Unpaid Spot is a new web series that’s trying to capture the “snowflake of everybody’s failure”. Created and written by Danny Rathbun, with the help of his close knit NY Comedy Crew, Unpaid Spot is a mockumentary series taking cues from the likes of Best in Show and Spinal Tap.
The series itself is focused on a small group of comedians in rural Virginia whose delusions of grandeur Rathbun said he had experienced firsthand while living there himself.
I spoke candidly with Rathbun, Co-writer Jacob Wright, and Director/Editor Abbie Krinsky after an Open Mic set at the Pine Box Rock Shop. We touched on the inspiration for the series, how little it cost to produce, the ins and outs of the comedy scene, and the many unique ways we delude ourselves into making art.
**The following interview has been edited for brevity and clarity**
So what is the series about, specifically?
Danny: It’s mockumentary about a bunch of open mic comedians in southern central Virginia. The idea is that it’s such a long shot for anyone to ever think they’re gonna be successful in the arts and I think there’s something very funny about people who are in this really remote location which is nowhere near any big city and they have these big dreams of grandeur and they have no sense of the stakes. Everything they do is..this is “I’m gonna make it tonight in this crowd with four people watching. This is the night I’m gonna make it!” and the series follows the six people at that mic doing those shows.
So it’s the same six people every time?
Danny: There’s a few guest stars but yeah there are six main cast members.
It sounds like the delusions of grandeur is touching on the whole Best in Show feeling?
Danny: Oh absolutely. Christopher Guest is…Spinal Tap is one of my favorite movies of all time. So this is very much Spinal Tap, but for comedians. That’s what we’re going for.
Is this anything you can relate to personally?
Danny: Oh 100%. Yes. Yes yes yes.
Would you mind diving into your personal relationship with the story?
Danny: I went to college in Richmond, in central Virginia. That’s where I started doing comedy. There is a comedy scene there, but it’s just so few people, and there’s like three shows you can possibly get in a week if you’re working your ass off, and they’re all unpaid shows. There’s one comedy club in the city, another one 90 miles away.
There’s one guy in particular. KD the Comic – Kelly Done. He was just this…I met him really early on when I started doing comedy and he booked me on this show. He said “Hey I wanna book you on this show, I can give you $50 and you can do 10 minutes” and I’m like “Yeah that’s amazing!”
So a month goes by and he puts out a flier for this show and I was not on the flier. So I message him on facebook “Hey am I still on the show? What’s going on?”
He’s like “Oh yeah you know what? I guess you can be on the show but you’re not on the flier so I can’t pay you…”
Jacob: The flier is a big bringer.
Abbie: How old were you?
Abbie: And how old was he?
I did the show anyway knowing I wouldn’t be paid. It’s just like “Well nobody else is booking me so I’m not gonna turn this down just cause he’s backed out on money we agreed on.”
So I remember going to this show. It’s in Petersburg, south of Richmond, in an elementary school cafeteria. And I remember sitting in the Green Room, which is just the teachers lounge, with this other comedian. All 15 people in the audience must have assumed this was a charity thing which it 100% was not, but I don’t know why else they would have come to this.
But this comedian, Charles Ellis, I remember having this conversation with him and he was so determined and so certain of himself and he sat there talking with me saying, “If I could just get 30 minutes together I know I could get on comedy central. I know I could. I know.”
And it’s like “Dude there’s like 15 people in the audience, this is the biggest show both of us have ever done.”
And there’s something really funny and really beautiful and sad and sweet and innocent about that kind of delusion. There’s so many people, myself included, who totally thought “We’re right on the verge of making it. There’s 15 fucking people out there. This is it. This is the big time.”
Jacob: There’s a flier, with the rest of these peoples names on it. We’re about to do something.
Danny: Charles Ellis did not make it, but was on the flier. But he did not make it because he was arrested for child pornography 6 weeks later. That was a much bigger impediment than him not having 30 minutes.
Abbie: That’s not in the upcoming episodes is it?
Danny: No that does not come up.
Does Charles have a parallel in the webseries?
He’s in jail right?
Danny: He’s in jail – right. There’s a character that is never mentioned but I like to imagine he’s in jail throughout the whole run of it. But no I don’t think there’s a direct parallel, no.
Why did you want to do this web series?
Danny: I thought it was really fun. I think that there’s a funny story to be told. I think anytime there’s a big gap between where people see they are and where they actually are, I think there’s a lot of room for comedy there. I think there’s a lot of weird stories that come up when you start talking with any comedian. You quickly get into this sort of, “Yeah I did this one show and it was in the like, the fucking sewer. And I got paid $17 to do this show in a sewer.”
There’s a lot of TV shows about comedians, you have Seinfeld, Crashing, Louie, but everyone starts off so successful in those shows, and I think losers are so much funnier than successful people. Everybody succeeds in kind of the same way. Everybody who is successful worked their ass off and then catches a lucky break, but everyone who fails is a snowflake and fails in their own spectacular, fascinating and interesting way. And I think it’s so much fun to watch a group of people who are all failing individually for very different reasons.
What does the show title reference?
Danny: We had so much trouble coming up with titles. The original working title was was “Open Mic Night”…
Abbie: That’s what all the google docs you sent said.
Danny: Yeah and it was just so generic that like no one would ever be able to search for this.
Abbie: And yeah we talked about this. We wanted it to be generic and straight forward but it’s literally unsearchable because open mic is what everyone searches when they get to a new city looking for gigs.
Danny: We had talked about “Coming Up Next”. I was pushing hard for “The Greatest Comedians of All Time of Comedy” and nobody liked that name.
Jacob: This is coming from the man who named our podcast the “Nananananana Podcast” and I’m the cohost and I don’t know how to find it.
Abbie: I think you missed a few “na’s”
Danny: Unpaid spot was the title of the second episode and then as it was rewritten and we cut some stuff, the title no longer applied to that episode and I thought “I really like that as the title of the whole series.” An Unpaid Spot is just a guest spot on a show where there’s no pay, and it’s usually the worst spot on the show and no one’s paying attention to you.
How much did the series cost to make by the way?
Jacob: Basically beer for the cast.
Danny: Beer and Hats.
Abbie: All the costs on the set are like, space? Danny knew a guy at Platform in Bushwick that let us shoot there for free 2 days planned, 38 days unplanned after that. So the space was free. I got equipment from my job so that was free. All the actors were comedians so they were willing to work for free. All the people that worked on set. Duell shot a lot of it.
Jacob: Big shout out to Duell he was there pretty much every day.
Danny: My fiance Karalyn did some costume stuff. Jacob wears a shirt in one episode that was created by her.
The custom hat that Deno wears is like one of the biggest expenses…and then Bryan has a custom hat….our budget was largely hats. It was about $75 in hats. And everything else we begged, borrowed and stole.
How did Jacob get into “writing room”?
Danny: Jacob came into it kinda similarly to how he got into this interview.
Oh he just hung around long enough?
Danny: Ha yeah. So his ex girlfriend Megan Rico is a really funny writer, and she wrote several episodes. As we were having a writing meeting in her apartment, Jacob came home and I was like “Okay, I guess Jacob can be a part of this too.”
Jacob: So that’s how I wrote a third of the show.
It’s pretty common in Open Mics to talk about how much New York sucks, I mean Jacob you yourself brought it up in your set tonight. Would you all say doing comedy in New York is a good thing overall? Or is it overrated.
Abbie: Well you guys have been in the middle of nowhere, I’ve never been in the middle of nowhere for much in my life, but I feel like it’s a little harder to keep the delusion going here. You definitely can, but you’re probably witnessing just like…it’s quicker to be like, “Oh fuck these people have it down and I’m so far from that.
Jacob: You’re definitely surrounded by people who are truly talented. Even at a random open mic like tonight was, there’s a couple people who come up and you’re like “oh shit they’re like really good.” And that can either disillusion you, or you can use it as like “Oh I need to get that good.”
I think it depends on whether you see it as work or as an inherent talent. And New York will reveal whether you think you are truly talented or you’re willing to grind until you die.
Danny: Yeah you gotta work your ass off. It’s easier to keep up those illusions in a more remote area where it’s not possible to be making a living; where the biggest comedian in Richmond is a nobody, but the biggest comedian in New York is selling out Madison Square Garden. So you can say “Yeah I’m not selling out MSG but I’m big in Richmond.
Jacob: Yeah the only difference between me and Kevin Hart is where we live.
Unpaid Spot is premiering this weekend at Muchmore’s in Williamsburg at 6pm on February 10th. With it’s first 4 episodes available on Youtube and Vimeo the 11th.