Sunday, August 14, 2011

Phil Hartman's Influence

UPDATE 1/27/12: See the Phil Hartman Charity Auction for Heal the Bay.

When I was in high school I would put together these audio tapes that consisted of part DJ/Radio Show/Sketch Comedy... I guess you'd call them audio variety shows. I'd pass them off to friends, they'd share with their friends and everyone was full of joy and wonder.

Those tapes are pretty much how I learned how to construct a sketch, characters and impressions. So for a 19-year-old, I was still pretty raw and kind of rudderless. So I sought out advice from someone that influenced me and made a huge impression on what my idea of comedy should be.

In December of 1996, I sent an almost illegally-long hand-written (we did that in those days) letter and one of my tapes to Phil Hartman. The letter was full of what my hopes and dreams were and a solicitation for any kind of advice he could throw my way. Of course, there was probably a good deal of ass-kissing as well... But that seems justified to me.

Four months later I received my self-addressed, stamped envelope. Inside was a two-page (front and back) hand-written response from Phil. He gave me what I needed at the time: Constructive criticism, an honest assessment, and, most importantly, direction. This meant the world to me. A man that was THAT busy at the time (doing Newsradio, The Simpsons, commercials, films, and God-knows-what-else) took the time out to not only respond to my letter, but listen to the tape I sent him. It wasn't lost on me, even at that age.

So I was determined to use everything he told me to better my material. I made a new tape and was going to send him a copy, but I started getting into writing comedic essays and planned on sending him a package that showed whatever growth I was making artistically. I remember starting the next letter with a promise that this wasn't like some 'Save The Children' for comedy where he'd receive monthly updates on my progress.

I never got to send that package. I never got to thank him. Who would have known he was going to be taken from us so early? With every piece I create I hope I make Phil proud. He was the most brilliant performer and was not just overwhelmingly beloved by his fans, but by his peers that never had a bad word to say about him. He was everywhere and still so many people don't realize just how much he was involved in. Because he was a man of so many talents, I am always finding new material with him in it, so it's not like he's really gone.

Below is the letter he sent. He makes a reference to the tape I sent, but you'll get the overall ideas of what he's saying. Hope you enjoy.

One of my favorite and most-quotable sketches with Phil:


Amanda H. said...

/in case you don't get the comment or don't have email notification

Yeah? I'm not usually on Cartoon Brew but I added my two cents on "Ren and Stimpy". 20 years, wow. I feel old. XD

Yeah, at first I wanted to do a Flash cartoon based on the Al Brodax Saturday morning cartoons and then it just kind of morphed into just making comics of them. The problem of drawing from the cartoons mostly is because the look is so inconsistent. I think they had maybe two or three head animators because the look tends to fluctuate from episode to episode. I went through about three revisions of Paul alone because of this plus there has been my own journey through learning cartooning from John K.'s blog and just working my way through the Preston Blair cartooning book. Now its just a matter of putting pen to paper and actually doing it.
Actually, I might as well make a big post about it.
P.S.: if you haven't seen the cartoons, here is one. They get weirder than this. Much weirder.

SSRobCM said...

Phil Hartman was a great actor and comedian. That's awesome that he took the time to write you.Thanks for sharing.I remember the day i found out he passed. Very sad day I truly enjoyed his work.

Anonymous said...

phil hartman was one of the reasons i got into iprov---a serious talent for goofery---he was such a friendly spirit--from capn carl to the german shemale--he did it all--and a surfer to boot---aloha phil i hope Im makin ya laugh---@

Anthony Strand said...

That's really remarkable. What a swell guy that he took the time to respond so thoughtfully. Thanks so much for sharing - it really made my day.

warrenlevine said...

I read this post today, after reading the Huffpost link to it.

It's a great feel-good story, and I've got a similar one, which I'll tell one day on my own blog.

But I know exactly how you feel, and I'm glad you were the recipient of this honor by someone who really didn't need to take the time or make the effort, but just did it because he was a decent human being.

I'm sorry you didn't get the chance to thank him. Great story, though.

I've met athletes and celebrities who could take lessons in humility from your experience.

Bishop said...

What a class act! He left us too soon!

cigarcow said...

That was awesome. So did his advice work? Are you famous and/or funnier now?

cigarcow said...

That was awesome. So did his advice work? Are you famous and/or funnier now?

RiverPoet said...

I linked over here from Huffington Post (like many more people will do, I'm sure). What a gift you were given, to have someone so talented and successful to offer you an honest critique of your work - and, as you point out, guidance. People pay good money for that.

I'm a writer, and what I wouldn't give to have Joyce Carol Oates give me some pointers.

You got lucky, and I hope you go far with what he offered you! D

Anonymous said...

god, phil hartman was a funny, wonderful man. Thank you for sharing this - and keeping his memory alive.

Thombeau said...

Read this via HuffPo. Thanks so much for sharing!

Anonymous said...

I'm another visitor from HuffPo.

What a great thing he did for you! I wish more people in the industry would do this kind of thing. (I will forward it to my hubby, who just sold his second animated cartoon series.)

Creative people simply do not realize how much of an impact they can have.

Anonymous said...

Thank you for posting the letter. What a genuine person he was! Phil was always a cut above. Way above. And to now know he was ALSO a nice guy too? I can just hear him, "Hi, I'm Troy McClure" .... What a talent. I hope you took his advice to heart as it certainly came FROM his heart!
Cheers, Marty G

Anonymous said...

Was so sad when Phil Hartman was murdered. I knew he was a funny man, this heartfelt and very supportive letter proves that he was a great guy too.

Anonymous said...

amazing letter! i had not thought about Phil Hartman for some time - thanks for the reminder. this actually makes me really sad in a way...but i am thankful for the time we had him.

Shine on Phil Hartman - you crazy diamond.

Beth said...

I linked to this, possibly HuffPo but perhaps another site. What a fabulous story and an incredible letter--I'm so glad I saw this.

I was a huge fan of Mr. Hartman's work on SNL and "Newsradio" and, like many fans remember the day I learned he had died. He was so talented, and from your letter, it appears he was quite thankful for his fans and humble as well. What a great guy.

Beth said...

This story also brought back memories of an episode of Newsradio where Bill McNeil (Hartman's character) is stalked by a fan who is just trying to get him to listen to his demo tape. It was highly entertaining, as was pretty much everything Mr. Hartman did.

Anonymous said...

You should post an audio of the tape you sent.

Anonymous said...

What a golden soul he was, is, and always will be.

Go forth, JL