Henry Phillips on adapting “Punching The Clown” into a Showtime series

While Mike Birbiglia enjoys a successful launch of his semi-autobiographical film, Sleepwalk With Me, Birbiglia’s friend, Henry Phillips (who appears in Sleepwalk) is finding continued success of his own from his 2010 film, Punching the Clown.

On Thursday, Showtime announced it would develop an TV series adaptation of Punching the Clown for the pay-cable network.

Director/co-writer Gregori Viens is working on the adaptation, which would revolve around Phillips as a comedian singer-songwriter who becomes an overnight star in Hollywood, and what happens once that meteoric rise then falls back down to Earth. The narrative then follows Philips as he lives with his brother, a struggling actor himself, and as Phillips tries to forge romantic relationships. Viens, Phillips and Chuck Martin will write and executive produce. Sarah Silverman and David Permut also are executive producers.

The film had won the audience award at the Slamdance Film Festival. Here is a clip from the movie showing Phillips at a Hollywood party — the clip also features stand-up comedians Nikki Glaser and Ryan Stout. Roll it!

Henry Phillips shared his thoughts with The Comic’s Comic about adapting his life and film for Showtime:

It’s definitely exciting for me, since Punching the Clown is such a personal project — true stories/conversations from my life being re-enacted, if exaggerated, as opposed to just making stuff up. Ultimately the whole thing began with my friend becoming a filmmaker and hearing me tell him about the comedy world and him saying, “Man we have to make a movie about this.” I’m hoping that every step of the way we can keep that original intent, despite the pressure to deliver new story lines/ characters, etc. Thanks to Twitter/Facebook/email, I have the luxury of being able to read what people actually like about the movie, and the common thread is that it rings sincere, so I definitely don’t want to lose that. What will be exciting about this iteration is that we have more members of our team — Chuck Martin is an experienced writer/showrunner/producer/comic, etc. so he’ll offer a lot of wisdom about the episodic TV world that frankly Greg and I don’t have. Sarah, in addition to having experience and a genius comedic mind, believed in the movie so much she put her name on the line and insisted that the industry see it, and I personally think that’s why we have this deal. Two unknown filmmakers can talk as much as they want about their own film, but a celebrated outsider with no vested interest praising it like she did was invaluable. She’s also adamant about preserving the tone of the movie. We also have veteran producer David Permut on our side, (producer of Face/Off, Youth in Revolt, Richard Pryor’s 1979 live film, and countless other major films) who’s been a supporter since he saw it at Slamdance four years ago.

A couple more exciting things about the timing of this. I think the reason I work well with Greg is that at heart he is a filmmaker, not a comedian. He swears that the best filmmaking happening today is in these episodic cable shows, starting with the Sopranos through to Mad Men and all the other great shows out there today. That paving of the way is going to make the jump from independent film to TV a little more seamless. Also, it’s impossible not to be grateful to Louie for letting people know how entertaining it can be to see understated slices of a comedian’s life. Finally, I’ve been doing comedy almost 20 years now, and though I haven’t had what one would call an “illustrious” career as a comedian, I’ve certainly racked up a ton of stories and acquaintances that could more than fill an entire series. So the timing is perfect.

Congrats, Henry!

Previously: My review of Punching The Clown.

Sean L. McCarthy

Editor and publisher since 2007, when he was named New York's Funniest Reporter. Former newspaper reporter at the New York Daily News, Boston Herald and smaller dailies and community papers across America. Loves comedy so much he founded this site.

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