Handwritten letter from Phil Hartman to a fan and aspiring comic
Hi. Thanks for your letter, I listened to your tape, enough of it to hear that you have true natural talent. Your voice is pleasant to the ear. That, I think is your basic talent. Your humor is like a lot of comedy I hear today…angry, somewhat mean spirited.
Okay I guess if that’s what makes your friends laugh. Sure. Go there. Maybe I’m old. I honestly recognize that a lot of humor (my humor, too) is hostile. But when it’s too on the nail…”I can’t stand Alannis, Nickelodeon, etc.”…to me it lacks craft and subtlety. Look at Letterman. His humor is hostile, but it holds back, to network standards, and yet still works beautifully. He doesn’t go all the way. You seem to be going more toward a Howard Stern sensibility. And I prefer Letterman. So there you go.
“And that’s OKAY,” as Stuart Smalley says. I just have a sense that you could be more than a shock jock. It’s just a hunch. As artists we all face the same challenge—what is funny about me? Or, more pertinently, who am i? If you dislike Alannis, and say so bluntly, that’s not funny. If you make a TOP TEN LIST OF OTHER THINGS ALANNIS FINDS “IRONIC,” that can be funny, and still allow you to express your antipathy.
Amateur comedy is too “on the nail.” You need to develop craft. In school, in a radio gig, a theatre group, improv troupe, or standup showcase.
Don’t be discouraged. You have talent. Personally, I like your own voice more than your impressions and character work. Just work, wherever you can. You’ll grow and refine and be great. Be patient. (I didn’t start acting till I was 27).
You’ve got a head start.
Go for it,
Gracious man, sage advice