Funny Business: Funny Portraits of Funny People Being Ridiculous at Home

While usually reserved creatures, there is no more spectacular sight in the natural world than a British person flying through the air in a defensive body position.

While usually reserved creatures, there is no more spectacular sight in the natural world than a British person flying through the air in a defensive body position.

There’s something almost intimate about the comedian portraits in Seth Olenick‘s new photo book Funny Business.

Not intimate in a candid moment sort of way — that sort of candid is difficult to capture when your subjects have dedicated their lives making other people laugh. Seth’s portraits seem to capture unguarded moments of humor, the kind you might imagine you would see daily if you were friends with these celebrities.

The project behind the photo book was no weekend endeavor. In all, Seth spent over 6 years traveling all over the US to meet these kings and queens of comedy at their own homes and capture their portraits.

“The majority of my shoots were done with just me and the subject, and rarely went beyond two hours,” Seth tells us. “It created an intimate setting where they didn’t feel as self-conscious as they might have with a whole crew standing around. This is very important to me since I am looking to capture everyone without having to rely on their on-stage or on-screen personas.”

I can't help it, I always perspire excessively at photo shoots.

I can’t help it, I always perspire excessively at photo shoots.

When we spoke to Seth about the project, we wanted to hear the anecdotes and stories that would really resonate with our audience. What was it like taking these portraits? What was the craziest thing he did? How did he set them up? And what was it like spending time one-on-one with the comic icons pictured in Funny Business.

Fortunately for us, Seth was very openhanded about sharing these stories. For example, he told us about the simple (sometimes treacherous) setup he used for most of the shots:

With the exception of the studio shots, I was able to shoot almost all of the portraits in the book with a one-light setup. The only problems I ran into were the wind blowing the light over every now and then (in the 6 1/2 years of doing the shoots, I broke probably 3-4 umbrellas), and one shoot that I did in the ocean (yes, I said IN) almost led to my light getting totally submerged. In the end, I got the perfect shot, and nothing fell into the water.

As Schroeder grew into adulthood, his musical genius flourished, but a mental block prohibited him from being able to play on anything but his old toy piano. Denied the acclaim he felt the music "establishment" owed him, he became quite mad.

As Schroeder grew into adulthood, his musical genius flourished, but a mental block prohibited him from being able to play on anything but his old toy piano. Denied the acclaim he felt the music “establishment” owed him, he became quite mad.

He also told us about the post-processing that went into the shots which, as it turns out, wasn’t much. He was even brave enough to get chunks of raw meat involved in one of the shots:

I don’t like to rely on Photoshop tricks except when it’s absolutely necessary. With the shot of Reggie Watts, it had to be done in post. No way around that. The one of Nasim Pedrad actually included several real pieces of beef on the umbrella and the ground. Because I didn’t want to cover an Upper West Side sidewalk in beef, however, the decision was made to add some more in post.

But there definitely were pieces of raw beef on the ground. Sorry to all the PETA people out there. That’s what this website is, right? PETA Pixel? In all seriousness, I would encourage photographers to do as much in-camera as possible. It forces you to get creative in the moment, and will give you a better feeling of accomplishment in the end. Or maybe that’s just me.

Caught in a rare storm.

Caught in a rare storm.

Another fun story comes from the nude Bobby Lee photo:

Bobby Lee really was naked in the photo. I’m not sure if I asked him to do that, but I probably did. It really was meant to be a play on the word “cock” in a different setup we did. I just thought this one had so much emotion and tension that it had to be included in the book.

Below you’ll find the Bobby Lee photo alongside a further selection from Funny Business that Seth was kind enough to share with us. Each funny shot is accompanied by a caption written by the subject themselves.

I don't do this that often so how much do I owe you?

I don’t do this that often so how much do I owe you?

This is a photograph of everything I hate about having my picture taken.

This is a photograph of everything I hate about having my picture taken.

This face illustrates how I'd react if I saw tie eating monsters and wanted to fool them into thinking I was one of them.

This face illustrates how I’d react if I saw tie eating monsters and wanted to fool them into thinking I was one of them.

Bill Hader: Look 2B (eyebrow - outdoor)

Bill Hader: Look 2B (eyebrow – outdoor)

Sometimes even small tragedies require a big hero

Sometimes even small tragedies require a big hero

Ducks mean a lot in American society. How did ducks become the premiere bird to rubberize and have in the tub with you as you bathe? Why wasn't I afforded the opportunity to bathe with rubber bald eagles or rubber flamingos. This picture shows how ducks have become very arrogant, I tried to give the duck bread, and it didn't want to take it. It made me sad, but I got over it. Seth captured that moment

Ducks mean a lot in American society. How did ducks become the premiere bird to rubberize and have in the tub with you as you bathe? Why wasn’t I afforded the opportunity to bathe with rubber bald eagles or rubber flamingos. This picture shows how ducks have become very arrogant, I tried to give the duck bread, and it didn’t want to take it. It made me sad, but I got over it. Seth captured that moment

Is everyone watching?

Is everyone watching?

This was inspired by my two favorite presidents -- Lincoln and Grant -- as well as my spirit animal, John Belushi

This was inspired by my two favorite presidents — Lincoln and Grant — as well as my spirit animal, John Belushi

Caught me! Yes, I'm smoking weed from the world's largest bong.

Caught me! Yes, I’m smoking weed from the world’s largest bong.

A large forehead is a sign of intelligence. My mother told me that in 1978.

A large forehead is a sign of intelligence. My mother told me that in 1978.

Only a comedian has to jump in a photo with a beautiful woman as opposed to kissing her. Oh well, the life of a comedian.

Only a comedian has to jump in a photo with a beautiful woman as opposed to kissing her. Oh well, the life of a comedian.

John Gemberling_final_V2_by Seth Olenick_PetaPixel

Sometimes I just like to feel pretty

Sometimes I just like to feel pretty

When we work together, everything comes out alright.

When we work together, everything comes out alright.

This is a lovely picture which captures how I feel most of the time.

This is a lovely picture which captures how I feel most of the time.

I'll never shut my pie hole!

I’ll never shut my pie hole!

The Real Man Of The House Revealed

The Real Man Of The House Revealed

It took some doing but I finally felt comfortable revealing my true nature.

It took some doing but I finally felt comfortable revealing my true nature.

Knuckle sandwich, Doritos and a Diet Coke. That's your typical Riggle lunch...

Knuckle sandwich, Doritos and a Diet Coke. That’s your typical Riggle lunch…

I heard that an extensive 1998 demographic study estimated that there were about 35-40 million birds kept as “pets” in the U.S — that is an increase of more than 250% from 1990. Crazy.

I heard that an extensive 1998 demographic study estimated that there were about 35-40 million birds kept as “pets” in the U.S — that is an increase of more than 250% from 1990. Crazy.

I still own that green shirt. Probably the pants, too. Not sure why I was pushing the "sad clown" thing so hard.

I still own that green shirt. Probably the pants, too. Not sure why I was pushing the “sad clown” thing so hard.

I do a lot of tagging on the weekends. I come from a long line of taggers. My great great grandaddy was the first tagger to tag The Parthenon. Back then there was no spray paint so he used a mixture of goats milk and ox blood. I use the traditional spray of paint that I get at a store called "Large Cans". It used to be strip joint but they kept the name and just started spray paint instead.  Seth caught me tagging up one afternoon and asked if he could snap my photo. I first asked if he was a cop. He said no. I told him I was. Then spray painted him a glass of orange juice. We both enjoyed it. His pictures bring out the kindness in me.

I do a lot of tagging on the weekends. I come from a long line of taggers. My great great grandaddy was the first tagger to tag The Parthenon. Back then there was no spray paint so he used a mixture of goats milk and ox blood. I use the traditional spray of paint that I get at a store called “Large Cans”. It used to be strip joint but they kept the name and just started spray paint instead.
Seth caught me tagging up one afternoon and asked if he could snap my photo. I first asked if he was a cop. He said no. I told him I was. Then spray painted him a glass of orange juice. We both enjoyed it. His pictures bring out the kindness in me.

The full 235-page book contains a total of 213 portraits, so this really is just a small taste. To see them all, you can pick up the regular and limited edition versions at this link. Until December 9th, you can get the regular for $55 ($10 off) and the limited edition for $110 ($15 off). You can also pick up individual prints.

And if you’d like to browse through the rest of Seth’s portfolio, pay his website a visit or give him a follow on Twitter and Instagram

(via Feature Shoot)


Image credits: Photographs by Seth Olenick and used with permission

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