Melville Snelson is a washed up comedian still trying to be relevant in the cancel culture world of modern stand-up. Hitting the road in an attempt to be relevant only seems to see him get into more trouble as he seems to refuse to change with the times. It’s a dark comedy tackling the aforementioned climate of cancel culture we find ourselves living in and a great opportunity to catch up with Paul Constant (Planet of the Nerds) ahead of the first issue of Snelson: Comedy Is Dying debuting this August from AHOY Comics.
Olly MacNamee: Hello again, Paul. I was lucky enough to get an early look at your new dark comedy, Snelson from AHOY Comics. A great set up, with one Hell of a punchline. Literally and figuratively. The series follows washed-out stand-up Melville Snelson on the road. A one-time headliner with an out-of-date taste in humour. Is that an apt summation of our titular character?
Paul Constant: Thanks for having me again, Olly! It’s always a pleasure. And yeah, I think that’s a good way to sum up Snelson at his most elemental, although I’d maybe throw in the word “bitter” somewhere. He’s eager to blame someone—anyone!—else for his failure to land mainstream success.
OM: The world of comedy is certainly a ripe one in which to explore your themes of cancel culture. Over the past years it’s certainly had its casualties, both in the States and here in the UK. Was this, maybe, the spark for the inspiration of this particular series or something else?
PC: That was absolutely a major reason why I wanted to write Snelson: Comedy Is Dying. Everyone talks about “cancel culture,” but I don’t think anyone agrees about what “cancel culture” really means. Was Louis CK cancelled, for instance? He lost a lot of his audience when the New York Times wrote a story surfacing his past behavior toward nonconsenting women. But he’s still doing comedy gigs and podcasting and, presumably, making money. He’s just not making as much money or speaking to as big an audience as before. So was he cancelled or did he just face consequences? There’s a lot of hypocrisy and sanctimony in the air around cancel culture, especially as it pertains to comedy, and that makes it a ripe target for satire.
OM: Snelson may well be an asshole, but there is something of the potentially tragic about him too? There is a catalyst that makes him suddenly rant and rage against the world one night on stage now isn’t there?
PC: Like any man who’s pushing on the far end of middle age, Snelson is confronted with the concept of his own mortality. You don’t go onstage 200 nights a year to tell jokes to disinterested drunks without caring deeply about what other people think of you. And given that Snelson is best known in most circles as that mediocre comedian who may or may not have gone on a single date with Janeane Garofalo sometime in the mid-to-late 1990s, he’s worried that he’s not going to leave behind any sort of a legacy. I don’t know if that makes him tragic, but it certainly makes his situation relatable.
OM: He seems to be moderately tolerated by his more up-and-coming fellow comedians. Will they have a bigger role to play too, I take it? Any that stop out for you as the series progressed?
PC: When we begin this series, Snelson is on the road with a small group of young, up-and-coming comedians on what he calls the “Get Woke or Die Broke Comedy Tour.” Really, they need each other: Snelson, who never met a bridge he didn’t want to burn down, is using the young comedians to appeal to a new generation. They’re using him because his name has just enough star wattage to fill rooms in out-of-the-way comedy clubs as a nostalgia act. But of course as the series progresses, they do get into a series of generational clashes that make up the emotional core of the series. I really loved writing these younger comedian characters, and two of them in particular steal every scene that they’re in.
OM: Your artist – Fred Harper – what a find! It’s a hard job to pull off several scenes set on stage, but in his hands he brings the potentially static to life with an immense energy and a great eye for engaging composition. There’s something of the Roger Corben about his style too. With a dash of old-school MAD Magazine artistry, like Harvey Kurtzman, too. Such an apt artist for this book. How did you come to partner with him?
PC: Tom Peyer, AHOY’s intrepid Editor-in-Chief, has worked with Fred before — Fred worked on Animal Man, among other titles, back in the heyday of Vertigo Comics. When I pitched Snelson to Tom, Fred was the first name he mentioned, and it was such a perfect fit that we didn’t even have time to come up with a Plan B. Fred lives in New York City and he has friends and a long history in the comedy scene there, so he’s packed the series full of amazing in-jokes and references that die-hard comedy fans will stumble upon for years to come. Fred’s not just a hired hand on this book, he’s a co-creator in every way imaginable.
And oh my God, Roger Corben is a great analogy for Fred! There’s something about the way that Corben can take unexceptional, everyday people and settings and fill them with so much life that they’re entirely enthralling. Fred is an expert at that, too. And yes — I agree wholeheartedly that he’s a phenomenal talent. Take the opening scene of the book, which is a glimpse of Snelson’s 15-minute set. Most artists would likely make that scene a monotonous series of cuts from different angles of a man onstage, like you’d see on TV. But Fred understands that in comics you can do something that TV can’t do: You can bring the interior to the exterior. So while we’re watching him, we’re also seeing what Snelson sees from the stage — the horrific mouths of the audience as they laugh, the couples who aren’t paying attention at all — and Snelson’s body language is so expertly choreographed that we can see which jokes land and which jokes fail, just by the slump of his shoulders. It’s as compelling as any action scene I’ve ever read in comics.
OM: On the road and definitely in a better position than most to complain about being cancelled. Doesn’t he see the irony in this? And, more importantly, where does it lead from here? What next from this satirical tragicomedy?
PC: Let’s just say that self-awareness isn’t Snelson’s strong suit. Just like in real life, when American politicians speak on live microphones to audiences of millions while wearing masks that say “CENSORED,” Snelson is happy to talk at length on a variety of different platforms about how silenced he is. And the more he complains about being cancelled, the more attention, money, and fans he gets. But remember that Snelson is a master of unwitting self-sabotage, so for every height he hits there has to be an even greater fall somewhere in his near future. Along the way, we get to make fun of podcasts, the publishing industry, YouTube, Reddit, and much, much more. And Snelson might even meet God—or at least a reasonable facsimile—in an upcoming issue.
OM: Paul, as ever, many thanks, and all the best with this new series.
PC: Olly, thank you as always for the great questions. I’m a big fan of the tireless work you do at Comicon.com, which is a site I have been visiting since the days when I had a literal dial-up modem. So it’s a real thrill for me to be here with you.
Snelson: Comedy Is Dying #1 is out Wednesday 4th August from AHOY Comics with FOC is this Thursday 24th June.