Reminder: Phil Hartman Was Awesome

08.19.11 5 years ago • 13 Comments
The Tonight Show with Jay Leno - Season 6

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It’s a needless effort to remind everyone how awesome Phil Hartman was, but if we don’t take the time to recognize his unparalleled genius on occasion, today’s kids may replace him in comedy’s history books with Kevin James and Nick Cannon. Today’s reminder of just how awesome the legendary character actor was comes in the form of a letter that he wrote to an aspiring standup comic, Michael, who currently writes for the blog at Happy Fatties (sorry, but I can’t find the guy’s last name on the website).

The comic wrote a hand-written letter to Hartman in 1996, detailing his career ambitions and how Hartman inspired him, and he included samples of his work. Not surprisingly, for the guy that we’ve always been told that Hartman was, he responded.

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.

I don’t have anything else to add, other than Hartman was f*cking awesome – a rare and now extinct breed of comedy perfection. I could write a few thousand words on his influence and spectacular style, but thankfully Josh Kurp already did that for Warming Glow. Check out Hartman’s letter after the jump.


Hi. Thanks for your letter, I listened to your tape, enough of it to hear that you have true natural talent. Your voice is pleasant to the ear. That, I think is your basic talent. Your humor is like a lot of comedy I hear today…angry, somewhat mean spirited.

Okay I guess if that’s what makes your friends laugh. Sure. Go there. Maybe I’m old. I honestly recognize that a lot of humor (my humor, too) is hostile. But when it’s too on the nail…”I can’t stand Alannis, Nickelodeon, etc.”…to me it lacks craft and subtlety.

Look at Letterman. His humor is hostile, but it holds back, to network standards, and yet still works beautifully. He doesn’t go all the way. You seem to be going more toward a Howard Stern sensibility. And I prefer Letterman. So there you go.

“And that’s OKAY,” as Stuart Smalley says. I just have a sense that you could be more than a shock jock. It’s just a hunch. As artists we all face the same challenge—what is funny about me? Or, more pertinently, who am i?

If you dislike Alannis, and say so bluntly, that’s not funny. If you make a TOP TEN LIST OF OTHER THINGS ALANNIS FINDS “IRONIC,” that can be funny, and still allow you to express your antipathy.

Amateur comedy is too “on the nail.” You need to develop craft. In school, in a radio gig, a theatre group, improv troupe, or standup showcase.

Don’t be discouraged. You have talent. Personally, I like your own voice more than your impressions and character work. Just work, wherever you can. You’ll grow and refine and be great. Be patient. (I didn’t start acting till I was 27). You’ve got a head start.

Go for it,

Phil Hartman

(Thanks to the folks at Buzzfeed for the translation.)

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