Brian Volk-Weiss is the CEO of The Nacelle Company and its prize jewel, Comedy Dynamics. Chances are high if you’ve seen a comedy special on Hulu or Netflix, it was his. Now he shares all about his business and the future.
Brian Volk-Weiss has worked with names such as Kevin Hart, Ali Wong, and Jim Gaffigan, just to name a few. Recently, he chatted with us about his journey in the comedy business and what the future holds for his ground-breaking company, Comedy Dynamics.
Brian describes Comedy Dynamics as a studio and a network that houses a record label, a production arm, a distribution arm, and a marketing arm. Basically, they do it all. And the best part is, even with how successful they’ve been and how far they’ve come, they are still growing and expanding at an incredible rate. Here is the latest on Comedy Dynamics from the kind-hearted and passionately driven CEO himself, Brian Volk-Weiss.
Hidden Remote: For our readers, I was wondering if you could kind of summarize your journey as to how you arrived at where you are today as the CEO of Comedy Dynamics and The Nacelle Company?
Volk-Weiss: Yeah, I actually just yesterday celebrated my 20th anniversary. So I had a very memory-filled, nostalgic afternoon. But long story short, I was a production assistant, and then through a bunch of somewhat random events, I ended up working at a very small management company as the assistant to the owner. NewWave bought that company, and basically, I became a manager. So I started managing comedians, and I did that for over ten years. And when you’re a manager of comedians, one of the things that you do usually once every year or two, [is] you make comedy specials. So we would produce them. And then one day, I received a phone call from an agent asking me if I would produce a special for somebody who was not a client. [So then] we started producing specials for non-clients.
And then on top of that, I read a book in 2006 called The Long Tail. And the reason I always tell people the year I read it, 2006, is because it was before the iPhone, it was basically before YouTube became YouTube, it was before Netflix was doing streaming. And the book predicted everything that happened [in the future]. So I was very lucky in that I took a tremendous bet that the book would be right. So we started making our own specials that we owned, starting with Nick Di Paolo, Michael Ian Black, and a couple other people. And then, I was very lucky and that the book turned out to be correct. I stopped managing about six years ago, more or less. And basically, as the money started to show up from the risks I had taken from backing this book, I was able to become a partner and then a co-owner and then CEO and all that other stuff.
HR: Wow, that’s incredible.
Volk-Weiss: So I just took you through about 15 years in about 90 seconds; so I hope I didn’t leave out too much.
HR: [Well done!] So there’s always something a little unique and special and cool about CEOs of successful companies. Can you point to anything about yourself — like a characteristic or something about you that has helped you to get to where you are today?
Volk-Weiss: I mean, I don’t know how unique this, but if anybody considers me to be successful, the thing I always point to, that I consider to be the most important skill set that I possess, is a staggering tolerance for failure and risk — especially failure. I mean, I would say only about eighteen months ago did I feel that the bet on The Long Tail was the correct bet. I cannot begin to explain how much failure we have experienced over the years. Everybody has ideas, everybody has plans, but it takes years and years and years to realize these things.
And especially if you’re doing something for the first time or that nobody has seen before, or at the very least, you haven’t seen done before, there’s very few people you can go to and cry on their shoulder, because very few people have been through it. So that’s what I would say. I don’t know what other people would say is the answer to your question, but a high tolerance for failure, multiple failures, failures that lasted years and years and years. I mean, I remember at one point in 2013 saying to myself, ‘I have not received a good email or a good phone call in over five months.’ And the reason I remember that is [because] my wife now, who was with me in 2013, will remind me of that if I complain about my day or my week. She’ll be like, ‘remember when you didn’t have a good email or a good phone call for five months?’ And I’m like yes, you’re right; I should shut up now.
HR: Wow, that’s incredible — that’s incredible.
Volk-Weiss: Yeah it’s fun to talk about now — not so fun the day before I finally got some good news in 2013. It was not so much fun back then.
HR: Well, I mean, I just wouldn’t have expected to hear that, ya know, because you see what you’ve accomplished and it is [without a doubt] impressive.
Volk-Weiss: You’re very kind. But I would assume anybody who builds anything goes through the same thing.
HR: Yes sir, I guess so. So you mentioned that you got into this avenue through management; was there anything in particular that caused you to manage comedic actors or comedians? What drew you to comedy?
Volk-Weiss: I was always drawn to comedy; I’ve always loved comedy, especially stand up. But I didn’t know what a manager did the day I met the guy who would become my boss. In fact, initially, when I first [realized] after a couple weeks what management was, I tried to quit because it seemed like the worst job on earth. And then, basically, what I was taught was that, through management, you could actually produce — and that’s that’s why I stayed at it. I learned lessons from [my time managing] I use every single day.
HR: Wow, I mean, management is hard; I know it’s not my forte, so it’s really cool that you’ve been able to keep a sense of humor through that. So, your roster is incredible! You’ve worked with [a lot of] really funny people!
Volk-Weiss: You’re very kind.
HR: I mean you’ve worked with Kat Williams, you’ve got Kevin Hart up there — did/do you ever search for these guys yourself? I know you have a team that probably searches for talent, but have you ever, yourself, done a search or looked online and found people that you’re just like — I like this guy/girl?
Volk-Weiss: I use a blend of my relationships. So because I was a manager, a significant percentage of my best friends are agents. And then when I retired from management, I became very good friends with a lot of the managers, because we could all relate to the same stuff. So I get a lot of the information about the artists from the agents and managers — a tremendous amount — and then I just go with my gut. Ya know, there’s just people that make me laugh. And I’m just like listen; I don’t care what anybody says, they make me laugh — we’re going to do their special. So sometimes I use my gut. Probably about 25% of the time I just go with my gut and 75% of the time my friends, who are agents and managers, give me the information I need to do my job.
HR: Okay, can I ask you to brag for a second?
HR: Is there anybody that we’ve heard of that’s a mainstream name that you would say your company launched?
Volk-Weiss: I don’t like using the word “launched,” because I believe that every artist will make it on their own, even if I didn’t exist. With that being said, I mean, the greatest example I can give you is Ali Wong. We absolutely [found her] first. One of my favorite stories that I love to tell is, the day we were shooting Ali, I got a phone call from one of the most respected people in the entire comedy business. I was in a taxi, and he said to me, “hey where are you?” And I’m like, “oh we’re shooting Ali Wong today.” And he paused, and then he goes, “you know you can say no, right?”
Volk-Weiss: Yeah, and you know she’s very open about this; we definitely needed some help filling the room. I mean now, she’s selling 4,000 tickets a night. Another example [is] Tiffany Haddish. We did Tiffany Haddish’s set long before Girls Trip came out.
HR: Okay, awesome, awesome. So can I ask you about what was it like working with Kevin Hart for A Guide To Black History?
Volk-Weiss: He’s wonderful. So funny, I follow him on Instagram — what you see on Instagram, what you see in interviews, it’s who he is; he’s a very very nice, very very funny, very hard-working man. … Wonderful, wonderful, wonderful soul.
HR: He’s so funny.
Volk-Weiss: Yeah, he’s hysterical.
HR: Yeah, I mean I don’t know anybody who doesn’t have a few Kevin Hart lines they don’t whip out every now and again like at a party or whatever.
Volk-Weiss: Yeah, It was an absolute honor and privilege to work with him.
HR: So How did you [connect with] Josh Blue? That dude is so funny.
Volk-Weiss: Josh was also one of the first specials we ever did. I was still a manager when we did Josh Blue’s special. Josh Blue was absolutely one of the first specials we ever did where I took money out of our own bank account, shot it myself, and then took it to market later.
HR: Wow! I mean, I was just showing him to my family, and we were all dying laughing.
Volk-Weiss: Yeah I love that special, especially the first one, Sticky Change.
HR: I wanted to ask you about [the movie] Poop Talk (laughs). What was the inspiration there [to take it on]?
Volk-Weiss: So we built this distribution network, and I wanted to start releasing films. So we hired people who knew how to do this sort of thing, and we went to TIFF, the Toronto International Film Festival, in 2017. We found Poop Talk there. There was a pretty big bidding war for it; we were able to get it. It is the first — there were a lot of firsts for us — it was the first film we acquired at a major festival. It was the first film that we actually put in movie theaters; it had a ten-city theatrical run simultaneously with the television window. So it was the first time we ever did that, and it was just a great great, great movie. I saw it as a modern-day Aristocrats.
HR: Yes, I mean, I was like; nobody does this; it’s so out of the box, ya know?
Volk-Weiss: That’s what I thought.
HR: So as far as like getting your stuff on platforms like Hulu, Netflix, and even networks like Discovery and A&E — I know you’ve had connections with all those and many more; what’s it like [doing deals with] them? I’m sure at this point you have a foot in the door, but was it difficult at first to get your stuff on there?
Volk-Weiss: Ya know, it’s always hard. Here’s the thing — if I’m just being honest, and if I’m just thinking about it, it’s always been hard; but now, it’s just not as risky. Basically, twelve to thirteen years ago when I started doing this with Josh Blue and Nick Di Paolo and Michael Ian Black, we would spend $150,000 making a stand up special when my profit the year before had been $90,000. So that was scary. I mean, I remember we made a $30,000 guarantee to an artist; and, I mean, I would bet within reason, nothing I will ever do for the rest of my career will be as scary to me after I signed that contract. I just signed a contract on Friday for $5,000,000, and I will not lose a billionth of an hour of sleep; I will be completely fine knowing that we just committed that kind of money. But when I think back to that, you know, twelve years ago [when] we made a $30,000 advance, I couldn’t sleep for probably three months. And now, a three to five-million-dollar guarantee is a much less risky move for us.
HR: So what’s on the horizon for you / for your company at this point?
Volk-Weiss: I mean, one of the things I’m really excited about is I started directing for the first time last year, stand-up comedy and even a couple of Pilots.
Volk-Weiss: I always wanted to be a director; I came out here to be a director. I just really finally felt safe enough on the business side to start directing. … So that’s the first thing I’m very excited to be doing. And second of all, we’re starting to get real close, I’d say we’re within the next twelve to eighteen months to being able to greenlight a script and make a movie from scratch.
HR: … That’s all I have for you. Thank you so much for your time!
Volk-Weiss: Thank you!
Be sure to stay tuned for future projects from Brian Volk-Weiss and Comedy Dynamics! The future is bright for this exploding company.