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Big Screen

Twelve years ago, Neil Mahoney was just one of thousands that head to Los Angeles each year in search of a place in the spotlight. Just like the rest of them, Mahoney, an Osterville native, thought he had a story to tell. But unlike most, he’s now a bona fide film director.

Carving out a name in the fledgling realm of online comedy, Mahoney found his own path to Hollywood and worked alongside some of the funniest folks in the industry. In 2010, one of his online films won a prestigious award, and earlier this year he wrapped production on his first feature, Freak Dance.

Growing up on the Cape, Mahoney enjoyed fishing and clamming with his father. He was into skateboarding and setting up punk rock shows in VFWs and warehouse spaces. He graduated from Barnstable High, then cum laude from Emerson College, where he spent his final semester in 1999 in Los Angeles, landing an internship with Dakota Films. His application was simple. “I wrote them requesting an internship and included an eight-by-10 glossy of myself as a baby wearing green velvet lederhosen,” he says.

Mahoney was hired by some interesting folks. Back then, Dakota Films was the production company behind Mr. Show, a cutting-edge 1990s program that spent four seasons reinventing sketch comedy into a kind of comedic cubism on HBO—something like a latter-day American Monty Python’s Flying Circus. Mr. Show was ahead of its time—ignored during its original run, but inspiring a generation of comedy writers and performers. After the show was canceled, Mahoney worked as assistant to director Troy Miller on the film Run Ronnie Run! and helped with the Mr. Show Live Tour.

After that, Mahoney plunged into L.A.’s underground comedy scene, a competitive crapshoot where every bartender is hawking a screenplay and every valet burns to direct. In his first years in town, Mahoney says, “No one wanted to hire me.” He started at the bottom—literally. “I swept out the sand from the pool they used to sink the Titanic,” he says.

As production assistant to flamboyant fitness guru Richard Simmons’ show Richard Simmons’ Dream Maker, Mahoney ran any number of oddball missions, from fetching birdseed to delivering snakes. He helped produce several scenes for Toxic Avenger IV: Citizen Toxie, a stint that had Mahoney playing a dead body floating in the grotto at the Playboy mansion.

Robyn Von Swank

All the while, he wrote and wrote. He tried stand-up comedy, and he met funny people. Soon, he was working with Mr. Show alums Scott Aukerman and BJ Porter, creators of Comedy Death-Ray, a popular live comedy show. CDR has played to packed houses in LA since 2002, showcasing already and soon-to-be famous comedians.

As technical director and DJ, Mahoney met kindreds with whom he would later collaborate. Among those he met at the comedy clubs was Jen Kirkman, who is now a successful touring comic whose TV writing credits include Chelsea Lately and NBC’s Perfect Couples. Mahoney and Kirkman married in Massachusetts in 2009.

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Rob Conery is a freelance writer and a frequent contributor to Cape Cod Life Publications.

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