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February 23, 2017

Keen on Comedy, Every Kind

To Vernon Chatman, it's all funny.

Christine Champagne
  • Ryan West

Nearly 20 years into writing and producing comedy for television, Vernon Chatman is still thankful for the opportunity.

“I get paid to have fun,” enthuses Chatman, whose résumé includes Louis C.K.’s Horace and Pete and Louie as well as South Park, Late Night with Conan O’Brien and The Chris Rock Show. As a co-creator and/or executive producer, he’s been behind MTV2’s Wonder Showzen and three series on Adult Swim: Xavier: Renegade Angel, Delocated and The Heart, She Holler. And he’s an executive producer of the TruTV reality series Jon Glaser Loves Gear.

Along the way, he been nominated for 13 Emmys and won four: three as a producer for South Park and once as a writer for The Chris Rock Show. Chatman manages to thrive in many mediums, from late night — which requires a mastery of jokes and bits — to Adult Swim, a deep dive into quirkiness. “It’s all comedy,” he says. “I just love comedy, so I never made any distinctions.”

He also simply loves to work. When he’s not writing or producing, he voices animated characters, most notably, Towelie, South Park’s talking towel. “I get excited by ideas, and so many of my friendships are based around getting excited about some creative project. Most of the time, even when I’m hanging out with friends, I’m working on something.”

When he was growing up in the Bay Area, Chatman filled notebooks with jokes and sketches. After graduating from San Francisco State University, he moved to New York City in the mid-1990s to do stand-up comedy. Keenen Ivory Wayans gave Chatman his first big break when he hired him to write for The Keenen Ivory Wayans Show.

It didn’t take long for Chatman to ditch stand-up so he could focus on a career behind the scenes in television. The draw? “I could use all these tools — actors, props, music and editing — that I didn’t have in stand-up.” He was also relieved to get away from drunken hecklers. “Stand-up definitely toughens you up, and I admire people who do it,” Chatman says. “But it was like going through a gauntlet of idiocy.”


This article originally appeared in emmy magazine, Issue No. 1, 2017

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