Story – Robert McKee's Creative Storytelling Magazine Issue 005 – Drew Carey - Page 29

MCKEE INTERVIEWS MARK WHITNEY ROBERT MCKEE: Mark, it is a real pleasure to have an opportunity to interview you. I’ve seen, of course, your marvelous one-man show, Fool for a Client, and it is, for the most part, autobiographical, although it builds and builds into something quite universal. But my first question is one of medium. When people have compelling life stories that went through great experiences, some often, of course, write a book about this or they want to write a screenplay to dramatize it. They might even write a play. But very few people ever choose to get up on their feet and do a one-man show venting about their life and all the great implications in it. How did you choose that particular medium of expression? MARK WHITNEY: Well it was an evolutionary process. I’ve always wanted to be a comedian and I kind of got into stand-up comedy—sort of the Rodney Dangerfield model. Rodney started doing a little bit of stand-up in his early twenties, but then he stopped, and he raised a family as an aluminum siding salesman [laughter]. When his kids were grown, he went back into stand-up, but he really didn’t start stand-up seriously until he was about forty. I started really devoting myself to it when I was about 45, and I’m a guy that’s been on my feet in a lot of different situations. RM: Well, you used to sell vacuum cleaners. MW: Right, exactly. That’s where I did my first one-man show—right there in a living room. I was familiar with being on my feet from acting in plays as a high school student and at the local colleges in the area, and I’ve always enjoyed being on my feet having a conversation with people. I talk, they laugh; I talk, they cry. It’s a conversation. What I really wanted to do was stand-up comedy, and I grew up listening to—not listening—memorizing George Carlin. RM: Yes, yes of course—the greatest. MW: The best. And my mom is a product of a union between an O’Neill and a Mahoney, so there’s that whole Irish Catholic thing there. But when I started getting serious about doing it, I didn’t understand what was involved— it was like this whole separate art form. RM: Yep. It is. It is. MW: So many people who do stand-up comedy tell the story of how they just got up on stage and they just sucked, and I was just like that. My friend Curtis Mathew, who runs the San Francisco Comedy College (a great guy, who you Story Magazine // Issue 005 would really like), he talks about how I think this is probably true with a lot of different art forms, but particularly with stand-up comedy. He said that it always starts below the waist, then it moves to the heart and then to the head. When you get good at it, it moves to the head and you really start using your brain. When I started to get good at joke writing and joke performing and joke talent, I quickly got bored with it. I got really bored with just rattling off the same ol’ jokes over and over again that were disconnected. When I got into the business, I threw myself into trying to learn everything I could about the business—not just the creative side but also the business side. Once people learn how to do standup comedy, how do they become working comedians? How do they become paid comedians? So I ended up at the HBO Comedy Festival in Aspen. I think it was 2006. It’s the biggest industry showcase there is. Everybody’s there and their producers, the producers of that festival, scan the universe looking for people that perform one-person shows. So they had a handful of them there. They had a girl that pretended to be the daughter of George Bush who did half an hour. Then they had this guy who came out and I was sitting there. He comes out and he sits down at a table, and he’s the most unassuming guy I’ve