Todd Barry was first, in March 2007.
Almost seven years and more than 230 unique, intimate portraits later, Seth Olenick‘s work documenting comedians and comedic actors and actresses is preserved in bound manuscript with the publication of his weighty tome of a photography book, “Funny Business.” If you’re in New York City this week, then you can see a selection of his portraits hanging in a gallery exhibition in Times Square at Bar Catalonia, through Jan. 19, 2014. There, you can see his snapshots with The State, Patton Oswalt, Reggie Watts, Zach Galifianakis, John Oliver, Jon Hamm, Yvette Nicole Brown, Danny Pudi, Arden Myrin, Chris Meloni, Jane Lynch and cover subject David Cross.
Olenick, an L.A. native now based in Brooklyn, began photographing musicians in the late 1990s, and worked at Heeb from 2003-2007, serving as the magazine’s photo editor. You’ve likely seen his portraits of comedians in publications and websites (including this one) all over the place in the past seven years — “Funny Business” began as a year-long personal challenge that grew into a much larger book. His recent portrait of Hannibal Buress with giant red lobster/boxing gloves for hands was co-opted for NYC Comedy Week this past October.
Olenick’s book reveals comedians and funny actors/actresses to the reader/viewer in ways they likely weren’t expecting.
That goes not just for the photographs themselves, but also for the captions, which were supplied much later by each of the comedians. John Mulaney wrote the introduction to “Funny Business,” as well.
Which comedian’s caption/cutline/essay surprised Olenick the most and made him look at that portrait in a new light?
Olenick told The Comic’s Comic: Thomas Lennon.
“When I did the shoots for this book, I always knew I wanted text to accompany the photos, but it wasn’t until late in the process that I was 100% sure that I wanted the subjects themselves to write the captions. And so, when I photographed Thomas Lennon in his backyard with this towel, I had no idea that he would create the well-developed character that is the drug mule. Now when I look at the photo, I get lost in his/her story, and can only think to ask, ‘How many bags of smack were you able to fit inside yourself at a time?'”
Here is Lennon’s full photo and caption from page 32 of “Funny Business” (a cropped version appears above).
Thomas Lennon: “I have never been to such a beautiful Hollywood hotel as this place. Or even hotel at all!!! The people of my country are more — how you say? Relax with our bodies. Everyone surprise when I sunbathe by the pool. So beautiful the pool. My country has nothing like this!!!”
For an honorably dishonorable mention, Olenick also was thrown by John Gemberling‘s submission. As Olenick explained to The Comic’s Comic:
“If you cover the caption to this photo and think about what John could have written, it will take you literally a million years to come up with captions before you get anywhere near what he wrote. Needless to say, I found it to be quite amazing, but knew that it would present me with a personal hurdle that I never thought I would ever have to deal with – having to purchase a porn url. But how could I not make sure that this website really existed, and better yet, gave the readers something to look forward to if they dared visit the site? And so, every time I look at John Gemberling now, I can only think of horses.”
John Gemberling: “To see what my face really looks like, please visit: https://www.horse-fuck.com.”
You can buy Seth Olenick’s “Funny Business” — the full book or individual prints — at Olenick’s SMOTOWN Media site. He also talked comedian Dave Hill into talking about the book in this even more rare and unique audio tour of “Funny Business.” Check it out below!