show. It’s about hitting your mark and you had to cold read. A multi-cam sitcom is the same thing. It’s a stage play.
It’s a hilarious show, but there are also some heartfelt moments between you and Chris D’Elia’s character. If the show moves forward, where would you like to see Justin go?
I think that there’s something in meeting Danny (Chris D’Elia) and having a different perspective on himself. The one thing I think Justin has, is that he likes himself. He likes that he sings, and he likes his banana bread, and that he goes biking, so in a sense, he’s really probably one of the more confident people. But his fear of climbing that mountain to just say hi to a girl, I think that I would like him to have that kind of go away. And then there are a whole other slew of problems that you can get into. I mean, ‘step one’ is asking a girl out. And then there’s step 155 which is don’t let her steal the car. I’d really like to see what Justin would be like dating around and meeting crazy people. I think this is the beginning of him growing up.
Going to work on this show was like hanging out with your friends in real life. How did you all come on board?
Me and Rick Glassman were cast the same day, which was crazy. I had known Bill (Lawrence) through stand-up, actually. He had gotten a chance to see me and Rick. That was kind of how it all started, and I think he really got pumped up about the idea of having friends in something. And the conversation of having Chris (D’Elia) occurred. I think Bill really respected what each of us did, because we are different types of comedians. We got to improvise during testing and auditions. Bill would go, ‘Just go. Just do your thing.’
A few of you from the show live in the same apartment building?
I have the funniest apartment in the business. My life is a sitcom. I have Rick Glassman next door to me; he was there before we booked the show. He was a waiter when I was a PA. The carpool to the test was like a fairy tale. And then I had Jon DeWalt upstairs, who’s Rick’s partner in crime with their YouTube channel. He got a job as a writer’s assistant on the show. Jon would write jokes because he knew us so he would be able to put something in, and I’d be like, that’s a Jon bit. It was an amazing atmosphere that Bill created. He was another mentor. I think I lucked out with two bosses that were so nice.
You and your “Undateable” co-stars went on a promo stand-up tour around the country. How was the show received?
All we did on the tour was stand up; we didn’t show them the show. That was the easy thing. Every comic was different, so it didn’t feel long. I watched Bill Lawrence get up there, which is nice to see. And to hear Ron, who is the nicest guy, make fun of him, when he came up after him — it was just the most fun. A lot of people were excited for the show. It’s a tool that I think we have that a lot of people don’t have; we get to go out and show people our voice, and hopefully people who are fans of our voice will watch this.
I’m sure you have funny anectotes from every day on set. Does one stand out?
I would jokingly say to Bill that I’m the next John Ritter. I would mess with him all the time. I would come up to him with the script and say, ‘Bill, there’s no comedy fall in here. I was kind of hoping to get a comedy fall this week.’ And Bill was like, ‘What the hell is a comedy fall?’ I was like, I need to fall over a table. One week, I had a comedy fall. I said, ‘You put a fall in?!’ And he was like, ‘Yes!’ I replied, ‘I was kidding, but awesome!’
You do have a lot of ‘falling’ and ‘tripping’ moments.
Yes, several tripping moments. I stopped telling people that I was going to do things, because I thought they would try to talk me out of it and I didn’t want that. There was one fall where Chris hits me in the head with like, a coffee mug and I’m just supposed to get hit and kind of be dazed. But instead, on the third take, I decided to fall over the couch, and I broke the couch — like the legs out from under. I don’t think the director was happy actually.
Because you broke the set, that’s why.
Oh yeah, it took like half an hour to get the set back together.
Back to stand-up. There are so many different styles of comedy today. What is your voice?
I’d say my voice is internal. Everything comes from something that either happened to me, or it always comes back to how I either messed something up or how I did something. I call it the voice in your head. Like, I break that fourth wall. If I’m at dinner with a girl and I’m like, “Cool, yeah, that’s cool,’ in my head, I’m like, ‘Why do you keep saying cool.’ I call that out. And I’ve realized that I can do that in life, so I would just point out situations.
Do you think comedy is a therapy for you?
In a sense, it’s a therapy. It’s also very dialogue driven, I’ve realized. I think that’s because I come from screenwriting. A lot of my bits involve me with multiple people. I’m not really much of a joke writer. It’s like my mind works in almost a script format.
In seeing your set, the audience laughs because they can relate to the situation you are in.
That’s one thing you realize. I think when you first do stand up, you’re trying to write something that you think is going to make them laugh, when I think you need to write what makes you laugh. And then once you figure that out, you need to write what means something to you. When you do that, the confidence is there, and then you’ll be surprised how many people feel the same way. Or you’re like, ‘Maybe I’m not as insane as I thought. I guess these people have their problems, too.’
Do you have any desire to do drama?
Oh, yeah. I want to do anything out of my comfort zone. It’s funny when you said earlier that we have some heartfelt moments in the show. It’s such a different thing. I think I found it easy in a way to kind of get to that place. When I had to do drama in the lightest form — a multi-cam sitcom — I thought, I’d really like to try to do that in something else. I’d love to do that and be in an action movie. I’d love to be in Transformers 9, or whatever, as a transformer.
And behind the scenes, you write.
Honestly, end goal for me — I would love to do what Albert Brooks did or what Judd Apatow does, but also be in front of the camera. I would like to find a way to cleverly write myself in a movie, or a TV show. Hopefully this TV show stays, and then I can do a movie.
So you’re happy, you’re living in the moment right now?
I am happy because I get to do this every night. I get to do stand-up and be in one of my favorite clubs in the entire world. I owe this place a lot.
By Pamela Price
Full interview and more exclusive photos in the June issue of LATF THE MAGAZINE next month.
“Undateable" premieres Thursday May 29th on NBC (9-9:30 and 9:30-10 p.m. ET).