Patton Oswalt’s Just For Laughs Keynote should be required reading at every open mic, bar show and comedy club in America. If you want to make money being a comedian, this is the call to arms and the blueprint. If Maron’s keynote last year touched the deep truths of the comedian’s soul, Oswalt’s was a direct hit on their fears, hopes and ambitions… and the reality of how they’ll be playing out in the next few years.

The speech was set up as two letters – one to comedians and one to “industry” – but there was good advice for both sides packed into each of them. Oswalt detailed his successful career during the 90’s, attributing a lot of his success to luck and “being given” opportunities. He then identified “petty much every day for the last three years”  as the same kind of seismic shift in the idustry that Carson’s retirement caused, and all thanks to technology we all have readily available.  He challenged both comedians and industry figure to embrace the new world of grassroots possibilities and make it work as he had. (Thanks to The Comic’s Comic & Sharilyn Johnson of Third Beat for the quick transcription.)

In the middle of the TV shows and the albums and the specials, I took a big chunk of my money and invested it in a little tour called The Comedians of Comedy. I put it together with my friends, we did small clubs, stayed in shitty hotel rooms, packed ourselves in a tiny van and drove it around the country. The tour was filmed for a very low-budget documentary that I convinced Netflix to release. That became a low-budget show on Comedy Central that we all still own a part of, me and the comedians. That led to a low budget concert film that we put on DVD.

At the end of it, I was exhausted, I was in debt, and I wound up with a wider fanbase of the kind of people I always dreamed of having as fans. And I built that from the ground up, friends and people I respected and was a fan of.

He drove this point home in the second (industry) letter, but pulling out his iPhone

In my hand right now I’m holding more film making technology than Orson Welles had when he filmed Citizen Kane.

I’m holding almost the same amount of cinematography, post-editing, sound editing, and broadcast capabilities as you have at your tv network.

In a couple of years it’s going to be fucking equal.

If that’s not a powerful statement to drive fear and hope and wonder into everyone in the room, I don’t know what would.

The JFL keynote speech has become a very interesting cultural artifact for comedians and comedy lovers. The festival long ago morphed from the kind of indie proving ground that grew your audience and launched careers out of obscurity to a cross-border corporate behemoth that’s more of a stamp of approval for comedians who are already doing pretty well. And the keynote has become an opportunity for successful comedians to speak truth to power about all the struggles that got them to this place, sort of like a free-spirited valedictorian claiming that high school is doing it all wrong. And they’re right.

Every comedian should have to read or hear this. Any comedian who does and thinks it doesn’t apply to him, should move to DC and start hanging out with the unmoored old guard Oswalt references at the start of his speech, who decided their time had passed along with Carson.

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Amy Hawthorne
Amy Hawthorne is an LA-based stand-up and writer and the founder of She is convinced that the food industry is being unduly influenced by Big Avocado.