Q&A: Eddie Schmidt On Peacock’s ‘Good One: A Show About Jokes’

There are a lot of stand-up TV specials which are just a straight-forward filming of some comic's stand-up show. But it's a much trickier process to do a special that delves into the process of stand-up comedy, showing what it's like to put together the material that will ultimately become that polished performance.

The new Peacock special Good One: A Show About Jokes does a great job of peeling back the process a bit, as it shows some of what it takes to shape a bunch of random punchlines into a fully-formed, cohesive show. 

The special focuses on comic Mike Birbiglia, as he performs in Providence, R.I., and then Washington D.C. It shows him working on what he hopes will be his next one-man show. Although at this point, what that show might be about is not quite clear.

Director Eddie Schmidt has a lot of experience with comedy and comedians, having directed and/or produced projects such as Gilbert: A Gilbert Gottfried Story and Chelsea Does, starring Chelsea Handler.

I recently spoke with Schmidt about Good One: A Show About Jokes and his efforts to show a process that can often be opaque and confusing to outsiders.

The conversation has been lightly edited for clarity.

Q: The process of writing jokes - especially those that are meant to be part of a larger show - can be tough to show to a home audience. So much of what happens is internal and even if you're filming every minute onstage, things happen that aren't apparent to anyone other than the comic. 

So when you sat down to start work on Good One, what was that process like for you? How did you decide, "I think this will bridge that gap for the audience and allow them to understand how this works?"

Eddie Schmidt: I thought a lot about adaptation because Good One is a podcast. And it's a wonderful podcast, obviously. And Jesse David Fox, one of the creators, is one of our producers. But I started to think about it visually. And one of the things that made Mike Birbiglia so perfect for this story and unique is that his methods are tactile. He's using multi-colored notecards, a plethora of notecards. He's journaling. And these things are visual.

So I felt like those elements of his craft translated so well to what we wanted to do, which was to take a conversation and make it an immersive documentary. And so, I think those tactile qualities, those visual touchstones help it land for people. 

Q: It's interesting to see his method because every comic has a different way of writing and crafting material. Did he ever explain to you how he came around to his index card method of assembling an act? Because it certainly makes more sense than the method I used when I did stand-up, which was to try and remember new jokes while I was onstage in the middle of a performance.

Eddie Schmidt: I think it was very natural approach for him. And I understand it.

Seth Myers references this when he's interviewed in the documentary. He says "When you write it out longhand, if it's not any good, you know it." I think it's a great way to edit material, having to write it out by hand.

It's interesting though, because as you point out, some comedian just record their sets and listen back to it. They don't write it down at all, it's all about the auditory experience. And I think at one point, I might have even asked him "Hey, can we see one of your shows or watch one of your shows and talk about the material?" And he said "No...that's not really how I do it. I do it this way." 

Which was fine, because we wanted to see how he did it. And that was enlightening for me. 

Q: As you were putting this documentary together, was your assumption that the audience would already be familiar with Mike's work? Somewhat familiar? How did you approach that challenge of not going over stuff fans already know, but still providing enough context for viewers who may not be as familiar with his comedy?

Eddie Schmidt: First of all, Mike is a tremendous comedian and he has accomplished a lot. So I think we felt we could clue you into his accomplishments and his personality without having to do a whole biography. We were pretty sure viewers would "get him" pretty quickly in the opening. He's relatable, he's funny and you understand what he does - or the specialty of what he does - is this kind of long-form storytelling. One man shows, if you will. That is stand-up. But are also these theatrical pieces that are something else. He does a lot of other things, but this is his specialty.

Q: You have done some other stand-up-related projects. And I'm assuming it's because you find something compelling about the art of stand-up, or the process of it. What is it about stand-up that fascinates you?

Eddie Schmidt: I love stand-up comedy. I always have. Stand-up, sketch, you name it. I think that comedians get to a lot of truths about society through humor. So I've been fortunate to work with some very funny people in a documentary context. Chelsea Handler is one. Jason Sudeikis. I talked to Harry Shearer. And they have all been brilliantly funny and smart and quick-witted. And I think what I realized at some point was that I hadn't really shown the process of comedy. And so I wanted to be able to shine a light on that.

Q: In the documentary, there is a discussion about what Mike is comfortable talking about, and how it impacts his family, his wife. When you had the initial discussions with him, were there any things that he said to you that were off-limits? Or things he didn't necessarily feel comfortable having on camera?

Eddie Schmidt: No. I think Mike was very open with us in terms of what we were able to show. And I think Good One - as a show -reflects that. You see his family, and old friends. And I think we really benefited from him being so open to the process. 

Q: Obviously you knew his material going into this, you knew his style. But as you're seeing him work in a more intimate way while doing the documentary...was there anything that surprised you along the way about how he puts together a show, his everyday work process?

Eddie Schmidt: Sometimes Mike would do two shows in one night. Which is hard. And I think again, what struck me, and I hope it comes across in the show, is his dedication to his craft. He's never phoning it in. He wants to do a great show. 

I found it very interesting that he would give his all every time. And sometimes he's experimenting. But he's still really, really focused. And he gives a great show every time.

Q: I think one of the things the documentary does a great job of showing is one of the weird quirks of stand-up comedy. Sometimes the person who becomes a stand-up, who thrives as a stand-up comedian, isn't necessarily the person in their group who is the funniest naturally. Or the person who is the class clown in their circle of friends. Being a successful comedian involves a lot of hard work. But also a lot of intangible qualities. And it's funny to see Mike's friends consistently saying, "Oh yeah, his brother is a much funnier person."

Eddie Schmidt: Well, it's interesting. First of all, Mike's a very funny man. Onstage and off. He's just a funny guy. 

I think there is a difference of just choosing to be onstage or not. It's one thing to be funny around friends or people you're comfortable with. It takes a special person to feel like "I have what it takes to go up in front of strangers and make them laugh. And I have a story to tell or something to share."

So yeah, it's a different thing to be funny at a party or around your friends and being onstage. That can be the same thing, but they are not necessarily the same thing.

Q: You talked a bit earlier about some of the comics you've worked with in the past. Is there a stand-up or a comedian you'd like to work with in the future? Someone who has a story you think would be the basis for an interesting project?

Eddie Schmidt: I think there are many comedians who have a very interesting story to tell. And whose processes are really interesting. So I hope if we get to do more editions of Good Ones, we will get to bring those to the screen.

Good One: A Show About Jokes premieres Tuesday, March 26th, 2024 on Peacock.