A couple months ago, I wrote a post about a show I spent my entire summer watching when I was a teenager. The Brendan Leonard Show followed Brendan and his friends in the summer after their freshman year of college. They were your average every day teenagers, but slightly more entertaining. ABC Family ran 40 episodes before the show ended, but recently clips and skits from the show and after the show have been resurfacing. Not only were they on YouTube, they were also on the Brendan Leonard Show-Revisted Facebook page. I decided to contact Brendan to find out more information about what the Revisted page meant and also what he was up to now. This was my first ever phone interview so I was pretty nervous that my recording device wouldn’t pick up everything. Originally, I had all of my questions planned out, but as we began the interview Brendan sort of answered the questions along the way. Instead of this being more of an interview let’s just call this a conversation w/ Brendan Leonard. When Brendan called me, he was driving to a softball game – but don’t worry everyone- he was using blue tooth.
Yow Yow!: How old are you and where are you from?
Brendan: Right now, I’m 26 years old and I’m from Winnetka, Illinois. It’s in the suburbs about 15 miles from Chicago.
YY: Can you tell me how the Brendan Leonard Show came about? Who came up with the idea to pitch it to ABC Family?
B: My father has worked for the NBC Today Show for almost 30 years, if not 30 years, so we have video equipment around the house. My little brother was into making movies with friends and my sister did a little bit. It was somewhat common for us to do that sort of thing like making movies. We used to do it for school projects all the time and it was basically a guaranteed A because no one else had the equipment or father’s TV experience to help them out. Long story short, my dad bought me a movie camera when I was 14 years old. I was in 8th grade so I immediately starting filming stuff w/ my friends and we would do the standard thing that any adolescent kid would do with a video camera, which was to make horror movies – really bad ones. When I got to sophomore year of high school, I was getting ready to try out for hockey, but I was a bit hesitant because I knew what a time commitment it was and eventually it turns into your whole life. I decided that I wasn’t going to try out and I wanted to do something to fill that void and I don’t know why it came to me, but I was talking to my parents and I suggested, “Well, maybe I’ll just do a cable access show,” and they liked the idea and were always supportive of me doing creative things. I investigated if it was even possible for me to get a cable access show. From that point on, I decided I had to think of a name and probably out of sheer laziness I thought I would call it the Brendan Leonard Show. I started doing the show at 16. I can’t even watch it now, it’s so embarrassing. The production value was far from professional, but at 15 – do you really want to watch a video of you as a 15-year-old? It’s the most horrific time of anyone’s life, but I think that’s what made people stop the channel. This is crazy to think about now, but this is Pre-YouTube and before video was readily available on internet. This is somewhat startling to see 15-year old kids goofing around on television whether it be cable access or not.
YY: Did you ever get recognized at all?
B: Shortly after the show began, I remember getting recognized in Winnetka and it was very bizarre. We started doing the show and it wasn’t that great, but we were getting better slowly, but surely. As it progressed through high school, it’s not like you need everyone at once. You kind of a need a friend here or there. My friends were shaped around the show in a sense. I’d meet people whose humor might not translate on camera, so I’d have Ryan Turner or Kevin Carlson and these guys are really funny. I could tell already they were gonna be good on camera. They have the interest, the work ethic – and it sounds ridiculously to say work ethic cause we’re just goofing around. The cast took shape over a three and half year period and it was a really weird cable access show that changed from week to week. The only thing that didn’t change was that it was pretty much the same seven or eight guys doing it.
YY: ABC Family picked up your show when you were 19 right?
B: I got a show on ABC Family basically by doing a cable access show in Winnetka for three and a half years and it gained a big enough following that someone from Winnetka who I didn’t even know sent it to a friend in LA who then gave it to an executive at ABC Family – who really liked it and it just started from there. I didn’t pitch anything. I was sitting in my college dorm room. I actually received a phone call on my birthday from this woman calling me at ABC Family saying “How would you like to maybe have a show on our network?” It came out of nowhere. I didn’t audition for it. Deep down inside, I think when I was doing the show I thought there was always a possibility, but I never thought it would just happen without me knowing or actually attempting to get it on national television.
YY: The show aired over the summer. Did you guys sometimes watch it together or were you just off doing other things and filming?
B: It was an insanely busy summer. We were always seven days a week working together and some days not all the guys could be there, but most days they were so usually we would – unless we were gone. We would stop what we were doing around 4:30 and go to the basement and watch it as an entire cast because usually we’d finish filming something and I’d give it to my brother to edit and we’d just have to go onto the next thing. It would sort of just be an after thought. So we would a lot of the times see the skits for the first time when they were airing, which is ridiculous to think about, but it was more of a necessity given how crazy our schedule was.
YY: Well, I’m glad you guys got to watch it together though to see how the end product came out.
B: It was really fun because as you probably know, a lot of the humor is inside joke-y. It was hard to have it appeal to a huge number of people, but the people who liked it felt that they were in on the jokes. And they were!
YY: Part of the reason why I loved your show so much was because you guys reminded me of the guys I grew up with in my neighborhood. Have you known your friends since high school or did you grow up with them throughout your life?
B: Most of them are from high school. I’ve known Pat since I was probably four years old, then Paul in grade school, but everyone else I met during sophomore year of high school. That was around the time I started the cable access show. We joked about how high school was kind of a tryout for the ABC Family show. There were a ton of people on the cable access show that didn’t make it to the ABC Family show – not for any malicious reasons, I didn’t cut anyone. Towards my senior year of high school, the cast was pretty well established. The people who you saw on ABC Family were people who by far were the best on the cable access show. We all hung out off camera. The funny part is I live w/ Michael Carney. I see Pat all the time. Kevin, Ryan, and Kevin lived together about three blocks from my apartment, I see them all the time. Robbie and Paul live out of town so I don’t see them as much. We were all friends before the show. We did the show together and then it was almost as if nothing had changed. It would have been weird if I did the show without my friends. You know if ABC Family picked me up and said, “Okay you can do the Brendan Leonard Show, but we have a whole new cast for you.” Since my best friends and I got to experience this thing together it’s as if nothing changed. We still filmed the show in my house. We still did the same things we did before we had a national television show. It was like nothing happened except that we all got recognized from the street more.
YY: I’m glad to hear that they aren’t your fake friends then and your show wasn’t scripted like The Hills or The City cause that seems to be something that is a huge trend right now.
B: Yeah, it certainly is. Back to your original point, where you said “I watched your show and it reminded me of my friends.” That’s the overwhelming reaction most people have. I’ve had people my Dad’s age come up and say, “I love your show because it reminded me of what we did growing up.” That’s cool because we wanted to be different, creative, and unique in a sense, but we also didn’t want to appear different than any of our viewers because we weren’t. We’re not from Hollywood, like I said, we still film the show from my parent’s house. Nothing changed from the cable access show to the ABC Family show except for the fact obviously a lot more money was invested in the ABC Family show, which allowed us to do a little more with props and employ my family’s production company.
YY: So you aired 40 episodes on ABC Family. Everyone thought it was extremely successful. I was so disappointed to hear that it wasn’t picked up for the second season. Was it hard for you to hear this kind of news? What was your reaction to it?
B: Actually, it’s pretty funny because I was somewhat relieved. I loved doing the show, but as I mentioned earlier, our schedule was so insane. My brother, brother-in-law, and my father were the main editors of the show. Individually, they pulled one or two all-nighters a week. I worked everyday from nine in the morning until at least nine at night. It was a lot of hard work, but a lot of hard work with your friends and family. Originally, we were hired to do 30 shows and a ten show extension. They wanted to do another ten show extension at the end of the summer. This was the summer after our freshman year of college. If we agreed to the additional ten shows, then we’d either lose half the cast from people going to college or people would stay back and there would be the risk of it not going farther than that and they’re behind in college. We said “We’ll either do 30 episodes or just call it a day.” They didn’t want to do 30 and we didn’t want to do their ten so that’s kind of why the last two episodes were definitive farewell episodes. In the event that somehow it got picked up again, it’s not like we couldn’t go back and do it, but we didn’t want to leave anyone hanging. We wanted some sort of closure because the fan reaction was – - the support and affection for the show was so miraculous and not like anything we’d ever experienced so we wanted to make sure we had a proper sendoff – something that is bittersweet, but you also can still look back and reflect back on how fun that summer was. Other than you guys remind me of my friends, the thing I hear most is “Oh that looked like the best summer ever.” It’s cool because it was obviously the best summer for us and it was great to share it with people who got it. The show is full of inside jokes and reoccurring gags and things like that so that tends to build a pretty passionate and knowledgeable fan base. When it ended, we were a little sad that it was over, but it was somewhat of a relief and what can we be mad about? We just had the most ridiculous summer of our lives. We got to be on TV hanging out w/ our best friends, and no one gets to say that. It wasn’t a scripted show or contrived. We would wake up and be like, “What do you want to film today?” There was no one there to tell us what we can and cannot do, but obviously being on ABC Family, we knew what our parameters were in terms of getting a little racy and stuff like that, but we didn’t abuse that too much. It almost fueled more creativity because the easy way to get a laugh is sometimes being vulgar or offensive. We’re just normal 19-year-old college kids. We would swear off camera, but when we’re on camera it was kind of fun because it was like “Now we can just be as childish as humanly possible” and I think that was pretty evident with some of our skits.
YY: In one word, can you describe your experience with the show.
B: One word.
YY: One word.
B: Can I have a hyphenated word?
B: I’ll say life-changing. It was life-changing, but in a lot of ways it was life-reaffirming. It made me realize I’ve got some pretty funny friends. As I mentioned earlier, it was a tough summer. It was a lot of work. My friends’ true colors really really came out that summer. I got intimately closer w/ all of them. It was like we’re all in it together and whenever I needed something or they needed to stay late or do whatever, they would always come through. It was life-affirming in that I realized how great my family is, how supportive they are, and how great, supportive and funny my friends are. It was definitely a pretty crazy summer.
YY: How did the Brendan Leonard Show Revisted Facebook Fan Page come up again? I’ve been wondering where I could watch the videos from old skits and from your show and all of a sudden it just came out of nowhere so what was the start of that? And then you can lead into the “What’s your favorite skit?” question.
B: I would get Facebook messages and emails all the time asking “Is there going to be a Brendan Leonard Show DVD?” and the answer to that is no because I don’t own the rights to the show. I know that sounds crazy, but it’s basically ABC Family’s decision and because we used about 40 indie rock bands, the paperwork and legality involved would be nearly impossible. I felt bad saying that there wasn’t going to be a DVD so I just thought I’d put them on Facebook and see what happens. I was pretty shocked to see how many people were into it so fast. I just thought it would be fun to revisit some old skits. One of my favorite skits actually is the clouds skit. It’s one of the episodes where we’re trying to take advantage of being outside. The cloud skit is when we’re all just lying on the grass and we keep seeing weird looking clouds in the sky – I think there’s a George Clooney, but Kevin Carlson can’t see what we’re talking about. It is somewhat indicative that there are some people who just get it. Some people just get the show and it’s unexplainable and you can’t describe it to other people who don’t get it. It’s also about imagination and being young and carefree. When I watched it recently, it was a feeling of “Wow, that was a pretty good skit and what I wouldn’t give to just have that carefree life style laying in the grass with my buddies looking at the clouds.” I mean I’m 26 years old now, I have to start taking responsibility and thinking about the future. Each skit I like for different reasons and a lot of times it’s because I know the circumstances behind them you know. In the corporate episode, we did a speed golf skit and in the middle of it Kevin Sheehan was still training for hockey and he had horrible shin splints, but the skit required him to run all over the place. He was doing it despite the fact that he was in excruciating pain. Those are the types of things I remember because it really made me appreciate how great my friends were and how supportive they were in doing anything for the show.
YY: Well thank you for sharing that. I wish everyone could hear the back story behind every episode. It’s too bad we don’t know…
B: Believe me, I would love nothing more than for there to be a Brendan Leonard Show DVD so we could do some commentary behind it because there’s a lot of funny stories and interesting circumstances behind how certain skits came to me.
YY: You featured many unknown bands in every episode and that’s something I really appreciate because I come from Seattle so I’m always supporting local Seattle bands. What was your motivation for this?
B: My motivation was just the fact that I was a fan. At least half those bands… I was just fans of. I love Superchunk, I used Superchunk all the time in my cable access show.
YY: I saw them live a couple years ago.
YY: Yeah, they were crazy!
B: Yeah, they’re pretty exciting huh? That was actually a sticking point that held up contract negotiations the most with ABC Family was that they wanted – basically Disney owns all of the ABC networks – and they use in-house music/stock music. They were pretty adamant about doing that and I was very adamant about using indie rock bands because that’s what made the cable access show unique. Eventually, they let me use indie rock music and I was able to use Superchunk, Built to spill, The Long Winters, and reigning from your part of the country – Minus the Bear.
YY: Oh my god, I love Minus the Bear! They’re one of my favorite bands.
B: They were one of the bands that I was introduced to by the show and that happens a lot. Because I’m so busy, my sister Megan was pretty much in charge of music. She worked for Touch and Go Records out of college, which is an independent record company. She knew what bands I liked and what bands I wanted to feature. Not all bands were willing to give away their music for free, but most were. It was fun because I got to know a lot of bands. I’m in a band now and our band opened up for The Oranges Band a couple years ago. Every time I’ve seen Long Winters – which is four times in different states – the lead singer John Roderick always dedicates a song to The Brendan Leonard Show. I’d like to think that in some ways I helped them out a little bit and they helped me out a ton. Any time somebody asks “Can Disney use your music for free?” Obviously a lot of bands would be hesitant, but they got it, they understand. I’m only a 19 year old kid and I’m a legitimate fan and love the music. It was cool. The music use in hindsight was one of the biggest things that made the show resonate and work with people.
YY: What three bands are you listening to now?
B: I’m listening to the new Menomena album Mines. I just got tickets to the Guided By Voices reunion show in Chicago and Las Vegas. I love The National. I just went to see The Walkmen on Friday night – that’s a hard question! I’d say the three bands I’ve been listening to consistently over the last three month period would be The National, The Wrens, and Pavement a little bit.
YY: I have a really tricky question now. Why did Michael Carney’s mom lie to him about Camp Jinx not having any water sports?
B: [laughing] I think that was probably a fabrication on Michael’s part of his mom not telling him, but what is true is Michael’s hatred and or fear of anything related to water sports. That’s 100% true.
YY: Would you say that the Brendan Leonard Show was like reality television because you were all normal people? Also, how do you feel about reality television today?
B: As far as classifying the Brendan Leonard Show, I’ve never really been able to do it. If somebody were to ask what it was about, I would have a hard time describing because as you know it just changed all of the time. I would say reality was certainly involved because we were actually the people we were – we weren’t actors that’s for sure. As far as reality TV now, I certainly don’t think it is positive. They use the term reality very lucidly. It seems that by reality they mean actual people, but the circumstances that they get into are far from real. With that said, I’m still guilty of getting really excited about watching the Jersey Shore every Thursday night.
YY: Oh no!
B: It’s a dark secret, but me and Michael cannot shake it. We really really get into it and laugh the entire hour of the show. It partially has to do with my going to school in Rhode Island; I was surrounded by a good amount of people that have been able to make it onto Jersey Shore so it kind of reminds me of school. As far as other reality shows, I don’t really watch them.
YY: So you posed many questions during the season of the Brendan Leonard Show such as “Do blondes have more fun? Can you sneeze with your eyes open? What is one question that you have today that you would like to test out that you didn’t have a chance to test out during the show.
B: Oh man… that’s a good question. I would say that… – huh -
YY: I know it’s a really good one huh?
B: Yeah, Believe it or not it took me a half a day to come up with the sneeze with your eyes open thing. I’ll say…Is there anyway to make Carney’s palms not so clammy? Don’t ask me why I know that, but I do. He’s got the clammiest hands in the world.
YY: You know, I think it’s called like sweaty palm syndrome, right?
B: It’s something, he definitely has it – whatever it is. Maybe that or how much hotter Pat’s face is than mine during the summer. He currently has hair down to his shoulders and a Santa Claus beard.
YY: What opportunities have been presented upon having your show w/ ABC Family and are you taking them?
B: Since the show? Outside of work – the opportunity to meet a lot more people – you know meet people like yourself. Freshman year of college was really tough for me in that I was home sick, I missed my buds from the show, I wasn’t doing the cable access show anymore and I wasn’t making a lot of friends and I didn’t really like Providence. After the show, I went to DePaul the rest of the year and then I went back to Providence with my dad and it was completely different and not because anyone’s attitude changed towards me. My attitude towards other people completely changed. The show gave me more confidence – confidence not cockyness – in that “well maybe, I am pretty funny, maybe my friends and I are funny.” I was less shy because of that. The show changed the way I looked at the world and other people because I was no longer so introverted and concerned with myself. All of a sudden I was like, “I kind of know what I am and now that I’m more confident and less shy, I can meet more people and have more relationships.” It’s kind of a weird answer, but that’s really what I’ve liked the most about it. I’ve met so many friends from college – great great friends of mine – who the first thing they’d say was, “Hey! Are you that kid with the show?” That would start everything. Obviously, there have been a ton of people to ask that question that I’m not very close with, but it’s a great ice breaker that’s for sure.
YY: Lastly, I wanna know what all of you are doing now.
B: I work for PictureShow – the production company that did the show. My dad’s involved a little bit, but it’s mainly me my brother Matt and my brother in law Jamie. We have a production company and we do documentaries. That’s what I’m doing. I live with Michael Carney and he is currently in his second year of law school. He’s a smart lad. It’s kind of funny because he portrayed an evil lawyer in that Legally Red sketch that we did. Pat quit his job recently, but he was part of an after school creative writing program for disadvantaged youth. He was teaching a lot of inner city kids to write creatively. He’d been doing that for awhile and wanted a change. He lives with our friend Chris, who we all grew up with and he lives somewhat close to me. Kevin Sheehan, Ryan, and Kevin Carlson all lived together up until a month ago. Kevin Carlson moved out and just moved in with his girlfriend downtown. He does something within the financial business. Ryan Turner works at a marketing exchange like a stock market in Chicago. He lives with Kevin and they actually live a block and a half away from me. Kevin works as a copywriter for an advertising agency. Paul lives in Washington DC and he’s a teacher. Rotang lives in Miami and is in International real estate because he is fluent in Spanish and English.
YY: Where can we see you next Brendan? What’s in store for you and the Brendan Leonard Show?
B: I made the conscious decision after the Brendan Leonard Show… I was going to LA a lot and auditioning for movies and things like that and it just wasn’t for me. I loved doing the Brendan Leonard Show, but I loved it because it was something that I created and I wasn’t doing someone else’s work. It was really me being myself. After all that, I decided I was going to stop doing this type of thing for awhile – go to college have fun and then see what happens. I’m slowly, but surely starting to get back into the act of creating my own little thing again. In the mean time, we film new sketches every now and then and post them to Facebook. Check out what my company PictureShow is doing on Facebook. I’ll be doing something creative, what that is – I don’t know yet, but I’ll keep you all posted.
Visit Brendan’s company Picture Show Films
To watch all of the videos from The Brendan Leonard Show click here
To hear news about Brendan Leonard Revisted visit their Facebook here