Michael Colton '97 (Writer & Comedian, VH1's BEST WEEK EVER)
By Kim Bendheim '81
Michael Colton ’97 is a comedian as well as a writer. Along with his writing partner, John Aboud ‘95, he created Modern Humorist, a comedy collective that produced an award-winning comedy Web magazine from 2000-2003. The duo regularly appears on VH1s BEST WEEK EVER making jokes about pop culture. They’ve performed at colleges and clubs across the country, but these days Colton can more often be found at home performing his role as new father to two-month-old Veronica Elena. Colton met his wife, Carla Pereira ’96, at an alumni mixer in Washington, DC when he was working as a reporter for the Style section of The Washington Post and she was in law school.
Colton’s passions have remained consistent since high school: writing and the entertainment business. In high school, he wrote for the school newspaper. He knew he wanted to be a writer professionally, he just wasn’t sure if he wanted to go into journalism or comedy. At Harvard he wrote for both the Crimson and the Lampoon, noted rivals and prank war nemeses. He comped the Lampoon several times before being accepted. Aboud, his future writing partner, was on the board the first time he comped and was rejected. “We’ve since made peace,” Colton deadpans. And indeed, Colton never held it against Aboud – the two writing partners, now based in LA, have seen each other almost every day for the last nine years.
While in college, Colton performed in some shows, including Feydau’s “A Flea in Her Ear” on the Loeb mainstage. He played the part of Augustin Feraillon, the owner and manager of Hotel Coq d’Or, a hotel where everyone goes to have extramarital affairs. A former sergeant-major, he believes his hotel should be run with the same precision and discipline found in the military. Colton was particularly gratified when his mother, Boston actress Ellen Colton, came to see his performance. He had first tasted the life of an actor as a child, when he appeared in commercials thanks to his mother’s help.
As a sophomore at Harvard, Colton declared English as his concentration. He quickly decided he didn’t want to be an academic because he didn’t enjoy that kind of writing. Instead, he focused on writing for the Crimson and the Lampoon and garnered summer internships at the Boston Globe, the LA Times and the Washington Post. His post-graduate internship at the Post turned into a yearlong job as a feature reporter, which meant that he wrote stories about politics, entertainment, business, and culture – “It was kind of a dream job.” He spent a week in the Nevada desert covering Burning Man. He also wrote about the Miss America Pageant in Atlantic City, then went across the street to a strip club to ask the dancers the same questions as the contestants – e.g. “What do you value most in a leader?” When President Clinton pardoned a turkey for Thanksgiving, Colton wrote him a letter in the voice of the fowl (who, naturally, was gay). When the Lewinsky scandal hit, he wrote a lot of stories about Washington interns and spent 24 hours with DC paparazzi trailing Monica everywhere she went. His most memorable story, which received feedback from Bob Woodward, was one in which he spent a week trying to eat only free food – at congressional receptions, conventions, supermarket samples, happy hours, etc. Colton has heard anecdotally that the story is still passed around like a guidebook by each year’s new crop of Washington interns.
In 1999, after a year and a half at the Washington Post, he moved to New York City with the goal of working in comedy. In NYC, he wrote for the New York Times, the New York Observer and Newsweek. At a party, he crossed paths again with Aboud, a fellow Crimson/Lampoon alum. They came up with the idea for Modern Humorist, a comedy company centered on an online magazine (www.ModernHumorist.com). The duo put together a business plan and venture capital proposal. Colton was working as a writer for the now defunct Brill’s Content when they went out to investors. Specifically, he was on a cell phone in John McCain’s campaign bus bathroom when he learned that he and Aboud had gotten a million dollars fund their company.
After that auspicious start, they launched the magazine in 2000. As Colton remembers nostalgically, it had a glorious three-year run, winning awards and favorable reviews from Time, Newsweek, and the Wall Street Journal, among other publications, and spinning off three books published by Crown. They also created several parody websites that many people mistook for the real thing. “That’s harder to do today,” says Colton, “when people are more web-savvy.” Colton and Aboud’s Modern Humorist was successful enough to have a staff of twelve people, sell a TV pilot to Comedy Central, and do advertising work for companies such as Microsoft and Amazon. When the dot-com bubble burst, their investors went out of business, and they had to lay everyone off.
Following the sad demise of Modern Humorist, Colton and Aboud shifted to being writers rather than executives, writing more and more for film and TV. Since CAA had represented Modern Humorist, the agency now shopped around the duo’s work. They’ve sold several several scripts over the past few years, and their first produced screenwriting credit was for THE COMEBACKS, released in theaters in fall 2007 (and now available on DVD). They wrote the first draft, and “it was then rewritten by approximately 87 people.” Colton pauses before adding, “We didn’t feel a great sense of authorship…it’s not going to win any Oscars.”
Colton’s mother prepared him for the vagaries of the entertainment business. She taught him that in any creative pursuit, you experience a lot of rejection. As a writer, Colton learned that he should never get his hopes up too much about a particular project, as there were too many factors over which he had no control. Perhaps because of his own experience as a child actor, with a mother in the business, Colton learned all of the above early in his career.
Colton describes his mother as “a character who was definitely an influence on my comedy. For the last ten years, Ellen Colton’s steadiest gig has been playing the socialite Mrs. Shubert in the long-running Boston production of the interactive and comedic murder mystery “Shear Madness.” ” She actually appeared with her son on a Mother’s Day episode of BEST WEEK EVER, playing an overbearing mother who critiqued his performance on the show.
Now that the writers’ strike has ended, Colton and Aboud’s projects include a TV pilot about advance men in the White House (Colton’s roommate in Washington, DC was an advance man for Clinton), and a movie they wrotefor New Line (tentatively titled THE BENDER). Frank Coraci, best known for his work on Adam Sandler films, is attached to direct. The film is loosely based on an experience from Colton’s marriage—what he dubs the “baby bender,” the period just before a couple decides to have kids, when “they want to party like a rock star and get it out of their system.” Colton knows about this because his normally staid wife “went on a bender,” as he puts it, before the conception of their daughter. “There was a period where she was drinking and smoking every night, and I began to get freaked out,” he says. The film is about a very mild-mannered couple that decides to go crazy before they have a baby, and it puts their marriage to the test.
Colton is happy that the strike has ended so that he and Aboud can move ahead with these and other projects. One positive effect of the strike, he notes, is that he met “tons of other writers.” During the three-month work stoppage, he met more people in the business than he had during the previous three years he’d been in LA. He finds the Los Angeles lifestyle less stressful than NYC, though he’s also less social, perhaps because he commutes to an office in his backyard. Once a week, he takes the bus from West Hollywood into Santa Monica to do his gig at VH1. Colton is the only person he knows in LA, other than his wife, who takes the bus. “We’re a one car household. The bus can be pretty convenient.” Perhaps Colton misses NYC more than he knows. He and his wife picked a walkable neighborhood in which to live, near the intersection of Crescent Heights and Melrose. He didn’t want to live somewhere where he had to get in the car to get a cup of coffee.
Initially, Colton’s parents had some trepidation when he went into show business. Of the four Colton siblings, Michael had been the best at math and science. Since their father, Clark Colton, is a professor of Chemical Engineering at MIT, there was some hope that Michael would follow his father into that field. He did not choose a career in the sciences, but any parental disappointment evaporated once he started to make a living through his writing and television appearances. Now the Coltons are supportive, like the rest of the VH1 BEST WEEK EVER audience, and settle in once a week to watch (and laugh at) their son on TV.
More about Colton and Aboud—and pretty pictures of doves—can be found at www.coltonaboud.com.