Comic touch opens biz doors

Being funny can help nurture a Hollywood career

Comedy is hard, but doing comedy is the best way to break into show business. Peter Principato, co-founder of Principato-Young, insists that he lives by that premise, because he’s found that it’s as true and valid now as it was when he created the firm with Paul Young a decade ago.

“Comedy is evergreen,” Principato observes. “From a business perspective, comedy is one of the best ways to rapidly nurture a career. Is comedy incredibly hard? Oh my God yeah! I go out to clubs three nights a week and I have so much respect for the good as well as the bad comics on stage. But if they’re good, they potentially have a leg up on other kinds of non-comic artists for landing work and projects.”

Principato inserts a caveat, however: “I actually think there are less opportunities now, because the business is shrinking.”

This, despite the explosion of cable, the new wave of webisodic comedy, the sense that Jonah Hill — a Principato-Young client — is everywhere? “Yes, because although there are more comedy routes and options in the movies, the studios are making fewer of them,” says Principato. “The networks realize that some of the old models for sitcoms aren’t working anymore, but they haven’t figured out what will work now.”

He calls the Internet “the Wild Wild West” but says advertisers “can’t quite make sense of it yet, and few have figured out how to monetize it.”

One of those comics who has is Principato-Young client Rob Corddry, vet of “The Daily Show” and creator-writer-director-producer and co-star of the web-based series, “Childrens’ Hospital.” Bypassing the usual network or cable pathways for developing a show, Corddry went first on the web, built up a rabid fan base, and then sold it to the WB for its Adult Swim programming.

“The show wouldn’t have existed without Peter and Paul,” says Corddry. “They got me together with Jon Stern and David Wain as producers, and made it happen. It’s a really good example of what they do, and what few others are able to do, which is having a keen eye for the sensibilities that others share with you, and matching them up.”

What may surprise some unacquainted with this world is that, while they are masterminding clients’ careers, Principato-Young participates in the development of the clients’ material. Corddry notes that “Peter and Paul are really funny guys, and contribute key ideas during the creative process. Peter will talk about storylines and characters, and he’ll also provide perspective on what’s popular, what will sell, and what won’t.”

“Comics, whether they’re performers in stand-up or improv, actors, writers, directors, they always are best doing what’s funny to them,” says Young. “We’re really the same way: If we respond to a new talent and think they’re funny, we want them. That’s what we always follow.”

While Young tends to focus on writers and directors (such as the “Harold and Kumar” creators Jon Hurwitz and Hayden Schlossberg, or Don Scott, creator of the “Barbershop” franchise), Principato leans toward the performing comics, haunting such comedy dens as Hollywood’s Upright Citizens Brigade for new voices.

Big sports fans, the partners like dropping baseball analogies into their conversation, so Principato explains that the newbies are “what we call our ‘bench talent,’ and they can rise up to become one of our home run hitters.

“We often have more confidence in them than they do in themselves.”

Then there are what the partners consider a phenomenon like Jonah Hill. “He’s a rare case where I have yet to see the limit to his talents,” says Principato. “He wants to do everything, directing, you name it.””

Principato and Young caution fledgling comics about Hill reaching the top — for its rarity. Typically, “this work requires patience, and patience is what we try to drum into our clients,” says Young. “It can be tempting to impatiently accept work in a project that may pay very well but makes them look less talented than they are, or doesn’t put them in a good, long-term position, effectively placing them in golden handcuffs. Part of the trick in managing, especially in comedy, is knowing how to steer your talent away from those temptations and toward something special and unique.”

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