By GUY D’ASTOLFO
Tony Hinchcliffe knew that his comedy act would be a hit if only more people could see it.
But instead of waiting for a cable-TV outlet to take a chance on him, he decided to film his own special.
The risky plan worked better than he imagined.
The Youngs-town native’s new comedy special, “Tony Hinchcliffe: One Shot,” has been one of the most-viewed shows on Netflix since it was released a few weeks ago.
Hinchliffe funded the one-hour special, took it to the booming Web-based entertainment portal, and it just took off.
“What happened to me almost never happens,” he said in a phone call from his Los Angeles home. “Usually, Netflix will decide to make a special, and they’ll pay a production company and the comedian. I wanted to do something different and risky because I knew they would never take a chance on me.”
Hinchliffe hired a director and a film crew and shot his whole performance in one continuous shot – hence, the title. It’s the first time a comedy special has been done in one shot, with no cuts and no editing, he said.
“I showed it to Netflix, and they fell in love with it,” he said, adding, “Netflix is the No. 1 place to be right now.” In the recent past, HBO and Comedy Central were the only outlets that routinely aired comedy specials.
“It’s on the front page of Netflix,” he said. “I didn’t expect it to take off this fast.”
Hinchcliffe’s humor is sharply written, and then made devastating by the timing and execution of his delivery. It’s aimed at adult audiences.
The Netflix success has given his career a big boost.
“I immediately started getting new and bigger offers before it even came out because word got out about how I shot it,” he said.
The special was shot in a club, not a theater, which guarantees more jokes per minute because the laugh breaks are shorter in a small venue. It also has a more raw and personal flavor that comes through the TV screen.
HInchliffe said he had dreams of how the special would be shot. “I saw the opening sequence in my dreams,” he said, adding that he used that vision to help direct the special. “I told the camera operator, ‘Move in closer for this joke and then farther out for that one,’” he said.
At age 30, Hinchcliffe is among the youngest comedians to get his own special. The 2003 Ursuline High School graduate moved to LA in 2007 to pursue his career. “Most comedians are at least 10 to 15 years in before they get a special,” he said. “This is a rare feat.”
In the closing credits of “One Shot,” he gives a thank-you to the city of Youngstown.
That’s because of the work ethic and never-quit attitude his hometown instilled in him.
“Youngstown made me who I am – hungry, strong and a fighter, and I know that there is no safety net,” he said. “When I first came to LA, moving back home was not an option. Being from a place so scary and dark really helped me go all out with everything.”
Hinchcliffe was raised by a single mother in a home at the corner of Clarencedale and Thornton avenues on the North Side.
“One day I came home from school and my Nintendo was gone,” he recalled. “Another day, my VCR was gone. There were bullet holes in our place that are probably still there.”
The city could become a source of material, as Hinchcliffe is working on either a sitcom or a movie based on his Youngstown experience. “I will delve into my life, raised in a rough neighborhood,” he said. “It’s too incredible a story to not do something with it in the near future.”
At Ursuline, Hinchcliffe’s teachers could sense he wasn’t typical. “A lot of my teachers said they couldn’t imagine me ever working a normal job,” he said. “They said they didn’t know how I would ever fit into society because all I do is try to make people laugh.
“I found an outlet for that.”
In addition to his standup comedy act, Hinchcliffe has written for the past five Comedy Central roasts.
He has returned to his hometown on a fairly regular basis, most recently in 2013 when he played a weekend at the Funny Farm in Austintown, when it was at Mojo’s Pub.
Hinchcliffe does not have a show booked in Youngstown in the near future, but he said when he does return, he hopes to play Stambaugh Auditorium, and not just because he’ll need a larger venue.
“I got my diploma from Ursuline High School there,” he said.