Each month I’ve been focusing in on an actor, actress, or filmmaker that I grew up loving and has informed my own career (if calling what I do in the industry qualifies as such) in writing or performing. Films are supposed to be fun, entertaining ventures that allow an escape from the day-to-day happenings of our lives. Why not celebrate the uncelebrated, folks. Join me on my quest as I gush over those who have inspired me to put words on a website that will ultimately never equate what it means to be honored by their peers at an official award show or film festival.
This next entry in the Unsung Heroes of Hollywood series is going to be all over the place, but I promise that if you stick with me until the end, it’ll all tie together and make perfect sense to you. Which is sort of fitting seeing as how the subject of this piece will take you on a helluva wordy journey to make his point. It is my personal opinion that Owen Benjamin is the smartest comedian to take a stage since George Carlin. Many will disagree with my bold statement, but like film and television, comedy is subjective. You assign your own baggage to any comedian just like you would your favorite actor or director. Owen’s Stand-Up, along with his podcasts, Facebook live sessions, instagram posts, tweets and periscopes never cease to amaze me. He is seriously the hardest working thinker in the game and doesn’t shy away from topics that force his audience to think outside of the box.
I think it is important to state that I do not know Owen personally. Though that’s not entirely true. With the hours upon hours of content he creates, it’s not hard to feel like us fans are invited into his life on a regular basis for a beer and hearty meal. Hell, he periscopes a lot and engages with us die-hards so often that I think I sorta spent Christmas and Easter with him. But in reality, aside from an email exchange and engaging on his social media, we’ve never so much as high-fived or hydrated together (that one was for the fans).
I first fell for Owen’s charms while working post production on Adam Rifkin’s segment “Wadzilla” featured in the anthology flick “Chillerama.” After two weeks on the segment during pre-production, a family emergency topped off with a failing gallbladder and a tumultuous break-up, kept me from participating in principle photography. But before I knew it I was back in LA to assist Rif during post-production. I’ll never forget sitting on Ed Marx’s couch watching the assembly cut of the train sequence of Wadzilla and laughing hysterically at the rough cut of Owen and Rif’s exchange regarding the discomfort in Rif’s character Miles’ balls. The scene hits all the comedic beats for my liking. Rif and Owen play off one another with complete sincerity, never winking to the camera. The absurdness of the material is elevated by their willingness to play the scene out as if this was a normal, everyday problem Miles is experiencing.
A few years later I would find myself driving around listening to Comedy Central Radio with my now wife. Much of the time I would have the radio on just to act as white noise to drowned out the insanity that is Chicagoland traffic, but a few tracks seemed to always jump out at me by three separate comedians. First was a story about Goodyear clothes, by Tommy Johnagin. The second was a great movie pitch about Law and Order and Jerry Orbach, by John Mulaney. The third track that would jump out of the speakers and kick my ass was a story about getting sprayed with bear mace, by Owen.
“Sprayed with Bear Mace” is just one of many hysterical tracks on Owen’s 2013 album “High Five Til It Hurts!” The album is a clinic on how to crush at comedy for 60 minutes straight. From “Dog Lover” to “Feel My Heat,” every single track is a comedian firing at all cylinders. The last six tracks of the album feature Owen accompanying his wit with stellar piano play. Owen is simply a legend, but based on material he shares with fans now, the genius of “High Five Til It Hurts!” isn’t even scratching the surface of his best material. Enter politi
Owen isn’t a political comedian. He certainly doesn’t have a narrative he’s pushing down your throat. But the son of two college professors, Owen is what you would call an intelligent thinker. On a recent appearance on Louder with Crowder, Owen joked with host Steven Crowder that, “when I moved to Hollywood I was a liberal. When I left I was a conservative, only none of my views changed.” Owen has a gift of pointing out the obvious going on in society and dissect it to the truth. He uses logic like a grizzled world war 2 veteran that has “seen some shit.” He’s stated on many occasions that he doesn’t affiliate with any political party, but rather simply believes in Freedom of Speech. As a comedian it is obvious to see why. Owen, like many of the greats to come before him, believes that no subject is off limits in comedy. That laughing is imperative to healing. It’s not like Owen is running out on stage burning midgets (Owen is 6’7″, so literally anyone under 6 foot is a midget to this man) with cigarettes and laughing while the audience is gang raped by rodeo clowns.
Enter “Why Didn’t They Laugh,” Owen’s podcast where he breaks down audience reactions to his jokes. Owen’s ability to dissect his own material is ballsy to say the least. As a headliner he crushes, but every audience is different depending on an impossible amount of variables. Crowd size, alcohol intake, region, etc., is key. A joke that crushes in blue collar Cleveland might not land at a corporate gig in New York. Owen records all of his sets and plays clips of the audience reactions to the setup and punchline like a coach would play tape to his players following a game. One of the great things about WDTL is that fans have seen such a growth in Owen’s joke writing that nowadays he doesn’t have as much material of a joke not landing as in the beginning of the show. He’s been able to dissect his material so well that no matter the circumstance, the jokes are crushing without issue.
You might think that with less material to dissect his show episodes would be few and far between, but luckily for us that isn’t the case. WDTL has evolved into a show about human nature. Owen takes the same approach, but now is pulling the curtain back behind tweets, instagram posts, headlines, you name it, Owen is talking about it. Again, he’s not a political comedian. He is a critical thinker that stands up for free speech. I seriously can’t recommend WDTL enough to anyone that enjoys laughing a lot. Also, his social media is on fire. His periscopes are an unfiltered glimpse into pure joke writing. Watching him ask the room what song he should play while sitting at the piano and then writing a parody of that song on the fly with input from the comment section is magical.
So how does Owen Benjamin tie into a person that influenced my own craft, as each of these Unsung Heroes have. Well, Let me explain. Owen’s ability to write on the fly is truly inspiring and though I didn’t grow up with Owen, I do continue to grow with Owen. His podcast has influenced me on countless episodes and honestly has helped me grow as a public speaker. I’m no longer as quick to silence myself on a thought because I might not be as informed on a topic. Owen has shown me that dialogue is good. Expressing ideas are good. I’m 31. I don’t know everything. Why wouldn’t I want to continue to learn and evolve as a human. Owen is quick to acknowledge when he was wrong. But at least the subject was open in the first place and he was able to grow from the experience. In today’s society of what’s trending, many are quick to argue, but not willing to admit defeat.
Los Angeles lost a legend when Owen left to raise his family near his hometown. Owen currently resides in upstate New York with his wife Amy and son Walter. Many of his adventures can be seen on his periscope and instagram pages, as well as heard on Why Didn’t They Laugh and Case Closed Beers Open, a podcast with his brother Jason were they solve cases in exchange for beer. Be sure to check out Owen’s website HugePianist.com for info on upcoming stand-up dates and also pick up a sweet beer coaster. They’re hand made from trees Owen and Jason have cut down. Owen will be recording his next special this fall on his UK tour in Glasgow Scotland. You can support Owen’s podcasts on Patreon, as well.
Jeremy Morrison – Staff Writer
Co-creator/host of the Acid Pop Cult Podcast, film reviewer, screenwriter, Jeremy has more than eight years experience in television and film production. His childhood fascination with the naked breasts featured in the “Friday the 13th” franchise prepared him for absolutely nothing in life. J-Mo lives by one motto: #wecantallbezacksnyder
Jason Price founded the mighty Icon Vs. Icon more than a decade ago. Along the way, he’s assembled an amazing group of like-minded individuals to spread the word on some of the most unique people and projects on the pop culture landscape.