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Looking Back at 'The Building,' Bonnie Hunt's First TV Creation

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.)

The very funny Bonnie Hunt has had a lot of TV shows. Her first starring role came in 1990 in the soap opera satire Grand. From there she starred in five more, including three with some variation of the name Bonnie in the title. Today we’re going back to the third one she starred in, but the first that she wrote and produced. The result is a sitcom with a cast of strong comedic performers, and a breezy, improvisational tone that, like many of the shows we see in From the Archives, was gone too soon. 1993’s The Building was Bonnie Hunt in its purest form.

Bonnie Hunt was born in Chicago and went on to perform for years at her hometown’s famous Second City. Chicago is a big part of The Building. The main set on the show, Bonnie’s apartment, is right outside Wrigley Field, the friendly confines of the Chicago Cubs. In fact, the first thing we see in The Building is the theme song (Remember, it’s 1993 so there’s actually time to show a theme song) which serves as a lovely tour of the town as we see the cast out and about, on location in Illinois. In addition to serving as a love letter to the midwest, it also sets the tone perfectly for the show we’re about to see. The theme song itself is sung by a chorus who sing enthusiastically, and with pep, “In this windy city, / Toddlin’ town, / I looked all over, / Finally found, / A kindly place, / A comfy space, / In… the building.” My favorite part of this is that once the cast introductions start, Bonnie Hunt’s name appears on screen, but we only see a blonde woman stumbling through the wind, her face completely covered by her wind-swept hair. Immediately we are introduced to the star of a sitcom who is far more focused on making us laugh than worrying about seeming glamorous in her own show. READ MORE

Wyatt Cenac: Standup, Writer, Puppet Aficionado

Wyatt Cenac is best known as being a correspondent for The Daily Show with Jon Stewart, as well as writing for King of The Hill. He’s also been in films such as Sleepwalk With Me and Darren Grodsky’s independent film Growing Up (and Other Lies). Working more on his own projects these days, the New York comic wrote and directed his new one-hour standup special on Netflix, Wyatt Cenac: Brooklyn. He’s currently traveling for his tour "Wyatt Cenac Live in Brooklyn in ___(insert city name here)___", and I caught up with him to talk to him about his plans for doing more of his own projects. Hint: they involve puppets.

I know the AV Club’s review of your special talked about your “thoughtful mind.” Would you agree with that? Are you an introspective person?

Umm… I guess so. I feel like anyone who does standup is. It causes you to be a little introspective. You’re putting your perspective out there and as a result you kind of need to both see the world and also look at yourself as you’re seeing the world. So I’d say on some level, I’m a bit introspective. I don’t know if I would’ve been a philosopher centuries ago, but yeah, I’ll say I’m introspective, sure. This has turned into me filling out an OK Cupid profile.

Yep, and do you like dogs or cats? That’s the next questions.


Is the Future of Comedy the Comedy/Drama Hybrid?

In a recent Salon interview, Bob Odenkirk warns aspiring writers to “get out of comedy, because it’s about to collapse.” Sketch comedy, he says, is having its time in the sun now — what with YouTube, Comedy Central’s burgeoning lineup and the legions of theater sketch teams popping up all over — but the market is becoming saturated. What’s next then? He suggests that once the market tires of short sketches, it may turn to more long-form, dramatic material. “I do think that after sketch comes story,” he speculates.

And when you look at the TV landscape, that makes sense. (Plus, Odenkirk’s been ahead of the game for years. Why wouldn’t you listen to him now?) Louie and Girls, two shows that are nominally considered comedies but regularly flirt with drama within their svelte 30-minute timeframes, are setting the tone for many of the new comedies cropping up everywhere. Some of that influence manifests itself in different ways, whether it’s other series copping their surface premise (Maron), their intimate, semi-vérité style (Broad City, Looking) or their personal, insular subject matter (Transparent, Hello Ladies).

But regardless of exactly how each show borrows, the bottom line is that all these series are following Louie and Girls’ lead by digging beneath the obvious elements of comedy to explore the uncomfortable or painful issues that lie beneath any good punchline. In short, they’re acting more like dramas.  So that begs the question: are we entering some new era dominated by that nebulous thing known as the “comedy-drama”? READ MORE

This Week In Web Videos: 'The Middle Ages'

I made my first comedy video just over three years ago. Watching it again just now, a few things are apparent. Thing one: The script holds up. I wrote it in a UCB sketch 101 class and it still makes me laugh. Thing two (shitty sound) and three (my bad acting) make me cringe but I'm still really glad I did it and I'm really glad it's forever online. It started me down a path that's led to doing something I love: making more, gradually better videos, and watching it every once in a while reminds me of the transformative power of filming something you created.

This week's selection is an ode to that power and a celebration of new, talented filmmakers like Chelsea Catalanotto and Jesse Brenneman. In three years, they'll likely look back on Middle Ages, viewed just 172 times, and think "The sound's a little shoddy" and "The color's kind of blown out." Then they'll watch it again for the great idea, for the writing, for how fun it was to just do something they really wanted to do and they'll think "That was one of the ones that started it" and they'll be as proud as they should be.

Luke is a writer for CollegeHumor and a watcher of many web videos. Send him yours @LKellyClyne.

Watch Mel Gibson Give Birth to a Wood Nymph at Second City in 1997

Welcome to The Second City Archives, in which we post an exclusive clip each week of some of comedy's biggest superstars performing early in their careers on the legendary Chicago stage. Second City has generously given us a glimpse into their extensive archive of live performances, and over the coming weeks we'll be sharing some rare and retro comedy never before seen on the web.

This week we're taking a break from highlighting comedic legends to unearth an old Second City clip you never knew you wanted — a 41-year-old Mel Gibson giving live improv a shot back in 1997. According to Second City, this performance took place during a later version of Paradigm Lost and included ensemble performers Rachel Dratch, Scott Adsit, Rachel Hamilton, Kevin Dorff, Stephnie Weir, and Jim Zulevic. Braveheart hit theaters two years before this performance, so get ready for lots of Scottish accents and pretend drinking.

Inside Portland's 'Live Wire! Radio'

Live Wire! is a radio variety show recorded weekly in Portland, Oregon and broadcast on public radio stations across the country. “Radio Variety That’s Like a Chew Toy for Your Brain,” the show features interviews, music, stand up comedy, sketch comedy, poetry, essays. The show is currently in its eleventh season and now hosted by Luke Burbank (host of the daily podcast Too Beautiful To Live and occasional Wait Wait…Don’t Tell Me panelist) and distributed by PRI, it’s making an impression outside the Pacific Northwest. Courtenay Hameister has been with the show from the beginning as a writer, sketch comedy performer, and for many years, the host.

Currently the head writer and producer, Hameister’s sensibility is all over the show. She has been contributing essays to the show for many years. At a time when collections of funny essays have become more common, it’s a surprise that Hameister isn’t better known. Not as dry as Ian Frazier, and wilder than Nora Ephron, Hameister has a voice that is uniquely her own. She writes a weekly column, “The Reluctant Adventurer” for the website golocalpdx.com and is currently finishing a book of essays, I Got Drunk and Joined a Gym: Lessons I Learned the Hard Way So You Don’t Have To, which is coming out next year from Audible. READ MORE

Five 'SNL' Cast Members Who Were Also 'Daily Show' Correspondents

In its 40 years of scouting talent from The Groundlings, Second City, and standup clubs, SNL has never felt any competition in the major leagues of comedy star-making. When The Daily Show debuted on Comedy Central in 1996, however, Lorne Michaels and company finally met their match, with stars like Steve Carell, Stephen Colbert, John Oliver, Rob Corddry, and Ed Helms all carving out their niches on the mock news show. Over the summer these two worlds officially collided when The Daily Show poached SNL writer Michael Che and elevated him to onscreen status as its newest correspondent, only to see Che swap back to SNL to take over Weekend Update co-anchoring duties. Aside from Che, five other performers have spent time at both The Daily Show and SNL; here they are in no particular order: READ MORE

Jim Gaffigan Explores His True Passion in 'Food: A Love Story'

Jim Gaffigan kicks off his new book, Food: A Love Story, by explaining his pedigree for writing about food. It's fair to say that anyone who's seen his standup will need no convincing that he's the man for the job. In fact, his food-love is so well known that he casually mentions the “lunatics on Twitter” who send him photos of crispy bacon, and concedes that many of his standup set lists could double for grocery lists.

Food, like his first best-selling effort, 2013’s Dad Is Fat, is a collection of light-hearted, conversational essays, some of it culled from his standup. It picks up exactly where that book left off — we’re back in the New York City two-bedroom apartment he shares with his wife and five kids. The family plays a role in this book as well, and pictures of his adorable brood eating all variety of foodstuffs are sprinkled throughout the pages.

The book starts with a geography lesson, as he moves around the country discussing the various gastronomical specialties around the United States: from­ seafood in the northeast (he’s not a fan) to barbecue and Tex-Mex in the south (he’s a big fan). He also embraces, as New Yorkers do, the snobbery that comes with the deliciousness of even our most basic meals. “I love my children,” he writes, “but I can’t articulate the depth of feelings I have for a toasted everything bagel with cream cheese.” He then moves leisurely through other culinary delights, as if he’s rummaging through your cabinets and commenting on the things he finds. READ MORE

Alan Tudyk and the Joy of Playing Idiots

Alan Tudyk is one of the more recognizable faces acting today, even if his name and voice hide behind his characters. Tudyk has been on Broadway, starred in a beloved TV show, and has done voice-over work for animated hits including Frozen, Wreck-It Ralph, and Disney’supcoming feature Big Hero 6. He was also Steve the Pirate in Dodgeball: A True Underdog Story. Tudyk once attempted standup, but after facing a threatening heckler, he joined an improv troupe, learning a skill that has aided his acting career.

He most recently signed on as the new host of Newsreaders as it begins its second season Thursday night at midnight on Adult Swim. He plays Regan Biscayne, a character Tudyk calls “an idiot.” READ MORE

Is He Marriage Material, or Is He a Herman Miller Aeron Chair? by Thomas Scott

Is there anything worse than spending time with a guy who at the end of the day just isn’t interested in a serious commitment? Actually, there is: dating a guy who isn’t interested in existing with you on any real plane of consciousness, because he’s a luxury brand office chair. Here are some helpful pointers to make sure you don’t make that mistake!

Tip #1: Google his name.

Before you even go out on date, do a quick search. A name alone can sometimes give you an idea of his character. If his name is Herman, be a little cautious. If his given name is Miller, that’s okay,  but if it’s his surname be a little wary. If his name is Herman Miller Aeron Chair, cancel the date immediately, because he’s a chair.

Tip #2: Touch him.

When you first meet, be sure to grab a feel. It doesn’t have to be creepy. A handshake will suffice. Try to grab a feel near the torso. The point is to ensure that you are going on a date with a man, and not a Herman Miller Aeron Chair with a polo shirt pulled over it.


Getting Personal with Jonathan Katz

Interviewing Jonathan Katz is an interesting experience, especially when doing so over the phone. After all, most of us know him from the animated sitcom he created, wrote and voiced in the 90’s, Dr. Katz, Professional Therapist. This year marks the 20th anniversary of the series and is being celebrated with the release of a new album, Dr. Katz Live. Speaking to Katz over the phone was like talking to the Doctor himself. In fact, at times I caught myself opening up to him as if I were in an actual therapy session. Perhaps this is from his inquisitive nature and because he was genuinely interested in learning more about me as well.

As mentioned on his website, Katz’s comedy is not for everybody. It took him time to find his audience, but once he did, he established himself as a brilliant (and very dry) comedian. I recorded my conversation with him as I always do with interviews, to make sure I didn’t miss anything and in listening back on our conversation, I realized that I initially missed out on some of his humor. There were many moments, that that I never “got” until the second listening. Like the rest of the world, it took some time, but while I was a fan of the show before, now I’m an even bigger fan of the real guy. After you read our conversation, come back and read it again. I promise you’ll appreciate him even more the second time. READ MORE

Talking to @RachelHastings about Teenagers, Turning Tweets Into Sketches, and Her Mom

Rachel Hastings is a writer living in Los Angeles, where she writes for the Bob's Burgers comic (the third issue of which comes out October 29th from Dynamite Comics), works in the production department for Bob's Burgers the TV show, and is a writer on the UCB LA Maude team Tut. This week I asked Hastings to tell me about some of her favorite tweets she's made. She talked to me about creating sketches out of those tweets, the funniest thing she's ever seen on Twitter, and her mom's role in all this. Check out some of her tweets below, and follow @RachelHastings for more.

Hastings: This is just something I really hope has happened in real life. I know I'm assuming a lot, for instance, that the song "Come on Eileen" was written about a real woman named Eileen, and that this real woman does not have nor will ever have anything else going on in her life, but again, I hope she's out there and that this conversation has taken place. Additionally, when I tweeted this, my friend Lauren immediately replied "Sketch," and I later wrote it into a sketch that was performed by my UCB LA Maude team, Tut. So my dream did come true on some level. READ MORE

'South Central': A Sitcom 20 Years Before Its Time

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.)

This summer, with the events of Ferguson, Missouri making headlines around the world, a lot of people were talking about California in the early 1990s. There were the famous 1992 riots, frequent clashes with the LAPD, and just, in general, a really bad time for racial politics in America. And what was happening this summer didn’t make us feel like we had progressed all that far in the twenty years in between. Emerging from this landscape, in 1994 Fox began airing a sitcom called South Central, named for the neighborhood in Los Angeles where the aforementioned riots began, and one with incredibly high rates of gang violence, crime, and poverty.

South Central is a comedy. It’s a comedy with a lot of drama, but it was indeed a 1990s comedy, which generally meant there would be a living room set, three cameras to shoot it, and a live studio audience to watch it being shot. However, what was happening on this living room set, and the issues that were being addressed, made it incredibly different from any other show on TV. South Central follows the Lifford family, which is comprised of Tina, the mother, and single parent of Andre, her teenage son, Tasha, her middle school-aged daughter, and Deion, her toddler foster child. The Cosby Show, which at this point was the last major sitcom with a predominantly African-American cast had ended its run two years earlier and painted a much different picture with two parents, a doctor and a lawyer, raising their family comfortably in a massive brownstone. The opening shot of the pilot episode of South Central lets you know that you’re in for a much different experience. READ MORE

What a _________ Job: How Mad Libs Are Written

“There’s a very small number of people on this planet who have this very specific job.” That’s how Mad Libs editor Laura Marchesani describes her work, and the exact thought that made me curious about a game I hadn’t played in decades.

Mad Libs have been a household name since their first release by publisher Price Stern Sloan (now a division of Penguin) in 1958. The game has a sophisticated origin story, told years ago by its inventor Leonard Stern: Stern’s friend Roger Price, whom he’d met when they were writing for The Tonight Show, had come over to polish a humor book they’d written together called What Not to Name the Baby. But Stern was working on a script for The Honeymooners, struggling to describe a character’s nose. Stern asked for an adjective, but before he could finish Price interrupted with “clumsy and naked,” and the two became fascinated with the satisfying combinations: “A clumsy nose indicated nature had failed or there had been a genetic mix-up,” writes Stern, “and an alliterative naked nose had the sound of a best-selling mystery novel.” Stern and Price convinced Steve Allen to introduce guests on his variety show using words called out by the audience, and they immediately started selling out of the first Mad Libs book.

Over fifty years later, in the notoriously fast-aging genre of humor, Mad Libs has stayed popular, with no serious competitor in print or online. Penguin puts out about twenty of the books each year, many tied to major properties like Star Wars, Hello Kitty, Lego, and Adventure Time, with over 220 titles published so far. Cumulative sales are well over 100 million, and the five-year-old Mad Libs iOS app has over 5.5 million downloads. This takes more than coasting on previous success.

The point of Mad Libs is that it enables anyone to make a funny story, even children, who are the worst joke-tellers. That makes the template seem easy. But it takes certain skills and extensive research to write a good book of Mad Libs. And all of the 15 to 20 writers working on Mad Libs for Penguin at any given time had to learn this. READ MORE