Tampa comic Matt Fernandez talks filming his own special in a Netflix world

Comedian Matt Fernandez performs at open mic night at de Bine Brewing Company in Palm Harbor this month.
MARTHA ASENCIO RHINE | Times Comedian Matt Fernandez performs at open mic night at de Bine Brewing Company in Palm Harbor this month.
Published July 25 2018

Matt Fernandez wonít say quite how much heís spending.

Itís enough to rent out a club. And hire a film crew. And turn the footage into his first standup comedy special. Bottom line: Itís significant.

And if the whole thing goes off as he has dreamed for years, itíll be worth it.

"Itís absolutely an investment in myself," said Fernandez. "Iím not just talking money. I donít want it to sound like that. I really do want to make something that I can be like, ĎI did this. Hereís proof.í I just want to have something that people can watch years from now when Iím gone."

Fernandez, 33, has over the past decade grown into one of Tampaís best-known comics. He has opened for Dave Chappelle and Demetri Martin, performed at the Oddball Comedy Festival, filmed a TV pilot, written for Playboy, toured the country and accumulated a strong following on Twitter, where his jokes have been featured on Jimmy Kimmel Live, The Ellen DeGeneres Show and Today.

But he has never filmed an hourlong standup special. Most comics at his level of success havenít. Traditionally, the cost of production has been outweighed by the unlikelihood that it would ever make its way to HBO, Comedy Central or some other place where it could earn back its budget.

But there is today a cultural appetite for standup specials that rivals anything seen since the comedy club boom of the early 1990s. Netflix, the streaming home of A-listers such as Jerry Seinfeld, Chris Rock and Chappelle, this month announced plans to release 47 original specials on a single day in 2019. Other comics, like Jim Gaffigan and Louis C.K., have released specials through digital retailers, on-demand services or their own websites.

When Fernandez films his first special Aug. 4 in Ybor City, heíll be giving himself a shot at joining them.

"It doesnít make sense not to try," he said. "I feel like the bubble is about as big as itís going to be. Soon, that standup bubble is going to pop. Thereís a lot of comics on earth. So I think right now is the hottest the ironís going to get before it starts to cool down."

Fernandez, who holds down a day job as a financial planning associate, would have liked to do it before now. But banking the capital to pull it off took time, as did finding the right production company. He knew the look he wanted ó he points to lower-fi Netflix specials by Michael Che and Judah Friedlander as examples ó and waited to book a crew that could do it for the right price.

"I couldnít see doing it any other way," he said. "I donít want to ask people for money. I know people fund their specials in different ways. It felt like the most obvious, right thing to do, to make sure I get it the way I want it and to have it be me who does it."

As a regional comic, rather than a national headliner, heíll have to stretch his budget. Many comedy specials encompass multiple live sets spliced together in the editing room, to maximize the number of jokes that land the hardest. Were Fernandez to try that, heíd run the risk neither would sell out. That watered-down energy would come across on tape.

Fernandez has spent the last few weeks hopping to open mic nights across Tampa Bay, fine-tuning new bits and chunks to keep them feeling fresh in his mind, and to a local audience thatís familiar with his work.

When the special is ready ó hopefully by the end of the year, he said ó heíll shop it around in hopes of finding a buyer or distributor. Worst-case scenario, heíll press DVDs and sell them at shows and online.

Until then, heís getting the word out locally via radio, podcasts and print media, trying to ensure that enough people come to the show to make his first special truly feel special.

"Itís standup, so itís not like I can hire a skywriter to get my name out to the world," he said. "Iíve wanted to do it for a while, just to say I did it. To make something that will outlive me is cool. I hope."

Contact Jay Cridlin at [email protected] or (727) 893-8336. Follow @JayCridlin.