Comedian and writer Mark Agee talks about life as a Stand-Up, working on “The Jeselnik Offesnive”, and co-hosting the comedy talk show — “Can I Kick It?”
My name is Mark Agee. I’m a comedian and writer. I grew up on a farm in Buckingham County, Virginia, and went to school in Appomattox County, which is mostly famous for being the town where the Civil War came to an end, or an intermission if you ask a lot of the people who live there.
I went to a small hippy liberal arts school in Fredericksburg, Virginia, named Mary Washington College. I say hippy because it seemed that way to me at the age of 17. Maybe people there were normal and I was a sheltered hillbilly. Not sure.
Either way, I just wanted to rebel and, my dad hated it there, so that was that.
I used to write attempt-at-humor columns (they were terrible) for my high school paper that usually got censored. At the time I loved the humor columnist Dave Barry, and that was probably the only frame of reference I had for anyone who made a living writing jokes. I loved watching standup on Star Search and Arsenio Hall, but I had no idea how anyone got into that.
The performing arts aren’t really a thing for men in farm country.
So I went to college and majored in English and worked on the school paper, probably hoping to be Dave Barry. When I graduated, I moved to Dallas-Fort Worth with the girl I was with at the time because she had a job offer. Our apartment was nearby the Addison Improv so I got in my head that I wanted to try standup. So I did.
It was awful and I loved it.
I got a job as a newspaper reporter for the Fort Worth Star-Telegram but continued doing standup, eventually started getting paid work, was later able to go full-time at comedy and do the road for a couple of years. Then I figured out that was never going to lead anywhere for me, so I moved to Los Angeles in 2011.
After that, I started writing sketches, late night packets and sit-com scripts, most of which are terrible and no one will ever read.
It’s all fun, but I still love standup the most.
First job in Entertainment?
What do you mean by “job?” It’s all a job and it’s all not a job. The first thing that paid? I believe I MCed for Jim Florentine or Tommy Davidson. The first comedy-related thing I got paid for that wasn’t standup was writing for this syndicated morning show called Eye Opener TV that’s on the CW and produced in Dallas.
Why Standup Comedy? Influences?
I always just loved jokes.
There’s something beautiful to me about a well-constructed short joke with a sharp left turn and no fat on it. Something that truly surprises its audience. I’ve been that way since I was a kid.
I remember repeating/hacking Arsenio monologue jokes at school and loving “MASH.” I loved Gilbert Gottfried. I listened to Chris Rock’s CDs on repeat. The first time I saw Mitch Hedberg’s CC Presents it killed me. He came through Dallas soon after I moved there and I thought it was amazing there was this guy I’d seen on TV right there in the same room with me.
Reality of Life in L.A. vs. Expectations
L.A. was harder than I though it would be. Everyone who moves here to make it is one of the best guys in their town.
So you get here thinking you’re just going to take over, but then you realize there are tons of very talented people.
And then you realize you’re going to have to work very hard, which is very depressing because no one gets into show business because they want to put in Wall Street-firm hours. So then you either make it out of that funk with a new work ethic or you don’t. (CAVEAT: I don’t know if I’ve completely done that.)
What was it like working on The Jeselnik Offensive?
Working on ‘The Jeselnik Offensive’ was the best, most fun job I’ve ever had, and I don’t know if anything will ever top it. You hear a lot of horror stories about Hollywood jobs, but all the people I worked with were super professional and talented. Anthony and the showrunner Tom were the best bosses ever. Because they ran a smooth ship the hours were a fairly-reasonable-for-TV-writing 50 to 60 per week.
I tweet a lot. I don’t know if it’s for my career. I mean, I guess it helps my PERSONAL BRAND and SYNERGIZES with the CULTURAL ZEITGEIST or whatever other marketing buzzwords I’ve memorized, but I put no thought or plan in to it. I’m just sitting alone on my laptop a lot and f*&k it.
I’d like to circle back to being on the road doing standup more often, but on my own terms. I’d like to create a sitcom that I wrote and have it be successful. Not sure.
I try not to dream specific things anymore because life has a way of funneling you toward other kinds of success and adventures you don’t even want or never even occurred to you.
Favorite Moments in Entertainment Thus Far?
Joan Rivers said a joke I wrote on Jeselnik. I thought that was cool.
Every time I’m able to pay my rent on time without having to punch a clock, that’s cool.
Dirk Nowtizki came to a show I did in Dallas. I’m a big basketball fan, so that was cool.
Hardest part of being a Stand-Up?
I don’t know if there’s any particular thing that’s harder than another part. The things non-comedians are afraid of about comedy — public speaking, bombing sometimes, being broke sometimes — no longer bother me.
Show biz is changing so much right now.
I guess the fear that it changes so much that it’s no longer a viable career bath and I’m a dude with an English degree and a 20-year gap on my resume is the worst part. Then again, that’s a lot of job sectors in 2015, so I can go to hell for whining about it.
Advice for those wanting to do Stand-Up professionally?
Do everything. Don’t just do standup.
Get really great at standup, it will open doors for you, but as soon as you’re through those doors the first question you’ll be asked is “So what else can you do?”
So take improv, act, write sketches. Tap dance. I don’t know, something someone knows how to monetize more consistently than standup. It’ll make life easier for you.
What did you do to prepare for your career?
Nothing. I was woefully unprepared. Still am. I’m just trying to learn stuff. I took a sketch writing class at some point. It didn’t hurt, I guess. But actually writing for a sketch show at iO West was probably far more helpful.
Sure, man. Lots of people. Everyone.
Even terrible people can teach you something about something.
I’ve also been very lucky to have very funny comedy peers who I probably learned more from than anyone. I wouldn’t call them mentors, because &*ck their egos.
Speaking of peers with egos, my good friend Tone Bell and I sold a show for development to FX. We’re writing the pilot for that right now. I have no idea if it will ever be a thing that people can watch, but it’s been a tremendous learning experience already.
Tone and I moved here together from Dallas and shared an apartment where we slept on an air mattress and the floor, respectively, so it’s cool to maybe do something together.
Anything else you’d like to share with our readers?
I co-run a comedy talk show about hip hop at Nerdmelt here in Los Angeles with Tone, Al Jackson and Joe DeRosa. We have guests and watch old videos. We describe it as Mystery Science Theater 3000 meets Yo! MTV Raps.
It’s called “Can I Kick It?”, it’s once a month and the next one is May 2.
Where can our readers go to find out more info?
Follow me @markagee on twitter. That’s all I bother with right now.
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