FEATURE

Stand-Ups Find Sit-Down Jobs
Comedy writers & producers from New England

by Nick A Zaino III


Brendon Small

Writers refuse to stay behind the scenes in Boston. Visit the Comedy Studio in Cambridge, and you might find Bill Braudis or Brendon Small taking a break from working on the Cartoon Network's Home Movies to try out new material. Drop by the Comedy Connection in Boston and you might see Jeanine DiTullio, former staff writer for the Conan O'Brien show, honing a couple of routines.

Bill Braudis started out in stand-up in 1981, getting in on the ground floor of the Boston comedy boom that produced stars like Steven Wright and Jay Leno. He had been taking writing courses at continuing education centers in Boston and Cambridge when he found he could showcase his talents onstage. The stand-up wave would begin to wash out in the early 90s, leading Braudis back to his first love - writing. "In the early 90s, I was doing a lot of traveling, doing a lot of long drives," he says. "I had just gotten married, and I thought, I don't want this kind of life all the time."

The Braudis family moved out to San Francisco, and Bill caught a break stand-ups dream of, appearing in the Tonight Show three times over the next couple of years. In 1995, Braudis got his first job writing for television. "Through a friend who was writing for the Dennis Miller Show, I started faxing in jokes, and then they needed a writer's assistant for their next season, so they hired me, and that was my first writing gig," he remembers.

It wasn't long before he found himself back in New England. Later in 1995, after one season writing for Dennis Miller Live, Jonathan Katz asked Braudis to write for Dr. Katz: Professional Therapist. Braudis had first appeared on the show playing himself, as a patient on Dr. Katz's couch. Katz was impressed enough with Braudis to hire him based on his stand-up. "Comedy Central picked up Dr. Katz for a big chunk of episodes, I forget what it was," he says. "But I started writing with [Katz] on that. Which eventually led to working with Tom Snyder directly on an educational show which became the show we did on ABC on Saturday mornings called Science Court, which we wrote for three years. And that led to everything else I've done since then."

Comedy writer Bill Braudis

That also led to Home Movies and Brendon Small, who hosts Friday night shows at the Comedy Studio in Harvard Square. Braudis and Small work on the show for Soup to Nuts Productions in Watertown, writing scripts together. Small got his break in comedy writing before he even started looking for it. He had been doing stand-up for less than a year he was spotted onstage at the Comedy Studio by Soup to Nuts producer Loren Bouchard. "He came to see a couple of comics that night, and I had a pretty good set," Small says. "I was actually doing a character kind of a thing. It wasn't really stand-up. I was just screaming about ham, which sounds kind of stupid, but with the right kind of delivery, it can be pretty funny. So trust me on that one."

About a month after that performance, Small got a call from Bouchard about a series he was working on for UPN. The network was looking for a family show, and Bouchard wanted to know if Small had any ideas. "I just wrote as much as I could and just beat him to the punch," says Small. "I knew how busy he was because he was working on Dr. Katz, so I tried to beat him to coming up with ideas. And I did, so I got to create the show."

Not coincidentally, the show wound up focusing on a character named Brendon Small, a precocious 8-year-old who dreams of making movies, and his divorced mother, originally voiced by Poundstone but now played by Jeanine Ditullio. Small wears a lot of hats on the show. He writes, acts, and even puts his Berkelee degree to good use providing the music for the soundtrack. "No one really wants to be the guy who makes every decision, because ultimately, it's like one point of view, and eventually that's pretty boring," says Small. Small and Braudis have found a rhythm writing the scripts together. "So it's really fun to have it be a two-person team of writers," says Small. "You kind of sit down with the other guy and do table reads, and just constantly listen to suggestions and collaborate."

Like Braudis, DiTullio started her stand-up career in Boston during the 80s boom, and found work writing as the boom died down. She had been working the college circuit with a friend, John Gross, when Gross and another friend were hired as writers on The Jon Stewart Show, which was then on MTV. DiTullio had also opened for Stewart at Harvard University. It wasn't long before events conspired to bring her to the show, as well. "I called to talk to my friend who was working there and I accidentally got Jon Stewart's office, he answered the phone, and he'd remembered working with me at Harvard and he said, "Send me a writing sample, we're looking to hire another writer. And they hired me."

It turned out to be a rough start. After spending half a season splitting time between Boston and New York, DiTullio finally moved to New York City for her first full season. Paramount then bought the show for syndication, and DiTullio wasn't hired back on, initially. But halfway through the season, they needed a writer again, and her phone rang again. DiTullio spent another half-season there before the show was cancelled, then moved to The Conan O'Brien Show as a monologue writer. "It was literally the day that Jon Stewart was cancelled, Conan called me and offered me a job, so I went directly to Conan."

The Conan O'Brien Show turned out to be a much more stable environment for DiTullio. She spent five years as a writer there before leaving this past September to write her own pilots and pursue more performance work. She left with valuable experience and her options wide open. "I'm doing the mom on Home Movies. I'm studying acting in New York, I'm doing a lot of performance workshops there. [It's] really fun, to be able to go back and do stand-up more now, and not have to be broke and doing it for fifty dollars. I still do it for fifty dollars, but I don't have to do it for fifty dollars."

None of these three writers have lost their love for stand-up, and you can still see them onstage. Check your local listings, and you may find them performing near you soon.


Nick A. Zaino III is a freelance writer, comedy nut, and musician working in Boston. Contact: nzaino@hotmail.com