In case you missed it, Hampton Yount’s Comedy Central Half Hour debuted this past Saturday night. It was an energetic performance, freewheeling at times and razor sharp at others. That’s the beauty of the Half Hour. To hear the comedians tell it, Comedy Central gives plenty of leeway in terms of content and delivery. The result is a more realistic, live experience, as opposed to a network-curated, heavily censored set. Yount used every inch of the legroom provided, with topics ranging from the shortage of bees to gender roles in school shootings. Yount hails from Virginia and started his comedy career in Washington, DC, where he spent four years performing before making the move to LA. He’s written for Upload with Shaquille O’Neal, Ridiculousness, and Fantasy Factory and has appeared on Conan, The Meltdown, and Last Comic Standing. I talked to Yount the day before his Half Hour premiere about working with Comedy Central, the pain of watching yourself perform, and his upcoming attempt at touring.
Are you planning on watching the special when it airs? Throw a party, go to a bar?
I might watch it at a friend’s house. Get some drinks, probably smoke pot. I’ll probably leave the room while I’m on TV.
I talked to Nate Bargatze when his hour was coming out and he said pretty much the same thing. His family was going to get together and he said he would just be awkwardly pacing around the house while they watched it.
I know exactly where I’m going to be sitting outside. Nate made a funny joke about that. His special aired the same night as the Mayweather/Pacquiao fight. He was like, “I’m not even going to watch my special.”
How did you get the news that you had been chosen to do a Half Hour?
I was told by my manager and agent. They kind of had a cabal-type phone call. They were like, “We’ve got some great news for you.” I was really happy. I think it came about because I did the Meltdown and that went pretty well.
What’s the process like? Is there a broad submission process, or are they casting out a net, gathering names, and whittling it down?
I guess they’re in the business of comedy in general, so they like to raise comics through their networks and festivals and kind of keep an eye on people and hopefully the comics progress more and more. They’ve been around, been in touch, been super helpful, and very nice and everything. I guess over the years you have to just keep showing up and trying your hardest.
When you submitted your Half Hour, was there any kind of creative control that Comedy Central puts on you? Are they sending you notes as if you were submitting for a late night show slot?
Honestly, Comedy Central is super open to any kind of content because… they were very explicit that this airs late at night. I think it’s usually uncensored the first time they show it. More of the concern is on the side of the performer. You worry about editing for time and stuff. Not every tag is going to get in. You’re hoping that the intent of the joke is completely found and delivered. But as far as what you can joke about, they’re just like, “Make it funny.”
A good example of that editing – and you mentioned this in your Half Hour – is a joke where you start off on diarrhea and end with school shootings.
[Laughing] I haven’t watched it yet because I was so worried if it passed…
It’s there. But you say it and then follow it with something like, “Oh my God, I hope that doesn’t get edited weird and I look like a monster.”
I didn’t know that line would also make it. I was just saying how I feel.
It’s good that they left it in. It’s a brutally funny joke. If they had cut hard for commercial right after the punch line I think a lot of people would have been like, “Oof. I don’t want to watch this life insurance ad right now.”
That’s thing when you do a late night set that’s five minutes for a major network: it’s dealing with such different numbers. Comedy Central is kind of devoted to comedy and people who are into standup. They have to trust that the audience is going to get it. I can’t imagine that network playing it safe, because it just wouldn’t be allowed to live.
You also open the special by just screaming about bees for a few seconds. Is that your normal big opener, or was that just something random you did for the show?
No. I’ve never opened with it before. I was talking with Brooks Wheelan backstage and we were just like, “What should we do? What would be funny to throw in last minute?” I had been reading so much about bees. I was like, “I should yell about how we’re running out of bees.” It was all really fun. It helped relieve the tension of having to perform for this really big show that you’re super scared about.
Much of that set seemed like you were discovering a lot of it. You were amusing yourself on stage at times.
I sometimes laugh at my own jokes and that’s also why it’s super painful to watch myself. I’m like, “You piece of shit.” In my mind I would love to be the most super serious guy. Like, “Is he joking?” The audience would be kind of unsure. But I think sometimes my brain will just kind of laugh at something in the moment, even though I’ve said the joke a million times. They’re worded in different ways. You just kind of feel the joke differently every time. Sometimes you’re just laughing at odd spots.
Do you have a pre-show ritual?
Not particularly. Sometimes I more beat myself if I do something to… like if I smoke weed a bunch before a bunch of sets. I’m like, “Ok. Let’s stop that.” I never do anything too much the same.
Are you planning on touring after this special, since you’ll be more on people’s radar?
Yeah, I’m coming to a couple of fun cities. I also hope that the Half Hour allows me to do even more. I’m so bad at it. I’ve been trying to get a tour together myself, but I might have to figure out through somebody else how to arrange the dates together. It’s kind of embarrassing. I’ve been doing this for like ten years. I just take what people usually offer me. When you have to double down on the business side, like, “I have to treat this like a business. How do I arrange work and shows?” it’s hard. But I’m definitely gearing up for it.