Perhaps you have seen the incessant NBC promotions for The Jay Leno Show, promising unprecedented comedy in the 10 o'clock hour for American TV viewers? (If you have a TV, then of course you have, and I wonder if the people in the Central and Mountain time zones get their own ads that say 9 p.m., or if they're just confused? That last part may be rhetorical) Leno has done a lot of press to promote it this summer, from the official TCA "tour," to traveling to various NBC affiliates for promos and interviews, to a conference call earlier this week. We've gotten the message. And the conventional wisdom has been NBC is willing to bet on five hours of comedy as a cheaper option without the promise of big ratings. But. Wait. Just. One. Second.
Five hours of comedy. Much of it stand-up, or taped segments produced and starring stand-up comedians. In primetime! This is a much bigger deal. Jerry Seinfeld, tapped to be Leno's first guest on Monday's debut, has been taking it seriously enough that he has rehearsed his stand-up material several times this week in New York City comedy clubs.
After all, The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour in the late 1960s only aired once a week. So was Sid Caesar's Caesar's Hour; Rowan & Martin's Laugh-In; The Milton Berle Show; even The Jack Paar Program that some have compared Leno's move most closely to, only aired one night a week. Which means Leno will need to fill a lot of airtime, and he has enlisted a cadre of comedians to help him do so. NBC so far has announced that Leno will be airing contributions from D.L. Hughley, Jim Norton, Rachael Harris, Mikey Day, Dan Finnerty and the Dan Band, Liz Feldman, Brian Unger, Nick Thune, Owen Benjamin, Marina Franklin, Sebastian Maniscalco and former Leno intern Ross Matthews. UPDATED: Also Dwayne Perkins, who wasn't listed on the NBC press release, but was showing up on the TV ads for Leno during Thursday night's NFL coverage. And here is video of Time magazine photographing Leno on the new set.
In some interviews, Leno has said he's not looking to do what The Daily Show does, (except for the fact that he'll have NBC's own news anchor, Brian Williams presenting funny news) which is true only in that he already had been sending out comedians into the world to file their own takes on the news -- as this NBC clip package shows:
From what I have learned talking to the comedians who are participating on the show, as well as looking at what these people were bringing to the table already, I think I'm safe in telling you what we can expect from the part of Leno's hour that does not include celebrity car races, Headlines, Jaywalking or Jay's monologue.
When D.L. Hughley began his weekly weekend hour on CNN last fall, he joked about moving to New York City and the cold weather. Hughley, who turns 45 today (happy birthday!), didn't quite make it through his first winter, announcing yesterday (just a day before spring weather has arrived, coincidentally) that he was putting an end to D.L. Hughley Breaks the News and moving to Los Angeles. Hughley tried to convince CNN to move the show with him, but the network didn't have the budget for it. Some on the Internets have claimed that critics savaged the program, when the truth is, most TV critics didn't bother to pay attention to the experiment of giving an hour of CNN's news programming to a stand-up comedian. Actually, if you Google D.L. Hughley CNN review, my review comes up first. There were some missteps in the early weeks, mostly when they tried to force the comedy and especially anytime an actual CNN anchor or reporter attempted humor. But the idea of injecting Hughley into the news gave a fresh perspective on a lot of timely topics.
Last weekend, Hughley had a prolonged discussion with Republican National Committee Chairman Michael Steele and Chuck D about the idea of bringing a "hip-hop" sensibility to the GOP. It was interesting stuff, and one comment in particular got right-wingers riled up...perhaps they don't like being compared to Nazis?
As for ratings, Hughley was doing OK. Last Saturday's 10 p.m. show drew 443,000 total viewers, and the rebroadcast at 11 p.m. Sunday attracted 488,000 viewers. In a statement, CNN said: "D.L. approached CNN about being permanently based in Los Angeles, where his family lives. To accommodate this, we agreed upon a new role where he will be a contributor for the network based in Los Angeles. We are eager to continue our relationship with D.L., who is a tremendous talent and a valued colleague."
On tonight's edition of D.L. Hughley Breaks the News on CNN (10 p.m. Eastern Saturday-Sunday), Hughley interviews comedian/actor Tim Reid ("Venus Flytrap" on WKRP in Cincinnati) about life as a black comic, and half of an interracial comedy team, in the late 1960s and early 1970s. Reid argues that a black/white comedy duo might not work today, and also that black comedians are going to need to stop cursing and drop "the F-word." Watch Hughley's amazed reaction. Hughley also mentions his first experience working with the Improv chain, when the club forced him to work "a door deal" because they didn't know who he was.
Did D.L. Hughley make the necessary improvements to his comedic take on the headlines in his second week anchoring a CNN show? Judging by the clips of the Nov. 1-2 edition of D.L. Hughley Breaks the News that we can see online...well...for the monologue, Hughley is seated at a desk and tells your basic headline news jokes (better than last week), Hughley does have a meaningful discussion with the Rev. Al Sharpton (good), his video conference with Democratic campaign vet Donna Brazile sounds like a regular CNN segment, only with jokes (OK), talks to party planners about Election Night plans (fakery with comedian Hugh Fink as a McCain party planner, and Donnell Rawlings returns as the Obama party guy -- it comes off as Daily Show lite), and there is another CNN Truth Squad interruption (video removed, possibly due to lameness). Let's hope the rest of this episode is both reasonable and reasonably humorous.
Here is the Hughley-Sharpton exchange, in which Sharpton implores of the comedian: "You've got to perform now that you're here." Other clips after the jump!
Judging from my own Web stats, more people took the time Sunday night than Saturday to check out the debut of D.L. Hughley's new hourlong CNN talk show, D.L. Hughley Breaks the News. In fact, that's when I sat down to watch the full hour myself. And my initial ruling fits with my expectations expressed earlier. The monologue and the first scripted bits felt stilted, as if they were trying too hard (sorry, Donnell Rawlings, but nice try as Freddie Mack the pimp, and the CNN "truth squad" interruption was simply lame) and having Hughley deliver his monologue directly into the camera instead of to the audience lacked the same punch as his stand-up. That said, it was refreshing to hear a comedian acknowledge how the industry can be financially rewarding, as Hughley joked that Obama's plan to tax those who make more than $250,000 a year would hurt him, too! And after the first few segments, Hughley hit his stride in a series of one-on-one interviews with CNN's Ali Velshi, scientist Neil Tyson, the woman who beat Sarah Palin for Miss Alaska, and CNN correspondents from India, Russia and China. Also, that taped field piece to a Palin rally in North Carolina must be watched to be believed. So, CNN, stop trying so hard to force the funny, and just, as the sports reporters say, let Hughley be Hughley. Want to see some footage from the debut? Here you go...
The debut episode of CNN's D.L. Hughley Breaks the News already broke news when it taped on Thursday night, getting former Bush White House press secretary Scott McClellan to break party ranks and endorse Barack Obama for president. Here is the opening monologue from the first show, which doesn't quite show off Hughley's best talents, which I feel come from his thoughtful discussions with others, whether it's a panel talk, a one-on-one chat, or interacting with the public (which you see in the clip of Hughley visiting a Sarah Palin rally in North Carolina and attempting to get the GOP loyalists to support a Palin-Hughley ticket in 2012 -- some of their answers about race, and they're talking to Hughley, mind you, are so so telling!). Hughley's opening monologue:
The Palin rally visit and the interview portion with McClellan are after the jump...
Before you head off for the weekend and whatever your plans may be, you should set your TV recording devices for the following new comedy programs this weekend:
1) The new and improved Best Week Ever with Paul F. Tompkins debuts tonight at 11 p.m. on VH1
2) The fourth and final episode of HBO's Down & Dirty with Jim Norton premieres tonight at midnight, with Joe DeRosa, Russ Meneve, Ari Shaffir and Patrice Oneal performing
3) The new D.L. Hughley Breaks the News debuts Saturday at 10 p.m. on CNN
4) Another new edition of Saturday Night Live this Saturday at 11:30 p.m. on NBC, with Jon Hamm (Mad Men's Don Draper) hosting, Coldplay playing, and a rumored return to the show by Maya Rudolph
Here's Hughley talking about his new CNN show:
CNN has announced it's giving D.L. Hughley his own hourlong platform on the cable news network at 10 p.m. (Eastern) Saturdays, beginning Oct. 25, with repeats on Sundays. The show, as yet untitled, will tape before a live audience in New York City and feature Hughley and a panel of guests riffing on news, culture and issues of the day. (Variety) Essentially, it'll be a lot like HBO's Real Time with Bill Maher. Hughley proved insightful and witty as a frequent guest on Maher's show, and certainly has a kinder and more likeable persona than Maher, as well as a different racial and cultural background to draw upon, growing up African-American in Los Angeles, and being married with three kids. Hughley's previous late-night talker effort on Comedy Central, Weekends at the D.L., featured him sitting with his friends talking on sofas and drinking red wine. I'll certainly tune in to see how he does on CNN.
The 2008 season of Comedy Central's Live at Gotham debuts the Friday after Memorial Day. But why wait that long for some deep dish insider exclusive scuttlebutt? Especially when we got plenty of bits of tid to share just from swinging by the tapings on Saturday and Sunday at Gotham Comedy Club.
Let's get to it! First off, don't be surprised if many of the guys have a similar look. It's not a new fashion trend in stand-up comedy for the summer/fall runways -- it's a Comedy Central/Levity edict: No red, no patterns, no logos. Also, we learned that TV's standards and practices (read: the censors!) sometimes can actually make your jokes funnier. Matt McCarthy had to change one of his lines from "choke her to death" to "murder her to death" (see? funnier, right?) so it wouldn't sound as though he were endorsing domestic abuse. Baron Vaughn said he couldn't say "KKK.com" in a joke, but realized he didn't need to spell out the Web site for the joke to work. Vaughn noted that Patton Oswalt got a new six minutes out of one joke he had to change years ago for Comedy Central.
Vince Averill was more than just happy to be there. He only got the gig on Wednesday after another comedian couldn't fulfill his or her duties. From first alternate to TV credit. Congrats, Vince.
Lucas Molandes had a funny cover line when the audience didn't know how to react to his dreamcatcher joke: "Sorry I blew your minds with awesome!"
Joe List uses nervousness in his act, so even if he was nervous about his first TV taping, it wouldn't show, would it? Let's ask him, after he's done.
Sunday's final two show tapings had plenty of odd incidents, starting from the top when early show host D.L. Hughley walked offstage with the mic, leaving Paul Ogata wondering what to do. Fortunately, Ogata had a relevant bit at the ready and raring to go. Myq Kaplan blew plenty of minds with his awesomeness, earning multiple applause breaks and the attention of everyone downstairs in the lounge/green room. Very poised. Kaplan told me he had an even better set last week at a showcase for Eddie Brill -- if so, man, Kaplan is on his game. And he didn't let the cold/flu get in the way of delivering a shining performance that'll certainly get him industry attention. Hughley then got Liz Miele's name wrong even though they had the pronounciation in the teleprompter (they should clean that up later, right?) but she seemed unfazed. Shane Mauss, watching his fellow Bostonian Kaplan tear it up, announced he'd go up and get 12 applause breaks. He just might've done it, too. But what I remembered most about his set was seeing him have an "American Idol moment" when the camera panned across the stage and in close-up, Mauss gazed directly in the camera to deliver the set-up punch to his vegan coffee joke.
The biggest thing about the late show Sunday, other than Daniel Tosh and his strong hosting set, was the light show. As in, the lights failing multiple times, most notably during Matt Braunger's set. He was a trooper, though, even starting from the top a third time which must've been difficult considering he had a weary live TV audience to deal with (they can clean that up with his earlier takes, right?). The first time the lights went out on Braunger, without missing a beat, he broke into song: "When the lights...go down...in the city!" Tosh had to return to the stage. "The lights are overheating," he explained. "Which is really good for comedy." During one such break, he exclaimed: "Let's do jokes that won't air. Do you know who loves to get fisted? Sock puppets."
Mary Mack was very nice and funny and you can join us in her writers club, as soon as I find it.
Raj Desai and Anjelah Johnson were both so fun to talk to during the afterparty that I wished I'd seen their Gotham sets earlier last week. James Smith told me he forgot one joke in his set, but I told him not to worry...he can tell it during his next TV apperance! The afterparty brought out most of the comedians who performed during the weekend, plus their friends and plenty of other New York comics. Good times. On a Sunday, even.
Related: Paul Ogata shares his Gotham experience with the folks at Shecky. The Live at Gotham site.
Less than one week before a new crop of comedians get to add a Comedy Central TV credit to their bios as Live At Gotham tapes next week at Gotham Comedy Club. I'll have more info on who's performing when later. For now, though, I can tell you who'll be your hosts for the evenings.
While everyone was talking about Leno and Kimmel agreeing to go on each other's shows to break the strike, or wondering how Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert would come back on the air, or buzzing about the return of The L Word, or how The Wire is the greatest show on TV ever (which is odd considering these folks were the same ones who kept saying this about The Sopranos, and you've never heard them mention The Wire before The Sopranos ended only six months ago), or even people talking about the New Hampshire primaries, you barely heard a word about the return of Def Comedy Jam. Well, Def Jam and comedy are back together again. And Russell Simmons reminded you with a throwback clip of Bernie Mac in 1991, with an outfit that made him look more like a Graffiti Train Conductor of Comedy than a future King of Comedy. But host D.L. Hughley set the tone early, with his tie and sweater and his jokes about the presidential campaign, that this wasn't your older sibling's Def Jam show. Or was it? The first comic, Damon Jr., as in Damon Wayans Jr., didn't sound or look exactly like his father, but did show his youth with a very hacky, if well-executed act-out of a guy trying to masturbate to porn without completing during the close-up on a guy. The show also featured a Middle Eastern comic (Vincent Oshana), a British comic (Gina Yashere), and Capone. Yep, Def Jam's back. File under the more things change, the more they stay the same.
Meanwhile, NYC comedians Baron Vaughn and Elon James White started a site called the Black Comedy Project last year to showcase different types of "black comedy" than the type you're perhaps used to seeing.
The ongoing Writers Guild strike has lessened our options for topical humor on the TV, but it hasn't stopped Comedy Central and VH1 from mounting their year-end specials. Comedy Central emerged first with last night's debut of Last Laugh '07. It reairs several times this week.
Lewis Black, Dave Attell and D.L. Hughley took on the task, opening with a cartoon bit in which the "Last Laugh Squad" launched an expedition up inside President George W. Bush's ass, wherein they found not only his brain but also secrets. Then Black took the stage, calling 2007 a drug. "We don't even have the time to cover what George Bush did this year," Black said.
As for the actual stand-up?
Attell brought up dogfighting, Al Gore. When someone booed the mention of Gore, Attell replied: "What, do you have some polar bear jacket business you're trying to protect?" A bit about the hot and hairy Kardashians allowed him to weave in his own thoughts on sex and then porn -- you can see and hear all of this uncensored on Attell's HBO special, Captain Miserable, which debuts on Saturday.
Hughley looked casual while ripping into Michael Vick, OJ Simpson, the Chinese toy scandal, the debate over comedians using the word "nigger," Isiah Thomas, the thought of a black president, teachers having sex with students, and kids. Here are highlights...
Then Black was back, and noted how 2007 was the first year we seemed to all agree on global warming, even Bush. "As a result...I'm not sure anymore," Black said. He really got enraged talking about Scooter Libby and his pardon, suggesting that we all get a Get Out Of Jail Free card. Alberto Gonzales, Larry Craig. His idea for a fictional president in 2008 to win the war on terror. Here are highlights from him...
"This year really tested me," Black said as the show went to commercial.
What's left for VH1 to offer with its Best Year Ever on Dec. 14? My best guess (OK, not my best guess, because for the most part, VH1's already taped much of its material) is that VH1 will go lighter and snarkier, particularly with the subject matter. Whereas Lewis Black went darkly political as is his wont and DL Hughley and Dave Attell chose social commentary, the VH1 comedians will skew a bit heavier on the Britney Spears and the sillier scandals and pop-culture moments of the year.
I had the pleasure of spending some quality time last night with D.L. Hughley, one of the Original Kings of Comedy, and a star of NBC's new hourlong drama (?), Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip. Hughley and I had talked on the phone earlier yesterday, some of the results of which you can read here. Hanging out with him in the green room of the Comedy Connection, though, you truly get a sense of how focused and balanced this guy is — listening to him talk logically and eloquently about Iraq, North Korea, Darfur, education, health care, then watching him get up, walk onstage and deliver another hour-plus (and the plus can be plussss, depending upon how much crowd work Hughley feels like putting in) of laughs. He also was quite honest and forthright about how he views his current primetime network TV opportunity. Everyone is bringing their A games to the table, he said.
When I asked him earlier if he has gotten to the point yet where he wants to stand up during a table read and yell, "Don't you know I'm an Original King of Comedy," Hughley knew to instinctively fill in the "God Damnit!" I had on my screen but didn't say. "What's funny is, it's about comedy," he told me. "Comedy is something people, to their detriment, all think they're experts. They all think they can tell a joke. They all think they know someone who's the funniest person in the world." Hughley, on the other hand, has been telling jokes for a living for two decades now, which means he actually qualifies more as an expert on this sort of thing. Except Studio 60 isn't quite a comedy, even though it's about a comedy show. Which makes these initial episodes all the more odd — or is it odder? Either way, Hughley recognizes what other comedians and fans have seen: the show hasn't quite brought the funny yet.
How much of the chatter among fellow comedians has he heard? "I know the cast from Saturday Night Live is very rabid about the show. I know that. I think it's more vainglorious than anything else. They like anything about them, and by them, I mean us….But you've had shows about newspapers and newspaperpeople can't get enought about them."
What about from your comedy friends? "They'd like to see more skits. They'd like to see more comedy." That's what most viewers were expecting. "Anytime you do a show about sketch comedy, they think that's all they'll see." Hughley acknowledged, though, than even he wasn't up on his Moliere (subject of a supposed sketch earlier this season that no one saw), and said he, too, wanted to see the Crazy Christians sketch that caused so much hubbub in the first two episodes. More of the skits and jokes are making it into the show, slowly but surely. Hughley, like many of us, would like to see even more comedy. That may happen soon enough, if its Nielsen ratings continue to bleed (Note: You can watch Studio 60 online, though, so maybe the ratings aren't as valid). More likely, though, you'll see the show moved out of its 10 p.m. Monday slot to 9 p.m. on another night. NBC won't and shouldn't dump Aaron Sorkin's show, but they need to 1) let him know that a show about comedy should be funny and accessible, and 2) give him a chance to build an audience in a worthy timeslot.
Getting back to Hughley, though. I wondered if the ABC network executives visited him on the set of The Hughleys as much as Amanda Peet's character visits Studio 60. "You know what, every day," he said. "And I haven't seen one yet (on Studio 60). Which tells you the difference between Aaron Sorkin and D.L. Hughley. I was on ABC at the same time that Sorkin had SportsNight. And I'll tell you, it wasn't uncommon to see a lot of Jamie Tarsis."
My suggestion? Get rid of the inflatable mannequins that serve as the "audience" and put some real people in those seats, at least to film the sketch comedy show scenes (sorry, Joe Biggins!). Then you'll see whether your show about a sketch comedy show has any sense of reality — if you can't imagine any of the sketches airing on primetime network TV (yes, we're talking Moliere again, although I might see a way to make it funny, so call me, Sorkin!), then you shouldn't be having them as plot points.