Good People, Cool Things
Good People, Cool Things

Episode 32 · 2 years ago

32: Creating Comedy Central and the Business of Television with Art Bell

ABOUT THIS EPISODE

Art Bell is the author of Constant Comedy: How I started Comedy Central and Lost My Sense of Humor. If that title doesn't immediately pique your interest, here's a little taste of what you'll find in this episode:

  • Art talks about the hardships he encountered with his idea for a new TV channel all about comedy — and how he powered through multiple obstacles.
  • We talk a WHOLE BUNCH of Mystery Science Theater 3K, one of the most important shows in comedy history.
  • Art shares stories about top comedians, including a great conversation with Jerry Seinfeld's agent.

We're having a ton of fun here and I know you will, too. Thanks for listening!

Welcome the good people cool things, the podcast featuring conversations with entrepreneurs, writers, musicians and other creatives. I'm your host, Joey held, and today's guest is art bell, author of constant comedy. How I started comedy central and lost my sense of humor and, my goodness, this episode is like a masterclass in all things comedy and the business of television. We're getting into how art, while working at Hbo, started what became Comedy Central, how he talked with a lot of people who shot him down and overcame all of that to start the channel and really just kind of dives into all sorts of different elements of the television industry. Comedy were Chatt and top Comedians. We're telling it well. He tells a good joke, I tell a bad joke. There's lots of great stuff in here. Get your jokes ready, because I want to hear more jokes after this, because we're all fired up now. If you like to get in touch with good people cool things, you can do so a couple different ways. Shoot me an email, joey at good people, cool thingscom or follow the show on facebook or twitter. GPCT podcast and of course you can also shop from the merch store. Maybe I need to start putting jokes on some of the MERCH. That will be wool who jotting down a note, business idea band? Fantastic. But before all of that you can visit the shot. Good people, cool thingscom shot. Check that out afterwards, because first we're getting in this conversation with art. Who Are you? What have you been up to? And let's say thirty seconds or less. Well, my name is art bell and I just I'm about to publish my first book. It's a memoir called constant comedy, how I started comedy central and lost my sense of humor, and it's a memoir about my experience in the early s starting up comedy central and the difficulties I had and the fun I had and the craziness we all experienced. And it's really about me being dropped into the comedy business, which at the time I knew nothing about. So how did you get into that then? I mean this is what about thirty years ago? Yeah, when when you were kind of getting rolling with everything. So how did this all come to be? Well, it came to be like this when I was a kid. I love comedy and I watched a lot of comedy on TV. I read about comedy. I read Lenny Bruce's autobiography about five times. I read National Lampoon mad magazine, the source of all comedy in America, by the way. I missed that. And you know, I was really kind of a fishing Atto and I I also was very interested in satire. When I got to high school I started an underground newspaper called the tongue, which was a satirical newspaper, and did some running for that, a lot of writing for that and got in trouble. You know I mean, that's that's one of the great things about comedy. You often get in trouble for for what you're doing, and I really came to understand that comedy was a part of me. But I had no real aspiration to get into the comedy business. It's a matter of fact. When I went to college I studied economics. My first job out of college was as an economist in Washington DC, but I was sitting there reading cold weekly one day and I said, you know what, I don't think I can do this, and so I quit my job, went back to school, got a job at CBS. That was my first television job and didn't like it very much. But a friend of mine said, Hey, come on over to HBO. This place is a riot and HBO had started US six or seven years earlier, maybe a little longer than that, and the people in the hall said we're going to change television, and of course they did. HBO is a very, very cool place to work. When I got there I started thinking about an idea I had had a couple years before, which was why not have a twenty four hour comedy channel? And I was really so interested in it that I came up with an idea of what it would look like, how it would be programmed. I talked all my friends about it. They all said, Oh yeah, that's cool, and then when I got to HBO, I figured I had a willing audience, because is HBO is going to Change Television right. So I started pitching it around a little bit to HBO, which was not my job, but I started talking about it and I pretty much got the same answer, which was comedy Channel Twenty four hours really doesn't make much sense. You know, it's not something we would do, it's not something anybody would necessarily do and we're not going to do it. I was nothing but surprised. I was really surprised because HBO at that time was really making their name and comedy. They were doing one our comedy specials with Billy Crystal and will...

...be Goldberg Robin Williams that were breaking comedy names and they were really the first name in comedy on the dial. So I persisted a little bit and everybody said all right, well, if you really want to do this, you're going to have to talk bridget into it, bridget being the head of programming at comedy at at HPO. So I made it a point with bridget. She was about nine levels above me at the time, so I really had to get, you know, screw my courage up. I went in there and she spent a good fifteen minutes telling me why it was the world's stupidest idea. She said, Arthur, you can't do a comedy network. Nobody wants to watch that much comedy. There's too much comedy on television as it is. Any of the great comedies you would never get whoopie or robin or billy on the channel. Their ages wouldn't even consider going on such a channel and it's the worst idea I've ever heard, and she said you're new here and you don't know much about television. I said, okay, I get it. I was very, very disheartened by that. I was, but I walked out of the her office and by the time I got to the elevator I said, you know what, she's wrong. She's wrong, and here's why. I mean, this was an era when ESPN was up and running twenty four hours a day of Sports, but more than twenty four hours a day of sports, it was a place for people, for fans, for athletes, for people who loved sports of all kinds to gather. And I don't know if you know this, but in the early days of ESPN, as the exam they worked doing NBA and and Major League Baseball. They were doing sometimes some of the craziest sports that you've ever heard, not even crazy, but sometimes high school sports, girls, Lacrosse AIDS from from private schools. I mean they were programming with anything they can get their hands on. But that wasn't the problem. It wasn't a problem at all for them because they were really trying to exist as a place for sports. Then came MTV and you know, as you know, MTV became the place for rock music and I was always surprised actually at that time they had, you know, Mick Jagger going on ten on mdvs and I want my MTV. You to think a guy like that, who is so established in the rock world, walking onto a new channel was amazing to me and I thought, why shouldn't comedy have the same thing? Have a place for Comedians, have a place for innovative comedy and really represent the center of the Comedy Universe? That was my idea and that's what I wanted to do. So, after bridget says this is the worst idea, what's your next step? Then after after saying no, she's wrong, where do you go from there? Well, it's a good question, and talk about thinking outside the box. I actually thought outside the company at that point. I went back to my office and I started working on essentially a plan that I could pass around to Viacom, which was, you know, the the parent company of MTV and CBS and some of the other big entertainment companies, and see if they were interested in doing a comedy network, because my contention was that somebody was going to do a comedy network. I tried to sell Hbos Look, you guys ought to be the guys to do it. But if they said no, I said I wasn't going to stop there. I would, you know, try and get it out there a little bit. So I started putting that together and as luck would have it, my boss, is boss, was wandering by and he stopped. Then he said, he what are you working on? I said well, to tell you the truth, I'm working on this idea I've had for a long time comedy network, and I really, you know, think it would be a good thing for HBO to start and he says love, you run this by bridget and I said she wasn't really that fascinated with the whole thing, and he said, well, maybe we should just take this to the chairman. I said to the chairman, you know, it's Michael Fuchs. I said how we going to get in there? He said I had the guy's a friend of mine. I was in there this morning. Come on, let's go, and I stood up. I thought he was kidding at first and he walked me to the Chairman's office and we didn't have an appointment and he says, this is Larry, I'm here with art bell. I want to get in talk to Michael about an ideal. Arn't has and I hear Michael Call Larry. What't you just here? I just spoke to you. What's the deal? So we walked in, I sat down and Larry Says Tell Michael Your idea. I had no presentation,...

I had nope props, I had nothing with me but me and I said, okay, this is a gotime. I guess showtime and I pitched it as best I could and I'm made an impression. Michael loves comedy, so he sat there and he was kind of really saying, yeah, maybe a comedy network is a good idea. And then he says, have you run this by bridget and I said I did. She really didn't jump at the chance. They sell. I tell you what, let's see if this will work. I'll give you a few months and some money. Go Out, do some research, put a put a demo tape together, get your idea together, come back, give me a presentation and then we'll see where we go from here. And that's how it started. That's awesome. Do you think had you? Well, I guess you eventually created a more indepth presentation for him. Do you think that having to do it off the cuff. Actually worked out in your favor there, I guess. You know, you can't argue with the evidence. It did work out of my favor. I think what really helped in that situation was it's not something I'd come up with a week before. I've been talking about this concept and how to do it and how I thought it should be done probably for three or four five years by that time, you know, and so I really kind of had a good idea in my mind of what it would be and how it worked. You know, and I also spend enough time talking to people, including bridget, but a lot of other people in a television business, friends, people who were all over the company and other companies about the idea. And you know what they would say, good idea, but have you thought of this? or it's too expensive, or comedy, you need a lot of writers, or what are you going to do for? You know. And after all that conversation in my head, and I'd also written it down by then, I had a good idea of what what I wanted to say to anybody who asked. You're right, it was an elevator pitch and that's what I deliver. Awesome awesome and I I think that's a good kind of reminder for any business is doing kind of that market research. There you're having those conversations. It wasn't just like Oh, I think this will be good, like you talked to a lot of people and I imagine, after having that impromptu presentation, that you continue doing that then when you had some money and it was like, okay, how can I prove that this will work? Well? That's the first thing. I mean, one of the things I learned before doing comedy, while I was working at HBO is how important research is to television. I mean we all know about Nielsen and how they measure how many people are watching and what demographics they are and everything else, but research is really something that programmers use to understand what people are watching, how they're enjoying it, what makes them tune in, what makes them turn the channel and, on top of that, how people use television. You have to think of television is something that's in anybody's home. How do they watch it? Do they sit down and watch it or do they keep it on all the time or they have it on at dinner? I mean we were learning all of those things at HPO. Because we really wanted to understand television and I've been through that with various projects for three or four years at HBO. So I'd listened to a lot of people say, you know, television is very important to me and here's why, and then they tell you why. You know why it was. They watch the soaps, they understan where they watched comedy on television or they watch movies. They really told you what was important to them. And so by the time I got to that, you know, the point where I was pitching Michael, I knew research was an important part and I also new research had the possibility to kill the whole project. I mean, when Michael said got to do some research, one of the things you wanted to find out was, is anybody really want at twenty four hour comedy network? So we did research. We put together a demo film, Demo Take and which is about twenty minutes and very funny. And No, I don't have a company that any I used to have it, you know. I used to go talk to kids at high school about it. I used to show it, but somehow I lost it. I think maybe one of the kids stole it. I'm serious. I think you just grabbed that out of them. I can say that. Yeah, probably selling on Ebay for a hundred hours. What was on the tape? It was we had a comedian here. Let me tell you how this whole thing started. One of the reasons people didn't want to do a comedy network is because they thought it was very, very expensive. I said, the way MTV got started was they didn't do expensive programming. They got people to contribute music videos and the music videos are free and they claim the music videos were promoting the band and that's how they started. They put a lot of music videos on. I said we can do the same thing with comedy. We can...

...start partly with the HBO Library, I said, but you can also show clips. We can get clips of movies, clips of Comedians doing their stand up routines, clips of TV, all kinds of clips. And I found out that that might have been a good idea. But it turns out that you can't do that because the unions won't let you do that. So I said, Oh, all right. So then we went to the unions, directors, guild of America, writers guild, and we found out that we could do it if we kept the clip under a certain length and called it promotion. So now I had a secret for how to really pull this off, and that's how we started. We started with clips, we started with some movies. We started almost immediately thinking about what original programming would look like. The demo tape itself was a lot of clips which were very funny, and basically the comedian talking about what you're going to see and do it a little stick on the zone. That was it, and that's how we started. You'll see in the book that would happened before we launched was that the rectors guild of America change their mind and they said, you know what, you got two months to launch. For we decided to shouldn't use clips, and you can imagine what kind of panic that threw us into, which, you know, is another interesting moment in this whole thing, because I thought briefly that maybe okay, the whole thing's dead, but then I thought, all right, the whole thing's not that. We're going to figure this out, we're going to find a way around it, we're going to do it. We have to do and we did. We got enough clips to launch, and when I say enough clips to launch, I mean enough clips to get us on the air the first day. Previously they had millions of clips and now we couldn't use them. So get on the other first day and the guy who's actually scheduling the clips and I were talking at the launch party. I go, how's it going? He says great, he says the problem is the second day looks a lot like the first day because we don't happen. So anyway, after the launch we had to really buckle down and figure out what this channel was going to be, and I'll tell you one thing that came together very early was the fact that my prediction that comedians are the comedy business would appreciate having a channel of their own came true almost almost day one. COMEDIANS wanted further all, they wanted jobs, they wanted to be part of it. They were flattered that there was going to be a channel that was all about the things they were doing as a as an industry, and it really was one of the most gratifying parts of the early days of comedy is we had all kinds of comedians wandering around pitching US stuff, trying to get involved and and I knew when I saw that, I knew that the channel was going to be successful. That's awesome. So from when Larry brings you in to talk with Michael and you you do your impromptu pitch to that launch day, how long was that? Michael said he wanted to see me in a month or two, or three, I think he said. We did a pitch at that point, three months into it and Michael said I wanted on the air by November, and this was that was six months prior in November. So we got the from the time he said go I wanted on the air, we took six months to get it on the air. So the whole thing from the pitcher Michael's office to on the air was less than a year by a long track, you know, nine, ten months. It's impressive that. It was crazy. And when it did get on the air, how close was it to what you had envisioned when you were first chatting with everyone, or did you kind of have to make some concessions just based on the research you had done? Well, it wasn't so much on the research, based on the research we've done, it was based on the realities of the situation. First of all, I was, as I said, I was dropped into the comedy industry without knowing that anything about comedy. I mean I hadn't worked in it, and there is a comedy business. They teamed me up with the vice president of comedy at HPO, a guy named Stu Smiley, who was obviously very knowledgeable about the comedy business, and he started working, you know, on the programming, making sure we had writers, making sure we had talent. I mean he really worked out side while I was working on other aspects of programming, like the clips, movies, shows, anything else we were doing. So when it all came today together on the first day it was a combination of clips and and what we're essentially comedy jocks, the way MTV had video jocks. But stew's vision for what they were doing was he really wanted them to do a show. You really wanted them to do to have a showcase for their talent.

And you know, I heard that and I said yeah, well, that makes perfect sense. So when the year it was a little bit of a combination of those two things and getting them screwed in tightly took a couple of months after we launched, but it happened. It happened. Now I do want to revisit the second part of the title of this book, which is how you start a comedy central. Feel like we've gone through that pretty nicely. But then how you lost her sense of humor. So where where did it go from hey, this is great to, I don't ever said, to humor anymore? Well, you have to imagine me again being dropped into the situation, being giving deadlines that were impossible and knowing almost nothing about the comedy as a business. I mean, I like comedy. I knew a lot about comedy, but so there I was trying to figure this out and it was daunting. It was really daunting. Now, on top of that, after we launched, the first couple months were, I guess you can call it a disaster. I mean, things were things were going as badly as they as they could possibly go, and one of the reasons is Michael Fuchs, who was the chairman, was so proud of the idea that we were going to launch a comedy network and he was telling everybody. Were so well covered in the press, everybody knew it, and so we had, you know, we had the entire entertainment business focused in on our launch and what was going to happen, and it was written up widely for the next two months, not favorably we got. We got some of the worst all time reviews that any channel has ever gotten. I will point out that most channels launching are kind of crappy at the beginning, but there was a lot of attention, as I said, because this was HBO's effort. And a low point for me was a about a month after the channel launched, my mother called and she didn't get the channel, but she said, you know, I have friends who have the channel and they said it's not funny and they wanted me to tell you that. I said, thanks very much for your support. At that point we were called in. This is two months in bed reviews. Michael was embarrassed. I think he was embarrassed having launched this channel and put himself behind it and really is seeing it flounder. He called us in, about four or five of us, and he sat us down. He didn't say anything for maybe thirty seconds and then he said, you know, it took a comedy channel to make me lose my sense of humor. And none of us laughed and I looked around and I said, my God, we did. We all lost our sense of you were sitting here right now. It's gone and that's what it's just a moment I remember. And actually, from then on we obviously pushed through to get the channel started, and that's what the book is about. What happened after that, how we figured it out and and ended up with comedy central. So what was the most surprising element? You know, you said that you've been kind of dropped into the business side of things and I think for anyone that's getting into a business or any kind of endeavor where they really don't have that much experience in it, I think there's definitely a lot of surprises and challenges. So was there one that really stuck out to you? Yes, there were several, but the one, the one I'm the one that was really interesting was that I when I first went to a comedy club with ste and some of his people, we stood in the back watching these comics, you know, trying to look for talent, and I'm laughing hysterically. You know, I think everybody's funny, and I look around and nobody else's laugh laughing. They're just standing there and they're saying that's funny, that's funny, that's funny. I mean with the straight face I mean they weren't even smiling and I instantly got the picture that these people did not laugh when it was funny. They just said it was funny and that was you know, I couldn't believe. There was one other great surprise. It was similar. I was in a pitch meeting with a with a comedian, and it was an early pitch meeting for me and we're sitting around and he has me on the floor. It was Bobcat Golthwaite, who was still around. He's a great, very funny guy. He's got me on the floor. I don't even remember what the pitch was about. And it's at one point I made a joke and everybody turned to look at me like I had just insulted everybody's mother. SIMULTANS after the meetings still took me aside and he said look, you know, these people are professionals. You don't really want to kind of be in the room competing with professionals, and I said, okay, got it. I won't make that mistake again. So you know, really this was a...

...process of me learning about the comedy business to the extent I needed to know. I mean the the head writer at Comedy Channel Used to say me, say to me all the time, what do you know about comed you don't know anything about comedy. What are you doing here? You don't know anything about you don't know a thing about colmed and which made me feel kind of at honest, I'm not sure he was totally wrong. At the time, you know, I didn't know the business and I didn't know enough about it. Certainly I didn't know what these guys were about it. So I was, you know, I was learning. Do you remember the joke that you told? I don't. furcifully, you know those really traumatic moments. They fade that were say, yeah, it sounds were lad in your head and yeah, they go away. Okay, so you said that you powered through those first initial months. There was it with their like a light bald moment or like one specific point where you were like, okay, we're going to get through this and this is this is turning into a success, or was it just a series of events over the next coming months and years? I think it was a series of events during that first year. And let me let me tell you. I in order to understand this story, you have to know that a day after comedy central announced with great fan for county channel rather announced with great fanfare that they were going to come into existence. Michael Fuchs made the announcement. Billy crystal was standing right next to him. Hbo Is going to do this great thing. We're launching a comedy network. It'll be on the air in November. The very next day MTV network said we're doing a comedy channel and it's going to be on the air by next April. Now we know what happened. They decided, based on our announcement, that they better get into the game, and so they did. Never underestimate the competition. They had no plans. They made up plans instantly, as we you know, as as we got into the business. They got into the business. They launched in April, about six months after we launched, and it was a fight. I mean there's no other way to say it was, you know, macy's against gimbals. It was, you know, it was. It was a real bare knuckles fight. We made fun of them, they made fun of us. They put posters in front of our offices. We've put posters in front of their offices. I mean it was really it was really that kind of thing. And towards the end of that year I felt we had it licked. I really thought we were in the lead. I thought, comedy channel, we're doing great. We had done some really, really good things. One we got mystery science theater three thousand, which was a cult hit for us. I mean, and I have to tell you, it was a surprise because it came in the mail. I'm serious. Our head writer said, you know, we have to do a show. Is a little digression. We have to do a show that's watch US watch television or watch US watch a movie. And so everybody sitting around talking about this for about three or four days and then somebody walks in then says, hey, we just got in them this in the mail. It's it's a guy in two robots watching movies and they can watch time and it was his step. You know, it was great. So that solved our initial problem and, as I said, MST three thousand became a cult hit. Really got our name out there and really started to put some some dedicated viewers in front of us, not only for that but for some of the other things we were doing. So towards the end of that year I figure okay, we got MST three thousand, we're really cooking here. The other guys, they were called Ha, the comedy network. I didn't think they were cooking so well. And I get called into the office and Michael announces that the merging Ha with comedy channel and they're going to form a new comedy network named to be determined, and it starts today. And they fired most of my bosses and most of the people who were moved working at age from the HPO side and from the Viacom, from the MTV network side. They took me and the head of programming from the MTV network side and said, you guys figure it out, and they threw us into a room and we figured it out. I mean we had to put it together. Three months later we were on the air as comedy central, which is a name we, you know, figured out together, and to a certain extent that was almost harder than launching the thing in the first place, because imagine taking two arch competitors with two completely different cultures and two completely different visions of what a comedy network should be and putting them together and saying, okay, you guys have to work together now and you guys have to figure this out,...

...and you guys have to make it a success. It was. It was it was a challenge. Had you interacted with that other person before there? Was it more just like complete yeah, or trying to Maith, I knew nothing about them. I knew his name. I knew his name. His name was Mike Cling offer and he was a professional. He he had a, you know, great reputation at MTV networks. So when I met them and we started talking, we realize that we had different kinds of concepts for the channel, but we also realize what we just doubled our assets. They had programming, we had programming, and putting those together instantly made a better channel. So really was a matter of just kind of figuring out where we went from there, how to arrange things, what personnel under us we were going to keep and bring into the mix. And we did it. We did it, you know, looking back on it, in a very, very smooth way, although at the time we probably were picking figured are we actually going to pull this off? So it was good, Nice. You mentioned Mstthree K. would you say that that was your favorite clipper show from from the comedy Channel Days, or did you have another? Yeah, no, no, that was that was a breakthrough show for everybody it and it was really, you know, it was really everything about everything. I sort of hope comedies would be comedy channel or comedy central. It was such an innovative show. You know, nobody had really seen anything like it and it was skillfully done and it showed up. I mean that's exactly what I wanted the channel to be a magnet for new, young, innovative comics to do innovative things. So that's that's one of the reasons it was my favorite. Yeah, I remember showing it in a high school English class. We had to, I think it's, just bring a like a clip of something that you enjoyed and like some people would bring in books or songs or something, and I was like, Oh, I got to bring in something from from as K at. It was very poorly received, I would say, by the class. Right. Yeah, they like, I mean there are a few laughs here and there, and I was like, did I pick like a bad clip of it? I picked one of the shorts that they had done because I was like you could get the falling. Yeah, I'm the full thing and it was how to how to date, how to go on a date. Yeah, one of my favorites. Yeah, it's so good and I don't know, maybe just a fourteen year old high school kids just not well listen it and aw the subtle references and through a lot of Adam if they were fourteen years old, I mean it's not only like this kind of comedy, but how to go on a date. So they were Oh yeah, it's like they're probably like a wold second with those guys. So shut up. I'm trying to figure that how to go on a date here. Well, anyway, as you know, and mists Rique lives on as as riff tracks. Those guys are some of the funniest guys I ever met. Terrific guys, awesome. Yeah, I definitely still want to see it live. That's an experience that everyone I've heard that it's gone to it just loves it and it's fantastic. I have not seen it live, although I did my kids drag meets, not dragged me too. I wanted to. It was it was being shown live in a movie theater. Meeting was being originated in Minneapolis and then we saw it in a movie theater. Lots Great. It's really fun. The audience was right there with them. They had the they had the paraphernalia and and when Joel Hodson walked on he was a surprised guest place when nuts so nice, it's good, awesome. Austin has master pancake, which is a comparable I think I remember chatting with the guy who started it and he said something. I think the original name was like mystery science pancake or so like something that's way more of a ripoff and then they're like, okay, we should probably at least differentiate it a little bit. But I think that's a it's a good Austin sort of take on it. Of Yeah, just watching, but they tend to watch more blockbusters instead of the crummy. Well, he was de list movies. Me Let me tell you something it. We had to watch the CRUMB ECND lists. They had to do that because, as it turns out, with it, with the guys were doing in Minneapolis, was taking movies off the shelf. They take the godfather and they would do the Godfather. Now you can imagine that was a great show. The problem is at that point you couldn't get the God for you couldn't license the Godfather. To have these guys sit and make fun of it. Impossible. So we had to start with was films that are in the public domain, meaning nobody owned them anymore. They were just, you know, therefore the taking, and we had to get good prints of them, which was not always easy, and they were mostly be movies from, you know, the s or s that were horrible. You know,...

...it's maybe in sometimes made it easier to you know, to have fun with him, but and they did a great job. They did a great job. Do you have a favorite from all all of the the collection? I'm thinking Poom a man, I think, is my favorite. You know, Poom a man. I don't know if I do. Poom a man was so completely ridiculous. He was he was like a superhero, you know, he had a cape and he flew, but none of it made sense and the dialog was ridiculous and it was just every time the announcer said Poom a man, you know it's brother. But they did such a great job with it. So they he also have Puma characteristics? Or was he just called booma? WHO The heck knows? I mean you couldn't really I mean so many of these of these movies didn't make sense and I always ask the question how did those movies get made? And the answer is, well, somebody wanted to make a movie. There were, you know, ways to make it cheaply and there were tax advantages to making it, and so somebody said, okay, I'll finance it. Maybe it'll do good, do well, if not, I write the whole thing off and take the tech to them. So it's kind of that kind of play which kept turning out some of these really bad movies. There's a movie called the room, Oh yeah, Tommy Wise, that yeah, which is the all time worst movie ever made. You know, plan nine from outer space used to have that distinction. I think the room overtook it. So they're still out there. Bed Movies are still out there still, and so magical it was. But we got to comedy central and we were also in the process of discovering new ways to make innovative television, and one of the things I was proudest of there was in one thousand nine hundred and ninety two, this was, you know, a year or so after we got together as comedy central. We needed to make a splash and we were trying to figure out how to do that and we came up with the idea that we were going to do a live show covering the state of the Union address that the president was going to give at nine o'clock at night, as he always does once a year. We were going to cover it law and have a comedian comment on what the presidents was saying. So everybody thought we were crazy, including the networks, when we started asking for the feed, you know, so we could show the presidents there the union dress at the first comedian we got to do that show Al Franken, which I always think is the most ironic thing because he ended up a senator, but he was the perfect choice because, first of all, he knows the landscape, he's very smart and he's very funny. So the show really was a breakthrough show. I mean it was a one night wonder and we weren't, you know, we weren't every home in America, but he got great reviews and it really kind of put us on the map. From then on we started taking on covering live events, live political events. We covered the conventions, we covered the state of the union every year after that. We, you know, and and you could see that what we were doing was kind of sneaking into daily show territory. You know, covering the news on a daily or a live basis in a way that was comical, in a way that was funny, so that really we were we were playing to the audience, our audience, which was a younger audience who wasn't necessarily watching the news and sure as had had no interest in watching the presidential state of the Union dress every year. So, you know, again, that was that was a great moment for us and I think it was a defining moment for comedy central. Absolutely. I my earliest comedy Central Memories, I think, are watching the daily show, maybe maybe an early South Park or something, but that was like kind of my introduction to politics. So totally, I'm in that group for sure. Talk about a show that's made a huge difference. I mean, you know, again, I left comedy central around that time, as you you know, as I talked about the book, and somebody asked me recently, you know, does it body the left and then the channels become such a great success and you weren't there? Any answer is no. I love looking in my rear view mirror and seeing, you know, this huge comedy edifice that is standing that was, you know, built in part by me in the early days. So it makes me feel great. So I was creeping around your website a little bit and you said that you're most interesting and least successful project was commercializing D television. I can you dive a little worried to that? Yeah, I was. It was a great experience. We I was working in consulting with a couple other guys, and Panasonic came around and wanted to get our help because...

...they wanted to make sure that there was programming around for this new D television set they were introducing. And what I learned from Panasonic is in order to sell televisions you have to do technical innovations, you know, K television or you know, better sound, better picture, better whatever. To D was seen as okay, we're going to do D, will be six months ahead of the other guys do in D and we'll have six months of great sales. We started looking at the available D Television d program and there were a bunch of movies at that point and we put together with direct TV, I will say it was a joint venture between Panasonic and direct TV, a D television channel that showed d movies. They also made original d productions and the stuff was in my opinion, mind blowing. I don't know if you seen D television in your life. I have, but yeah, I'm always I'm always impressed by it. But we've all seen, I think everybody's freemark seen th d movies, which are very impressive. You're sitting there and it really is impressive, and D television has the same impact on a smaller screen. The problem is you had to wear glasses and you wouldn't think that was such a huge problem. Certainly when you walk into a movie, they handed the glasses and you walk out and throw away the glasses for some reason. Or television audiences at home, we're not too happy about wearing wearing the glasses. We just couldn't get past that. I think that was one big thing. The other big thing that I recall off from my research on this was, as you try and make television or video more realistic, enhancing the sound does a better job than enhancing the picture and they found this out when they were trying to do simulations for the army with tanks and, you know, airplane simulations on that and they found they can make the picture better, better or better, but that didn't have much impact when they made the sound more realistic and a rapt surrounding them. Then people really believed where they were and I always had that in the back of the mine. Line as we're improving this whole experience with D television, people didn't need it improved. And listen, when it comes right down to it, what makes television or movies or books or anything else storytelling and characters. Okay, so, at the end of the day you could have a great story and great characters. You may not need D to tell the story in a way you want. Now, with that said, I will say the directors Love Three Day television directors loved it. Movie Directors loved it because it gave them another thing to play with, gave them another way to kind of convey their stories. But as a television proposition it didn't last very long because of the glasses. I think that's so interesting. I'm wondering if I thirty years from now and we have all this technology embedded in our brain, it's that if that'll make a come back, then I'll tell you one of them make a comeback when they have glasses free d and they are talking about that and I've seen versions of it, not too great yet, but they'll come up with it and then then maybe they'll sell it. Is it just on the screens? Them something on the TV screens, or are they some other kind of no free their TV screens, their TV screens it. As a matter of fact, they're using them occasionally now in gigantic advertising because it looks really cool from the distance. So they keep your eye out for interesting now one of the things I like to do for this podcast is ask a question that you wish you were asked more frequently, and I like to hear us a lot. Are A comedians all depressed and not funny when they're off camera? The reason I like that question is because it's it's based on truth. There are comedians and comedy writers who are depressed and not having a great time at all unless I'm on stage. But you know, Commedians as a group, or like everybody else, is all kinds of different, you know, different approaches to the thing. And there were many, many comedians who were funny all the time, you know, or at least charming all the time. You know, easy to talk to. John Stewart was was, you know, a guy I found easy to talk to and just a nice guy. To hang around with. Mark Marin was another guy like that, easy, you know, and he his Mark Marin Zach was, you know, very kind of serious and intellectual and Angsty, but he was, you know, just a smart guy, fun to talk to. The work comedians that, you know, I guess we're harder to approach, you know, or we're harder to have the conversation with, because they were so down, you know, they were just so remote, they were so removed. There were thinking about their act all the time.

We're thinking about the comedy all the time. But, you know, again, it's a there was a huge variation in Comedians, as you can imagine. I remember Stephen Wright, who I thought would be kind of a depressive, you know, because when you hear is at he was actually very funny and a very nice guy to hang around with, but he talked that way. And I remember we were walking down the street in a group and somebody says, Hey, Steve, you know your new albums coming out, because yes, I'm very excited. But he smiled, you know, and that's the way he was, you know, and it was just so much fun to be there. Can picture that. That's fantastic. Yep, Awesomele that segue is very nicely into our top three. Then, of your top three favorite all time comedians. You know it's a it's one of those questions. If I asked you two of your top three authors rock bands, you know, listen if three is a bad place to stop usually, but for the sake of the conversation I will say that Richard Pryor is has really been an all time favor to me since I was a kid, since I first saw him in the mid s on the Ed Sullivan Show, or mid to late S. I guess who was second is probably going to surprise you, or maybe it'll surprise you. Albert Brooks, and the reason Albert Brooks. The reason I love Albert Brooks as a stand up. He was so for a lily, so funny, but he was so innovative and I recently posted one of his classic bits, which is on my facebook feed, which is rewriting the national anthem, and he gets on there with a piano and he says, you know, the national anthem. It's a quick you know we have a national anthem. Or what if we had to? Somebody said let's get a new national anthem. It was decided we should have a new national how would we do that? Would we hire somebody when we hire a songwriter to do that? No, we have auditions of people saying here's my idea for the national anthem. So he says, I take you now to the auditions, and he did like seven or eight people auditioning their national anthem and it was a complete riot. And I put it up the other day because it was I think it was Albert Brooks Pirthday, and I got so many comments like, oh my God, this holds up so well and he did so many crazy things like that on stage that he has to be one of my favorites. And then finally, Jerry Seinfeld, who my first experience with Jerry Signfeld was, I guess was in eighty four. I was working on some other project that eighty at HBO and I was in Minneapolis at the Guthrie Theater for a performance by this guy named Jerry Signfeld. Never heard of him. I happen to be sitting next to his agent just by chance, and so he comes on and he has the entire audience on the floor for forty five minutes. Now you know, you see a new comedian. They have great material. They start with five minutes, ten minutes, fifteen minutes. This guy was unbelievable. He had so much material. At the end of the thing. I turned to his Asian I said, you know what, if I if I could buy stock in a comedian, I'd buy this guy. And he's seen. You know, he says to me too late, and he was right. I mean Jerry signfel went on to be, you know, one of the great stand up communities. He loves doing stand up. He still loves doing stand up and I seen him do we hired him to do shows for us once in a while. WHO's on the air, but I mean for affiliates and advertisers. Before he was doing his series. I saw him do two backtoback fifteen minute to an hour shows without repeating a word new material. I was it's just astounding. The the amount of stand up material he had is very prolific and very funny. That's it. Those are my three. It's fantastic that it's an explanation. It's a wonderful list. I like it. I always like the explanation. Every once in a while someone I'll just list like three names and move on and I'm like no, I'd like go into why, what I want to hear. The Way, I will say Albert Brooks is my favorite Simpson's guest star as well, when he was hanks Scorpio, which again, that might have been one of my first introductions to Albert Brooks. I but, but you should go back. Oh, absolutely back. I'm looking at some of national yeah, for sure. Yeah, look up some of the stuff, for sure. Absolutely well, art. Thank you so much for hopping on. If people want to check out your book, want to learn more about yeah, want to see all these great clips that you're sharing, where can they find you? Well, I have first the name of the book is constant comedy. How I started comedy central and lost my sense of humor. I have a website,...

...art beltwritercom and I have a facebook page, Art Bell Author, and those are two places where, you know, I'm keeping everybody a prize or what's going on? Keeping your posted? Book comes out September fifteen. It is available for pre order on Amazon and the other places, so you can go buy it now and you know, I hope people come check it out. I hope people check it out. Fantastic. Yeah, a terrific greed and thank you so much. This was this was wonderful. I feel like I just learned a lot, like I just took a master chorus on the internets. The TV business is glad. Well, there's a lot more in the book if you really want. Absolutely. Yes, yeah, don't get it all the way on the podcast, just that, just enough. Do you want to end with a Corny joke, as I often do? You can share your favorite. I've got one. You know, jokes, jokes, I I do tell jokes sometimes. I have a favorite joke. Let's hear it. I've never told it on any kind of video presentation. So this is this is really scary. A board walks up to his father and he says, Dad, what's ethics? As father said? So and that's a very important question. It's such an important question I'm going to illustrate with a story. Suppose you weren't a first shop. A woman comes into your shop and she wants to buy a fur for a hundred dollars. You give her the firs. She puts some money down the table and she starts to walk out. You pick up the money, you notice she's giving you two hundreds by mistake. Now here's where the ethics comes in, do you tell your partner what's your joke? Well, this is not my favorite, but I end every episode of the podcast with a with a Corny joke, and I figured I try and do a little comedian related one. But did you know that surgeons are actually really good comedians? It's true. They always leave their patients and stitches. That's a bad joke. I did get it. I did get it.

In-Stream Audio Search

NEW

Search across all episodes within this podcast

Episodes (141)