I’ve been a fan of Ben Rosen since I came across his very funny comic White Cat on a message board over a decade ago. I’ve been happy to see him rise in the ranks as a comedian, even though it wasn’t through comics. He moved to Hollywood and worked on everything from South Park to Big Brother to Project Runaway and most recently Funny or Die. I interviewed Rosen his career trajectory, building a career in comedy, and how making comics helped him hone his craft.
When did you decide you wanted to make comedy your career?
I’ve always been a big comedy fan (I was probably the only 12-year-old who was really into the commentary tracks on my Simpsons DVDs). But it wasn’t until college that I started writing humor pieces for the college newspaper. And at the same time, a lot of comedy podcasts started popping up like Comedy Bang! Bang!, WTF, and Jordan Jesse Go which gave me more of an insight into that world and I could see how you could make a career out of it. That led me to seek out an internship at The Daily Show. I had a great experience there and it cemented that this is what I wanted to try to do.
Was comics ever something you wanted to do professionally or more so an outlet for writing humor?
When I was a teenager the dream was to be a professional cartoonist. I looked up to people like Adrian Tomine, Gabrielle Bell, James Kochalka and I was really into reading and making autobiographical stuff (even though literally no part of my life was interesting enough to memorialize in comic form). I sent out those mini-comics through the mail all throughout high school and tabled at smaller indie cons like MoCCA and it was a really fun scene to be a part of. Later in college, I started to make more humor comics as I got more into comedy but it was tough to devote so much time to drawing when the writing was what was really fun for me. I miss comics a lot though so I’d love to write for animation one day.
I’d imagine it’s easier to get someone to check out a comic or short film than read a script. Is it important to have humor with a visual component you can show potential employers?
I agree that people prefer to watch a short or read a comic than read a script, but I also think it’s useful to do those things because you get practice fully realizing something you’ve written. Whether it’s a comic or a video, the finished product is never exactly what you wrote, and you always end up solving problems and making adjustments as you move from script to finished product. I’m really glad I finished so many comics when I was younger to get that practice in. Making comics teaches you so many things that translate to video, like framing shots, pacing, comedic timing, writing succinct dialogue. And at the end, you have a finished product that cost you almost nothing.
Did you have to build a portfolio of comedic work to apply for jobs?
Most non-sitcom comedy writing jobs basically give you an assignment called a packet where you pitch different types of jokes and pieces that you’d have to do if you got the job. But usually, you get those opportunities to do packets when you’ve already created work that people see and like. When I first started applying for jobs in LA though, I was going out for Production Assistant jobs, and pretty much the only requirement was that you had a car.
How did you build up your comedy resume, outside of your comics?
I made a good amount of sketches and directed a half-hour pilot that screened in the New York Television Festival called Steve’s Jobs. But really I spent most of my time writing jokes on Twitter. I was working some boring reality show jobs and decided to come up with a joke every hour or every two hours and so I got better just by writing a ton of jokes and throwing them online. And since I built up more of a following, most of my opportunities have come from people who like my Twitter feed. I have to remind myself that it’s been useful whenever I feel like I’m wasting my life on that site which is basically every day.
When did you move to Los Angeles?
I moved to LA after college to work as a PA on South Park. They have a pretty crazy production schedule so I was there 6 days a week, and every other Tuesday I had a 24-hour shift. It was an exciting place to be. It was really great to see how they make the show and everyone there is so talented.
What did you do on other shows like Eli Stone and Project Runway?
I truly have no idea how Eli Stone got on my IMDB or even what that is, but I worked a lot of jobs in reality TV, from transcribing interviews on Project Runway to babysitting contestants during the casting process for shows like Big Brother and Survivor. I was a Production Assistant on commercials, PSAs, web series, all sorts of stuff just generally helping out and hanging around and picking up food. It was a good way to get started.
How did you land a job with Funny or Die?
Tamara Yajia and I had followed each other on Twitter for a while and she was working at Funny or Die when a spot for a writer opened up. She sent me a DM over Twitter and asked if I wanted to apply, so I did a packet and interviewed and I’ve been there since October 2018!
If you had to recommend one piece of content you created at Funny or Die, what would it be?
People should check out Dumbest Music Videos: Guns N’ Roses!
Follow Ben Rosen’s very funny Twitter account @ben_rosen and keep an eye out for his future projects!
Matt Chats is a twice-monthly interview series featuring discussions with creators or players in comics, diving deep into industry and creative topics. Find its author, Matt O’Keefe, on Twitter and Tumblr. Email him with questions, comments, complaints, or whatever else is on your mind at [email protected].