Comedian Justin Silver didn’t quit his day job, and he earned primetime network TV exposure because of it.
While stand-up comedians have racked up TV credits as snarking talking heads, contestants on “reality” shows or competitions, or hosts of series for which they had no other previous qualifications, Silver proved that if your offstage life is sincere and professionally true, then it, too, can pave your path to success. Silver starred this summer in the CBS series, Dogs in the City. Tonight, he hosts his annual “Funny For Fido” comedy benefit in New York City tonight at Carolines.
“The show that I have, Dogs in the City, it’s a hybrid between entertainment and my love for animals,” Silver told The Comic’s Comic recently. “Funny For Fido is just a very organic way that I was doing that originally. This was just a natural progression of that.”
Silver started producing “Funny For Fido” six years ago when he was barking — no pun intended — on the streets of Greenwich Village, “handing out tickets” and attempting to attract pedestrians to shows at the Comedy Village on Monday nights. “I was just looking for a way to bring people in there, and I was doing a lot of work with dogs, so I thought, all right, I’ll do a benefit. And I did. It was just for the local shelters where I adopted my dogs from,” he recalled. He raised $2,500 the first year. The event has grown over the years, moving uptown to Stand Up NY, then to Carolines, where it is now.
His passions also led him to his own primetime slot this summer on CBS. Here’s a clip from May when Silver was promoting Dogs in the City on the network’s morning news program.
Which came first, dogs or comedy? “Dogs came first, but not by much. I’ve been doing both about 12 years,” Silver told me. “Even on the Internet, when people shit on me a little bit. They’re like, ‘Oh, this guy’s not a real dog trainer, he’s a comedian.’ No, no, no. People can have multiple passions, and be good at two things. And I’ve always been bringing those two things together. Funny For Fido is a perfect example of that.”
The TV show never played up the fact that Silver performed stand-up comedy at nights, either.
“I didn’t want them to. No. I tried to keep it separate. They were going to do an episode…they said, ‘How do you want to incorporate that?’ I said, ‘Well, if you want to do an episode on Funny For Fido, do that.”
But Silver said the production schedule — all of the episodes were filmed within 47 days — didn’t leave him enough time to plan and promote his annual charity, too. He did bring comedians onto the series, though. Yannis Pappas and Jessimae Peluso had Silver over to help with their dogs. Nate Bargatze appeared in an episode as one of Silver’s friends, helping a client’s dog become more comfortable around strangers. Another comedian, Silver said, owned a dog-walking company on the side, “so it was perfect” to include him.
“Of course, all of my friends are great on camera and they’re really funny. If I could get them on the show, I’d get them on the show. The nice thing about the show is, it is CBS, it is a network show and it is entertainment. It’s not meant to be a how-to show…so it’s got more pageantry to it,” Silver said.
Bargatze said Silver’s love of dogs and caring for them is all real. “He also helped us with a dog that we found and took care of for about month till we found her a home. He is great at it,” Bargatze said. “It is something he is truly passionate about so it’s not like they were just looking for a pretty face. It is so hard to blow up from just pure stand up so whatever you can do to pop. I am hoping they do a show on parallel parking. Or fatherhood I guess. Don’t know if I am good at that yet.”
Silver acknowledges that his TV gig “was the opposite” of the more typical route for comedians, in which a network or cable channel seeks out a funny personality first, then adapts that personality to the show’s premise.
“They were basically sending cameras out looking for different experts in the dog-care community. I met them through clients of mine. I went up and met them, and I brought my pit bull Pacino. They said, ‘What do you do?’ I said, ‘Why don’t you just come watch me and work for the day.’ They started crafting the show around what I was doing. The fact that I had been in entertainment and had been doing comedy just made it easier for them. The whole idea of being comfortable on camera, and literally, knowing not to stand under a light that’s directly above you, and knowing how to do the blocking and all of that stuff — that just came very naturally to me. So it made it that much easier to showcase the other thing that I was doing, which is what they hired me for.”
Having his day job provide his big break was neither a surprise nor his intent. “I never looked at what I was doing with dogs as my day job,” Silver said.
Instead, he felt it was “a perfect synergy” of his daytime and nighttime pursuits.
“When people ask me, what does this feel like? It makes sense,” he said. “I feel incredibly fortunate, and it really solidified for me that, if you’re really passionate about what you do, and your put your heart into it, and you follow your dreams, which is what my mother always told me to do, that the universe just aligns everything to work in your favor. So it feels great, and I feel incredibly fortunate.”
Does he tell that to other comedians?
“They don’t ask me for advice. My buddies are just my buddies.” At the same, he notes that one of those comedy pals, Luis Gomez (MTV2’s Guy Code), has taken a page out of Silver’s book after seeing his success with it. “Luis has his whole podcast with MMA (The Hammerfisting Podcast) and it’s something that he’s really passionate about. Similar to Joe Rogan. Joe Rogan is a comedian, but he’s got his love of mixed martial arts. I said, ‘Luis, this is what you need to do. If these are your two passions, they’ll find their synergy together.”
CBS has yet to make an official announcement about whether Dogs in the City may return in summer 2013. Regardless, the experience already has impacted Silver’s stand-up life — making it easier for him to get stage time, while at the same time, making him “a lot more careful” while onstage. “I’m a lot more conscious about what I say because I’m on TV. I work a little blue, naturally, so it’s made me a bit more conscious,” he said.
He’s also working on a book, yet untitled: “It’ll be a little bit about my life and how i got into this stuff, and then case studies and my philosophies on dog training. And I hope it’s entertaining.” And he continues to raise awareness for his dog-care company, The Language of Dogs.
For more information about tonight’s Funny For Fido show, roll the clip.