Part-time writer/comedian, full-time Penguin Random House Publishing employee, Pat Stango has created a pretty fun branded content idea with his Last Minute Book Report (LMBR). The conceit is simple and smart: he challenges guests (usually authors on the imprint’s roster) to give a book report on a classic they either haven’t read or don’t remember reading…at all. Hilarity then ensues. Good, right? Yes, good! In pitch and in practice, it is good. That’s not why I’m featuring him today.
Though LMBR is a worthy effort in a field of content marketing too often clogged with client-mandated drudgery, this column isn’t so much about celebrating the wins of companies worth hundreds of millions of dollars, even if they are “struggling” publishers. No. This column is about celebrating the efforts of independent individuals with few resources and the outstanding wherewithal to bring their visions to life. Pat Stango has done that in a way that should inspire everyone to find the silver lining in a desk job that seems all too far from the comedy edens we all so desire.
Talk to me a little bit about how LMBR came to be.
Pat Stango: The backstory is: this is actually my day job. I work in the video department at Penguin Random House Publishing. The department itself is about a year and a half old. What we’re trying to do is the classic publisher stuff, interviews with the authors where they talk about their books and that kind of thing, but we’ve also been trying to create some fun entertainment series that could use the idea of publishing and books, sometimes featuring the authors and sometimes not, and this was an idea my boss, John Clinton, and I came up with that was along those lines. We could get authors to do this and show their fun side, and some times we could do a series with comedian friends of mine. It’s basically a fun thing that’s both related to my job in publishing and not.
Was the decision to feature non-author comedians just a function of you wanting to be able to have material for a show each week?
Pat Stango: Yeah, it’s sort of the thing where, no matter what, the premise is going to be book related, because it’s going to be a book report, so I think the ideal episodes are the ones that have the authors as the ones doing the contest. Ideally it’s someone like the Jacqueline Novak’s installment, where the episode features a comedian or super funny person who also has a book out. Our format is luckily loose enough where I can mix in a funny friend of mine to come in and do it.
And it’s all Penguin books, right? That’s the deal.
Pat Stango: We use all of our Penguin Random House classics as the book that they do the book report on and, if it’s an author, it’s always an author who’s recently done a book for us. One thing that I really like about this format, so far, is seeing how differently each participant plays the game. Sean and Nick were super high energy and just made up completely insane narratives. Pierce tightly mixed the Wuthering Heights characters into the Star Wars storyline. Jacqueline Novak just evaded everything as she ripped apart the concept of book reports in general, and wondered whether books should even be read in the first place. So, each personality really dictates the direction the episode will go in.
What’s the reception been from Penguin Random House management?
Pat Stango: It’s mostly been very positive. For the most part people get it’s supposed to be fun, even if there is a little bit of making fun of these books, the viewer is going to be more interested in the idea of reading or checking out the actual book, even if the person in the video is making fun of it. Overall it’s been a very positive response. They definitely want us to make more, so that’s good.
And it’s really not even necessarily making fun of the book, it’s more so making fun of the people who are ill prepared to deliver a book report, right?
Pat Stango: Exactly. We’ve all done this before, where we didn’t read the book, but still have to present and you just have to bullshit your way through it. The one direction I always give is “Be super confident up there, because you are trying to not let on that you’ve not done the assignment.” Once they’re being asked all these questions and being asked to do the book report, they have to answer in a really confident way, even if they’re just totally making stuff up. It’s a pretty relatable premise, I think.
Very. So, how did you get the gig in publishing?
Pat Stango: I’ve been doing sketch and video stuff for a while on my own but, as far as this, I’ve been working for Random House for a while in different marketing departments and then I sort of became the person that people knew did videos on the outside. There was no formal video department in-house so, whenever people wanted to make a video to promote a book, they used to always just freelance it out and then, more and more, they heard about how I did video stuff, and they would get me in to do these ad hoc assignments on top of what my actual day job was. Then, about a year and a half ago, myself and my boss, John [Clinton] who worked in the events department here, created the video department formally. We’d been asking for it for a while. They built us an in-house studio. They gutted an old storage room and put in a full green screen, and that’s where we film everything.
Is your PR department helpful in pushing this kind of stuff or is it kind of on you guys to make sure you’ve got eyeballs on it?
Pat Stango: That’s actually something that we just got. Random House is broken up into a million different little imprints and they’ve all got their own marketing and PR departments. We definitely work with them a lot because they’re usually the ones who bring up the project, “We’ve got this person putting out a book in 6 months, etc.” We definitely work with them in pitching out certain books to do, but we also actually just hired our own video-specific publicist that works for our team. He started about a month ago and his role is basically to pitch video out to media. Whatever the genre is, find the appropriate sites to pitch out to that might want to embed it on their pages.
Who would be your dream LMBR guest?
My dream would be a super serious, “Literary with a Capital L” author like Philip Roth, just to see what his strategy would be. Or Adam Resnick, who wrote the funniest the book I’ve read in years and is one of my comedic heroes.
When’s the next episode releasing?
Pat Stango: I’m actually editing one right now that was supposed to be done by Aquafina, a YouTube comedian whose one of the hosts of MTV’s Girl Code, who also wrote a book in the past year. A guide to New York City. That should be out in about a week and a half, I think?
What would you say to people who are in a position like the one you were in, where they’re at a company with potential creative outlets, but they need to prove they’re the right ones for those jobs?
Pat Stango: I think everything is really about relationships and meeting people. A lot of what I was able to do here was based on getting people from work to come see my shows and then things would start to spread like, “Hey I saw this guy Pat’s show, he actually does this, he might be somebody that we can build into what he does at work.” I think it’s a lot of networking and knowing what you’re into and trying to make it happen wherever you are. Obviously that’s not going to happen every time, but when you see the opportunity you should definitely go for it. A lot of this video work started from me doing extra work here. I had my job, and I could’ve coasted on it, but, when I saw the opportunity to do what I like here, I put in the extra effort to do it. Like anything else, it’s networking, doing a little bit of self publicity in a way where you’re not turning people off, but you’re letting them know that you’re confident about what you’re putting out. You’re always selling yourself. Sometimes it’s in the obvious way like sending scripts to Comedy Central. Other times, it manifests in a kind of weird detour way where you’re using the same principle, but it’s not the clearest path. You have to do the same thing, using the same tools you’d use if the path were clear.
Here are your three reasons to watch:
John Steinbeck’s ‘East of Eden’
Authors, unlike rock stars or, even Vine stars, don’t usually get the chance to reach out and e-touch their fans on the Internet. LMBR exposes Internet watchers to the faces behind words they’ll someday click away from Vine long enough to read.
David Mitchell’s ‘Cloud Atlas’
This series has a great logline. Even better, and more rare, is that its execution lives up to the elevator pitch.
Emily Bronte’s ‘Wuthering Heights’
We’ve all been unprepared for book reports. LMBR is truly well-engineered schadenfreude.
Luke is a writer/director for CollegeHumor and a watcher of many web videos. Send him yours @LKellyClyne.