It’s perfect for the Cincinnati native/L.A. resident, an improvisational comic whose guerrilla style finds him inhabiting a broad range of fringe characters, disturbing the audience unaware of the joke and delighting the audience that is. It’s a fine wire to walk, and Hyland traverses it with Wallenda-like agility, a quality that informs the pilot he’s pitching to Comedy Central.
“The pilot is a sketch show and deals heavily with my street characters,” Hyland says. “I go out in character and shoot from afar. It’s like a cross between Borat and (Stephen) Colbert. Whereas Borat highlights the stupidity of someone else, I make the scene of being the stupid person and leaving someone with an experience.”
Hyland blurs and accentuates reality simultaneously. One of his longstanding characters is TV/street evangelist/youth minister Tracy Marune, who has appeared on cable television, on stage and in unscripted street plays for years. There’s a great YouTube clip of Tracy at the Solid Rock Church in front of the now-destroyed Touchdown Jesus.
In 2004, Hyland/Marune staged a mock protest outside Jimmy Kimmel’s studio, which worked well. Kimmel played comedic straight man, thinking he was witnessing a legitimate protest.
“My older brother called and said Jimmy Kimmel made fun of that God Warrior lady and it would be funny for Tracy to react, so I had my hook to protest,” Hyland says. “Eventually Jimmy Kimmel came out and it turned into this showdown of me telling him to apologize and he said no. For whatever reason, he brought out this jar of brownies and we made a deal that if I ate one, he would allow me to save him. I told him I’d eat his demonic brownie, then I put my hand on his head and saved him, and he apologized, but I said I didn’t believe the sincerity of his apology. He gave up and walked away, so I threw the brownie and hit him in the back and he threw it back at me and hit some 10-year-old kid, which was pretty funny.”
Hyland is currently awaiting word from Comedy Central on his pilot (executive produced by Mr. Show veteran Bob Odenkirk). He pitched it earlier this year; the network passed initially, but they loved Hyland’s energy and viewpoint and asked him to tweak and resubmit it.
“The entertainment industry is so broad with so many angles, it’s a matter of finding what’s legit and what’s BS and, out of what’s legit, what’s right for me,” Hyland says.
“At the core of everything is keeping busy, making shorts constantly, regardless if you get paid or not. If you want to make any living out of it, you keep doing it. Then people will ask you to do it, then you’ll get paid to do it. It’s just sticking with that model.”
Hyland was also offered a rare opportunity last year: a Saturday Night Live audition. Although he wasn’t hired, the SNL landscape changes quickly. Jenny Slate, hired last season, was not renewed and longtime cast member Will Forte departed this summer. If the show’s new hires fizzle, Hyland’s audition might yet bear fruit.
“They ended up not hiring any guys last year but, for myself, I know I did a good job (in the audition),” he says. “I got laughs from the panel and I felt good about what I did.”
Hyland has been doing commando comedy since childhood. He grew up in Clifton and Indian Hill (his mother is community activist/publicist/perennial candidate Marilyn Hyland) and found his passion early in life, doing sketches and making comedic videos as a child and teenager.
During his DAAP days at UC, Hyland created short films under the banner Blond Chili. He and fellow student Paul Oyen created the faux public access show Tracy, Dean & Jesus, informed by Hyland’s earliest comedy influences.
“I loved watching cable access TV, I always found that shit super amusing, and the church shows were just wacky,” Hyland says. “I also had a crazy religious babysitter. She used to blast Gospel records and it was this crazy atmosphere. Then I had this youth minister, totally not insane, but he had this light Southern accent, and that’s where some of that came from, but the insanity came from that babysitter.”
Eventually, Tracy, Dean & Jesus attracted a diverse audience with its broadcast on actual cable access.
“We had an e-mail address so people would think it was real. They would either think we were ridiculous and e-mail us to be angry or they’d agree with the ridiculous crap we were saying,” Hyland says, laughing. “A few would get it and appreciate it.”
Following a quick post-college New York stint and a return to Cincinnati, Hyland moved to L.A. in 2004, feeling it offered the most opportunities. He ultimately spun Tracy, Dean & Jesus into a live performance routine with a cultish but sizable audience.
“It’s taken different forms over the years; different periods, different people involved,” says Hyland. “It changes shape, but it’s been going on for 10 years.”
It hasn’t been all laughs in L.A. In 2005, Hyland was struck by a van while riding his bicycle through Hollywood. He barely avoided serious injury; a year of physical therapy on his shoulder was offset by a settlement that helped finance projects and kept him solvent.
Hyland supplements income with feast-or-famine freelance/part-time positions. He did weekly live work with Garage Comedy, continues to perform with the Upright Citizen’s Brigade instructional improv group and got involved in FuelTV’s Daily Habit show. He also contributed to and became a regular on three seasons of the Stupid Face series, leading him to his current management and his connection to Odenkirk.
“Stupid Face was like grad school,” Hyland says. “Now I’m trying to get my Ph.D. with this pilot.”
Hyland’s vision for the coming year is hardly surprising, considering the countless hours he’s spent on the show with his creative pals Oyen and Mike Mayfield (also an animator with credits on King of the Hill, American Dad and The Cleveland Show), friends and colleagues since they met as DAAP students. It also speaks to the recent work-related travel Hyland has endured.
“I’d like to get my show picked up with the voice and the
work that I’ve always been making and continue to make a living on my
own terms,” Hyland says, adding with a weary laugh, “and take a
vacation that’s just a vacation.”
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