I had the very fortunate opportunity to cruise with Seaton Smith, 29, on Sunday Jan. 30, on his way to do a show over at High Topps in Timonium, MD. We chatted the whole way on the road, which was good, because I didn’t really know the guy and he had no idea who I was, but somehow we were in the same vehicle together. People should get in strangers’ cars more often. I had a blast. I was able to learn a lot about him and caught him at a time when he just changed his career two weeks prior to that day to be a full time comedian. He quoted Bob Dylan about how success is about doing what you want to do in between waking up and going to sleep. “The past two weeks have been the most successful of my life.”
Seaton was born in California and moved to New Jersey when he was twelve. He studied film at Howard University and has been a D.C. resident for ten years. I consider him a double threat, because he performs and also produces film. Since 2007 he and his friend from university have been producing web series and creating sketches. Seaton said the process of creating sketches has been a challenge, but he learns something new every time he makes one.
I personally enjoyed his reindeer sketch, but he told me that sometimes he has a hard time finishing them, because he’ll have a funny idea, but not know what the story is about the idea. “It’s like trying to find a rhythm like a wave and that’s essentially the stupid thing, me in a costume cursing like a hood nigga. Just find that wave and build a narrative around it.”
Seaton shared with me that he met Bob Odenkirk, a former head writer for SNL and one of the creators of Mr. Show with Bob and David, who to him is one of the most respected sketch writers in the history of comedy. When he got the chance to inroduce himself to him he asked Bob the most important question ever. “I walked up to him and said, ‘Hey man. How do you write skits?’ It was literally the dumbest thing. It got to the point where he grabbed his wife and said ‘Here, talk to my wife.’ and walked away.” He understood Bob, because he kind of feels weird when people ask him how to write jokes. It’s a process that is really hard to describe.
The first time he did stand up was at a talent show when he was ten, but it wasn’t until he turned 21 that he started going to open mics and dedicated himself to doing three shows a week and then gradually moved up to averaging about five to six. He thinks D.C. is a great place to do comedy. “It’s fun, it’s like the minor leagues. You just go up there and find yourself.” He went on to explain that being a comic in D.C., you have the opportunity to discover what kind of comic you are and build a foundation whereas in other cities comics are encouraged to find that quick five minutes and run with it. “Here it’s cool, because you’re trying to find yourself before you try to sell yourself.”
People have gone up to him and offered their critiques about how he should perform; however, he said that he has failed so many times at performing in different ways that he knows what works and what doesn’t. “People said I should talk slower. I tried that. I bombed alot. It didn’t work. I’ve done everything and worked as hard as I can. This is it.” He’s like Popeye who says “I am what I am.” However, Popeye had to consume spinach to really kick ass. So was he juiced on spinach? I’ll stop right there. So where was I?
Ah, yes. Seaton’s career highlights so far include performing in Montreal Comedy Festival in 20o8 and performing in front of 7,000 people at a stadium for the Opie and Anthony Traveling Virus Tour in 2007. The stadium experience was different for him because he had to gauge how well he was doing by reading people’s faces rather than by sound because there is a bit of a delay for him to hear the crowd. “The laughter you hear in a room in a comedy club is instantaneous, but laughter in a stadium comes in a wave.” So it’s like seeing lightning strike and then hearing the crack a couple seconds later. If you’re at a safe distance, of course. Anyway, he got the gig through winning a contest at the DC Improv called Car Crash Comedy. How the contest worked was each comic would get a chance to perform and if they made a bad joke you would hear a car crash sound. If there were three car crashes in a set then the comic was eliminated from the game. “I didn’t get any crashes and it was cool.”
On the ride back we listened to T.V. on the Radio. Seaton met one of the performers in the group who went to see Seaton do stand up in Brooklyn, N.Y. Our cruise on the highway was a symbol of where he is in his life, which is in transition. Five days from our chat he would be packing up his stuff to move to Brooklyn, the place where the best salsa is made. “I’m a little annoyed that I have to go. I’m just kicking and screaming… I’m not saying I’m afraid I’m just asking myself, ‘Am I leaving something good here?… It’s taking the next step in life and you hope that it’s fun. That’s what you can hope for that it’s worth it. That there’s a point to it.” I think that he’s going to do great and know that D.C. will miss having him around, but I’m sure that he will always have a home here to come back to if he wants.