A while back, Dan Perlman and I drove to Pennsylvania together.
We were both booked on the Lehigh Valley Comedy Festival, so I agreed to drive us.
I don’t remember much about the show, but what I do remember is Dan getting in the car, excited. He was in the process of shopping around his recently-shot web series Flatbush Misdemeanors and had gotten industry interest on it.
I thought that was the coolest thing. Something he wrote with friends and shot on his own had gotten industry traction. Amazing.
That was in 2017.
His full-length show of the same name premiered on Showtime. And I still think it’s the coolest thing.
Oftentimes, comics are wont to engage in bouts of self-pity and woe-is-me-ism. Why don’t I have more? Why am I not being given this opportunity? How come I’m not on ‘X’ show?
Perlman, to me, is a sterling reminder: good things come to those who make stuff.
“I always wanted to be a stand-up comedian who makes things and would love to keep doing that on a bigger and bigger scale. You do the same shit all the time, and it can just get boring. You can start taking it too seriously because you’re only living that one thing, but when you work those other muscles of ‘I’ll try to write this type of thing I haven’t written before’ or ‘I wrote a feature, I want to try doing that’… It’s just more fun.”
The pair met doing open mics in New York in 2013. Kevin had just moved up from Texas, and within a year, they had already started making sketches together under the moniker “Moderately Funny.”
Here’s one of their earliest sketches, entitled “Projects:”
I remember watching this sketch when it first came out, seven years ago. What’s especially cool to witness: the comedians in it—Kareem Green, Napoleon Emil, Drew Dowdey—also feature in Flatbush’s Showtime pilot.
“To get to give people an opportunity, who, for a couple years, were essentially doing us favors, where they’d show up on a Saturday and shoot this thing—not because we had a big budget to pay them ... I mean we didn’t have anything … that feels pretty cool,” Perlman said.
But for Perlman, it isn’t about repaying friends for lending a hand when Flatbush had a budget of zero dollars—it’s about knowing who can execute the vision best.
“It’s all very collaborative … They’re a nice anchor because that’s who you know and have worked with before. So much of the experience is new and you’ve never been in this spot before. It’s nice to have it like, ‘Oh, I know and have worked with these people for years.’ And you know you can trust them with the script and the scenes to help find what’s funny in it.”
To be clear, Flatbush’s journey toward getting a full-series order from a major network was not as linear or simple as it now might seem. In fact, the first version of the pilot Perlman and Iso wrote in 2017 was not well-received by the industry people they sent it to.
“A few folks read it, and they were like, ‘I don’t know … This doesn’t make sense. I don’t know what you’re trying to do.’”
Rather than feel deflated or defeated, they decided to shoot it themselves, cutting out “anything that involved budget.”
“We had to shoot it piecemeal, so we put these interstitials, part one, part two, part three, part four, part five,” Perlman said.
These five-part interstitials—initially born out of budgetary necessity—made their way into the Showtime pilot and feel like one of the show’s signature flourishes.
If there’s a lesson to be learned from this, it’s that constraints can enhance creativity.
The show follows Dan and Kevin—playing loose versions of themselves—as they navigate the financial and mental-health hurdles of NYC. Dan, as he did in real life, plays a high school teacher, and Kevin, somewhat similar to the pursuit of comedy, plays a struggling artist who’s delivering food to get by.
“It’s autobiographical emotionally … I think we can get caught up in ‘did this literally happen’ which is less the focus, and more, ‘does this feel emotionally true to my experience of starting out and sleepwalking through adulthood,” Perlman said.
“The character’s last name is Joseph, which is my middle name. So I was kind of thinking that’s ⅔ my name, so the character is ⅔ me.”
To be clear, the show is not solely centered around Dan and Kevin. Instead, Flatbush plays out as very much an ensemble piece focusing on the entire cast of characters the Flatbush neighborhood has to offer.
In that way, it feels very real, grounded, and authentic.
“All we really have is what we make and put out. And that’s the only stuff I enjoy doing.”
For as long as I’ve been pursuing comedy in New York, Perlman has always been one of the most respected comics within the city.
For good reason.
Not only were his jokes strong and laden with perspective, but he was also someone who felt truly devoted to the craft, with a yeoman-like work ethic that seemed to begrudge none of even the most miserable parts of pursuing stand up (i.e. the dead-room open mics).
In fact, in a sea of dead open mics, where great jokes can often go to die, Perlman was the type of comic you went back into the room to listen to.
It might sound overly-romanticized, but I remember Perlman as a guy who always had a notebook in his hands.
When I told my friend (and hilarious comic himself) Pedro Gonzalez about this interview, he lit up with excitement and told me the following story ...
Once after a mic a few years ago, he saw Perlman writing at a coffee shop.
After talking for a bit, Pedro asked him, “Man, you’re so good. How have you not been on TV?”
Perlman looked up from his notebook, said, “I don’t know,” and went back to writing.
Flatbush Misdemeanors debuted on Showtime May 23rd, 2021.
The first episode can be viewed in full on Showtime’s YouTube:
*Feature photo: Dan Pearlman / photo by Grace Rivera