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Inside 'The [206]', the Most Popular Local TV Comedy in America

The seeds of the most popular local TV comedy in the country were planted 25 years ago, outside a Seattle restaurant when two strangers walked up to Chris Cashman’s dad, Pat, and thanked him for his work on Almost Live, a local sketch comedy show similar to Saturday Night Live.

“They didn't even know him,” Chris, now 36, recalls. "That was the neatest thing I'd ever heard of, and I thought, if I could just do that some day…”

But Almost Live was cancelled in 1999, just as Chris became old enough to join it. The show didn’t generate enough profits for the Texas company that bought the station and the new owners had no allegiance to the local talent, despite the show’s having developed stars such as Bill Nye the Science Guy and Joel McHale who is now on Community.

But Chris didn’t give up his dream. Two years ago, he was sitting around with his dad and John Keister, the host of Almost Live, talking about how the business of comedy had changed. Now stars like Louis CK edit their shows on laptops and sell work on the Internet. They didn’t need a network, he told the older men, they could do a show on their own.

The result is The [206] — named after the Seattle area code — and they run it similar to a small startup: build an audience, hustle for sponsors, and carefully manage costs. READ MORE

Improv as Practical Life Advice

When you ask people to think of reasons why someone took an improv class for the first time you get answers like “I wanted to do something fun” or “I’m a huge comedy fan” or “I wanted to be able to think on my feet more for my job.”

(Side note: people often say “wanted to get better at public speaking” but only when they’re guessing why OTHER people might be taking improv classes.)

Improv classes aren’t as silly as you expect. Yes, they’re fun but they’re more like acting classes.  Many big comedy fans don’t know what long-form improv is, and they take a class because they’ve memorized the casts of SNL and see that many of them “did improv.”  They don’t know what they’re in for.

I don’t really think it improves thinking on your feet. And no one speaks publicly ever, now that we have the internet.

So what practical skills DOES improv give you? These ones. READ MORE

Talking to Brett Gelman About His New Adult Swim Special

Tomorrow night, Adult Swim is airing Dinner with Friends with Brett Gelman and Friends, a new half-hour special starring comedian Brett Gelman and directed by Jason Woliner, who co-wrote the script with Gelman. Beginning as a talk show Gelman hosts over a meal with six Hollywood actors a la Jon Favreau's Dinner for Five, Dinner with Friends with Brett Gelman and Friends quickly takes a turn and descends into an evening of psychological torture. Like Eagleheart, the Adult Swim show Gelman acts on and Woliner is a writer, director, and producer on, Dinner with Friends is fast-paced, funny, and unlike anything else on TV.

I recently talked with Brett Gelman about the special, his past projects with Jason Woliner, and making more stuff with Adult Swim. READ MORE

Saturday Night's Children: Dan Vitale (1985-1986)

Saturday Night Live has been home to over a hundred cast members throughout the past 38 years. In our column Saturday Night’s Children, we present the history, talent, and best sketches of one SNL cast member every other week for your viewing, learning, and laughing pleasure.

In all of SNL cast history, Dan Vitale stands invisible as the most forgotten player. Until only recently, his IMDB page was mixed up with a female dancer of the same name and did little to shed light on the seasoned Queens-born comic and legendary drunk who was a regular at the original Improv, friend to Bill Hicks, and briefly-lived SNL featured player whose constant struggles with sobriety kept him from ever landing mainstream success. Don't look for him in the Live from New York book, either — Vitale doesn't even get a mention in the index. Thanks to a recent interview with Marc Maron on his podcast WTF, however, Vitale's story can at last be told — at least the parts Vitale himself can still remember. READ MORE

Talking to Chris Gethard About His New Album, His Comedy Central Pilot, and More

Chris Gethard has an exciting few months coming up. His debut standup album, entitled My Comedy Album, comes out today, his Comedy Central half-hour special is airing this summer, and he'll soon hear back on whether Comedy Central will be ordering his pilot of The Chris Gethard Show to series or not. He also recently returned to doing weekly episodes of the public access version of The Chris Gethard Show, which will soon be ending whether the Comedy Central version gets picked up or not.

I had the chance to talk with Gethard a few weeks ago about how focus groups reacted to The Chris Gethard Show's Comedy Central pilot, season two of Broad City, and leaving improv behind to focus on standup. READ MORE

'Archer's Fifth Season Went Delightfully Off Track with 'Archer: Vice'

When Archer got an early renewal for not one, but two more seasons last month, I felt conflicted. Yes, it is currently one of the best comedies on television and more episodes are deserved. But the worrier in me immediately panicked. Two more seasons? How can the show possibly keep being as good? How can the writers keep thinking up new scenarios and, more importantly, new jokes? What if this renewal is just an entry into a slow death rattle? However, now that I've had the time to reflect on the entirety of season five, I'm no longer worried.

Archer: Vice was a huge turning point for the series, beyond even the name and plot mix-ups. Never before has the show rooted itself so firmly in the ensemble and never before has the serialized arc come into play so prominently. Last night's season finale was a huge reminder of this. Throughout the season, each character has embarked on their own separate adventure: Cyril has become president of San Marco, Krieger discovered his army of clones, Cheryl/Carol/Charleen became a country music sensation, and Pam, in what is still my favorite development this season, became addicted to cocaine. Left to their own devices, we learn more about why each of these characters are the way the are, and it's easier to see their importance to ISIS as a whole, a development that is rare in any television show, let alone a comedy, and an animated comedy at that. READ MORE

What's on TV This Week: 'Last Week Tonight with John Oliver' Premieres

This week's big TV event is the premiere of Last Week Tonight with John Oliver, HBO's new weekly late night show hosted by the Daily Show alum, which premieres on Sunday. Oliver poached Daily Show head writer Tim Carvell to be his head writer and proved more than up to the task of hosting a satirical late night show when he subbed for Jon Stewart for a few months last summer, so expectations are high for this one.

Also premiering this week is Dinner with Friends with Brett Gelman and Friends, a new half-hour Adult Swim special from Brett Gelman and Jason Woliner (Eagleheart), and CBS's new sitcom Bad Teacher, an adaptation of the 2011 Cameron Diaz comedy of the same name. The CBS version was created by Hilary Winston (Community, Happy Endings).

Other big comedy stuff this week includes Parks and Rec and Archer airing their season finales, The Boondocks returning to Adult Swim with new episodes after nearly a four-year hiatus (but without its creator, Aaron McGruder), and Stephen Colbert appearing on The Late Show with David Letterman for the first time since it was announced he'll be taking over the show next year.

Check out the week's full listing of comedy shows below:

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Jessica St. Clair and Lennon Parham Are Back and Better Than Ever in USA's 'Playing House'

Over the weekend, the USA network debuted the first episode of its new show Playing House online ahead of its TV premiere next week. Playing House is the second show created by and starring Lennon Parham and Jessica St. Clair (preceded by their short-lived but critically-acclaimed 2012 NBC sitcom Best Friends Forever), and it's even sharper than the first with a pilot episode that's packed with jokes and an eclectic cast of busy, talented comedy people. READ MORE

Our Son, The Asshole, by Noell Wolfgram Evans

My wife’s hand found its way to mine; in the corner of the overly lit room our five-year old son was blissfully unaware of cruel trick the fates had played upon him. We were in shock. Tears welled in my eyes as I looked at him enjoying perhaps his last happy moments, ripping the head off of one of the dolls in the bucket of toys that so many doctor’s offices place in the corner of their exam rooms as a way to offer “comprehensive” medical care.

I looked back at the doctor. I could see that her lips were moving but I could hardly discern the words that they were forming, everything was moving in slow motion. After what felt like an eternity of suspended action, I started out of the fog as she said, “Do you understand? I am sorry, but the tests are conclusive – your son is an asshole.”

Standing in front of the x-rays on the lighted walls, showing us charts and graphs and using doctor talk, she made a fairly convincing case. I knew Charlie wasn’t always the best kid, but an asshole?  I looked at him, drawing on the wall what was a pretty good representation of the doctor pooping and wondered…my wife, when she was pregnant, had eaten at a restaurant that soon after was closed due to a health code violation (in that they were not wearing pants in the kitchen because a broken thermostat made it “pretty toasty”).  I asked if there was a chance that this was something that had happened when he was in the womb; had we done something wrong? The doctor assured us that we had, in fact, done many things wrong. READ MORE

Follow Friday: @HamptonYount

A lot of Twitter users take to the platform to test out their latest jokes and quips, but certain people truly excel at making us laugh with the available characters and constraints. With the Internet being such a big place, it can be difficult to find the comedians most worthy of your RTs and favs. Each Friday we feature one person whose consistent short-form online humor deserves your attention and to be on your Twitter feed.

This week, we're highlighting the Twitter feed  of Hampton Yount. Last year, the LA standup appeared on Adam DeVine's House Party and was featured on Rooftop Comedy's album Holy Fuck. In addition to standup, he has written for MTV's Ridiculousness and Adult Swim's Loiter Squad. Yount was also named one of Comedy Central's top 10 comics to watch in 2012. Check out some of his best tweets below:

 

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Bearing Down on 'Community’s Triumphant, Challenging Fifth Season

Community’s return this year was one of the most anticipated comedy events of the season. The theme of redemption (always a deep part of the show) seemed especially prevalent, as this season had the tall task of establishing why this show still needs to exist. That it deserves to return after a lackluster (by previous standards) fourth season, that Dan Harmon and Chris McKenna returning as showrunners would be able to steer the show in the right direction, and that a Pierce and Troy-less Community wouldn’t feel like an imitation of itself; that this wasn’t a Scrubs season 9 sort of situation. Not only did the show stand up to all of these challenges, but it also managed to become even more confident and daring in the places it chose to go, giving it arguably its most ambitious, consistent season to date and the perfect "return" we could have asked for.

While much of this season (and the series as a whole) has been about maturing and moving on, one of the smartest things the fifth season does is also embed the topic of Harmon’s return into the show’s DNA in an organic way that largely provides the first half of the season with the tonal grounding that the show needed after such a confused previous year. Harmon’s return is subtly reflected through each character’s reactions and relationships. To lose your creator (or God, or lover) is traumatic, and to then have them come back to you is a complicated thing to try and process, for them and for us.

Dan Harmon’s other series Rick and Morty has a moment in one of its episodes where there is a television channel (albeit from an alternate reality) with us on it, and not unlike that idea here, we too are students of Greendale; afraid and excited about what it means to get back something we have already mourned. It’s remarkable that the first few episodes of the season don’t fumble more as they try to process this feeling. The only reason it even attempts such a radical thing is because Community understands that every show we let into our homes becomes a part of our family (or study group), like a living entity that can change us. Harmon is Greendale, we are the Save Greendale committee, and each member of the committee represents our emotions, and is calling us to come together and succeed through this year. We have returned to a place where we know we are loved. This Mk-II study room table isn’t just a table; it’s a time machine. READ MORE

Watching Rare Early Comedy from Jay Leno and Freddie Prinze

The Paley Center for Media, which has locations in both New York and LA, dedicates itself to the preservation of television and radio history. Inside their vast archives of more than 150,000 television shows, commercials, and radio programs, there are thousands of important and funny programs waiting to be rediscovered by comedy nerds like you and me. Each week, this column will highlight a new gem waiting for you at the Paley Library to quietly laugh at. (Seriously, it’s a library, so keep it down.)

When one thinks about the standup comedy boom of the 1980s you probably think about comedians with household names like Seinfeld, Ellen, and Ray Romano. You probably remember shows like Live at the Apollo, and An Evening at the Improv. And you probably think of hacky premises like airline food, the DMV, and observations about the differences between black people versus white people. Well all of those things have a connection back to Budd Friedman's Improv theaters in New York and LA. Today we look back at one of if not the first specials recorded inside this storied theater, and HBO's first ever comedy special: On Location: Freddie Prinze and Friends.

Now if you're a child of the nineties, you might think that I stopped typing Freddie Prinze Jr.'s name too soon, but today we're going back to 1976 when troubled comedian Freddie Prinze recorded the only footage of himself performing in front of a nightclub audience, creating a unique snapshot of the world of standup comedy in LA during this time. For those of you who are unfamiliar with Prinze's work, he started in New York after dropping out of high school during his senior year to pursue standup. In 1973, at the age of 19, he performed a star making set on Carson's Tonight Show and became the first guest to be called over to the couch during their first appearance. The following year he was cast in the title role of the NBC sitcom Chico and the Man. Unfortunately by January of 1977 he had fallen deeply into drugs, and committed suicide at the age of 22, ending an all-too-short career. READ MORE

This Week in Comedy Podcasts: Amy Schumer Visits 'The Joe Rogan Experience'

The comedy podcast universe is ever expanding, not unlike the universe universe. We're here to make it a bit smaller, a bit more manageable. There are a lot of great shows and each has a lot of great episodes, so we want to highlight the exceptional, the noteworthy. Each week our crack team of podcast enthusiasts and specialists and especially enthusiastic people will pick their favorites. Also, we'll keep you posted on the offerings from our very own podcast network. We hope to have your ears permanently plugged with the best in aural comedy.

The Joe Rogan Experience – Amy Schumer

LEIGH: Joe Rogan couldn't have been more accurate in this episode when he said that now is a nice time to be a comedy fan. And listening to Amy Schumer on this episode of The Joe Rogan Experience is proof of why. Rogan and Schumer cover the important things on everyone's mind like ballerinas, piranhas, rap battles and Eddie Izzard's marathon running. But it was only a matter of time before "Is it hard to be a woman in comedy?" came up. This time, however, we hear about it from a different angle – in response to Jerry Seinfeld's response to criticism over the lack of diversity in his web series Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee. It's hard to ignore the fact that the conversation gets tense at points, but that tension only works to make this episode that much more entertaining. READ MORE

The Comedy Sequel and Reboot Tolerability Scale

It seems like there's an announcement about a new sequel or remake every day, with pretty much every successful movie you can think of at one point being developed as a potential franchise. In just the past two weeks alone, news about sequels to Mrs. Doubtfire and Goonies and reboots of Police Academy and Gremlins has hit the internet. With comedy, sequels and reboots are especially tricky, and you can count the number of good ones on one hand, but that doesn't stop studios from buying them in bulk.

Since updates about sequels and reboots to beloved (and non-beloved) comedies trickling in nonstop, it can be hard to keep track of all of them. We gathered them all up for our Comedy Sequel and Reboot Tolerability Scale, ranking everything in the categorizes Good Ideas, Sure Why Not?, If You Must, Don't Do That, and Nightmares: READ MORE