Originality is as crucial as it is difficult to achieve. That’s true of any pursuit, not just comedy. The thing is: if you’re unoriginal in heart surgery or tax preparation or landscaping, it’s not a bad thing. “This person gets it,” your clients might say about you and, while you’re not breaking new ground, you’re…stalwart. But in the arts, innovation is key. Derivativeness is only tolerable in the smallest of doses, as a stepping stone for the non-creatives in your audience, a relatable touchpoint that level sets them before descending into maddening newness. Ben Seeder’s short Todd Halloween, directed by Andy DeYoung, is decidedly in the “fuck touchpoints” camp. Many people will not understand why this is brilliant. For those who do, it’s an inspiration to reach beyond the temptation to put a “twist” on what’s familiar. It’s a reminder that, in an industry full of strivers, the best way to be remembered is to blow the doors off “comfortable.”
How did you get your start in comedy?
Ben Seeder: I’m originally from Chicago and I started performing at iO years ago when I was 19. I did a bunch of shows at iO and Annoyance and did the whole Second City conservatory program. I did a whole bunch of shows all over town. I moved to LA with a sketch partner of mine based off a show that we did. I’ve been here for about six years now. I went to DePaul University so I was lucky because I got to get a start at doing improv early because I was already there as opposed to having to wait until after college. I was in the thick of it.
And you were in We Bought a Zoo.
Yeah, that was great. I had shot a bunch of commercials while I was here and had been on hold for a couple of shows that didn’t really go anywhere so that was kind of a great boost of confidence to be picked by Cameron. He’s a great guy and I just learned so much from him being on set. He’s someone where I really lucked out on because he’s in that select group of directors like Apatow, Lorne Michaels, and Christopher Guest who get to call the shots a little bit more than a regular director would.
How did Todd Halloween come about?
It was based originally off a sketch in a solo show that I did that was all about how when you’re in an office, you pass by people and have these funny little nonverbal interactions with coworkers. We originally came in just to shoot that because my manager was nice enough to let me shoot in his office, but then we also had so much time that I just thought of a bunch of different scenarios for us to shoot. Everyone who was in it was an improviser from Chicago. They all have virtually the same background as me and have played at all the same places I did. I just told them “this is the deal” and then we had the time to play. And that’s really where the best stuff came from. And if we had just made a video about these weird little hellos at an office that would have been fine too, but I think it’s even better that this just formed organically out of what we were doing. The main girl who all of the worst things happen to is played by this really talented actress named Nancy Freidrich. She pops up on this NBC show called A to Z. She’s just such a nice person and it was really nice to plan all of these horrible things happening to her.
She’s so so good in such a decidedly weird piece.
Yeah I wanted to do something different, something weird, because things are so over-saturated with parodies or three bros bro-ing out in an apartment I just wanted to do something different. She’s so good and is really a fantastic actress. She had done dramatic acting in Chicago and had the ability to just really be so emotionally available.
Who directed this?
It’s a dude named Andy DeYoung who has been directing a lot of cool things recently. He’s directed things for JASH and he was hired as an editor for the upcoming season of The Eric Andre Show, which is really awesome. He’s only going to be getting better and better gigs so I’m glad we got him before he got really big. We also lucked out because the guy who plays my friend Jason Voorhees in the series is Nick Eheart who is a fantastic editor on top of just being a great improviser, so I feel like that’s kind of cracked the code of making this thing a success. You want to work with a great director and a great editor. A great editor can make or break everything. When you have someone editing who has a like-minded sensibility, then you guys can really play.
What’s next for you?
Shooting more things. I’m going to shoot something right before things get crazy for the holidays. The sketch partner who I originally came out here with, a guy named Chris Lee, we’re going to make another short film with DeYoung directing and I’m waiting to hear on some other projects that I’ve auditioned for. The cool thing about shooting my own stuff is it’s 100% in my hands.
What advice would you give to someone who wants to be in your position or is in your position and wants to make something extraordinary?
I think I was in Chicago at a very special time. My peers were like Lauren Lapkis, Vanessa Bayer, Paul Brittain, The Reckoning, Team Submarine, 4 Square, and Sarah Haskins, who co-created the short lived but critically acclaimed ABC sitcom Trophy Wife. T.J. Miller was already doing big things, and Thomas Middleditch. Mike O’Brien was a little bit ahead of me. Everything that everyone was putting out was totally original and unique. It was everyone just trying to find their own voice. If you’re not being paid and this is just something you’re doing to get some exposure or submit to festivals or just have people tell you it’s really funny, I would direct every ounce of energy to finding your voice and figuring out what you have to say. Figure out what you really want to make.
Here are your three reasons to watch Todd Halloween:
1. Unbridled weirdness
If you’re laughing out loud, you’re part of the in crowd. (I laughed out loud a bunch, so I’m in.)
The only way to turn a project that’s so scantily scripted into something so beautiful is to saddle up some of the best improvisers in the game. Chicago brought it.
3. Misleading title
This shit ain’t even about Halloween, and that’s pretty dope.
Luke is a writer for CollegeHumor and a watcher of many web videos. Send him yours @LKellyClyne.