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Joan Rivers Reflects on Legacies, Death, and Bathing in a Sink

joan_rivers_roastThe 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.)

As you know, last week we lost legend Joan Rivers. One of the hardest working people in the business, her absence is felt very strongly in the comedy community. In 1991 she sat down with fellow comedian Alan King on his show Inside the Comedy Mind for an interview that is equal parts funny, illuminating and candid. In it she reflected on her career to that point, her struggles and how she got there.

At this point in her career, Joan was entering uncharted tragedy. Three years ago she had faced one of the most tragic and turbulent moments of her life. The late night show that she had hosted, which inadvertently severed her relationship with long-time mentor and friend Johnny Carson, was canceled after six months on the air, which led to the suicide of her husband Edgar. Slowly she reentered the comedy world as a standup and went on to host a daytime talk show that would run for five years and win a Daytime Emmy award. It was in the midst of the resurgence that Joan was interviewed on Alan King's show. READ MORE

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Conan O'Brien (and Andy Kindler) Wrap Up 1994

122 - Conan 1994The 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.)

It's been almost two years since we've had an installment of From the Archives' unofficial recurring segment: Looking Back at Conan's Early Years. Let's fix that. The previous episodes (1, 2, 3) we've looked at have all taken place during O'Brien's first year as a talk show host, which most, including the man himself, would tell you were rocky. He was trying to find his footing as an interviewer, become comfortable in front of the camera, all while trying to deliver his vision of a talk show that is something he would find funny and will also (hopefully) live up to the lofty legacy that his predecessor David Letterman left behind. Today we jump ahead to an episode from December 30, 1994, just a few months after his first year ended.

By this point, things seem to be going a lot smoother for Conan. No doubt, making that year notch in his belt has bolstered his confidence somewhat, but he's also making strides. His monologues are much more comfortable. He's still not the string-dancing, jumping at the camera host we know today, but that evolution is still several years away. His rapport with Andy is easier, and their banter much more natural. And while it's not 100% comfortable, he does seem better with the guests and segues more nimbly from blue card question to question.

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Dissecting Young Dana Carvey and Nathan Lane's Awful, Awful Sitcom

121 - One of the BoysThe 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.)

Take a seat and I'm going to tell you about a sitcom that aired in 1982 that came and went. In the lead, we have the late Mickey Rooney, once the number one movie star in the world, then 62, mustached, and while he was still much older than you're average sitcom anchor, still a very capable performer. As his grandson we have Dana Carvey, still a few years away from his big break on Saturday Night Live, with a weird, blonde bowl cut, but still ready to break out into a Mr. Rogers impression for a quick laugh. And as Dana's roommate we have a young Nathan Lane, in his TV series debut. Why didn't this series run for years and years with talent like that?

Because it was horrible. READ MORE

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Examining the Marx Brothers' Television Appearances

120 - Marx BrothersWhen people describe the Marx Brothers as they walked, honked, quipped, and played on the silver screen, one word seems to come up over and over again: anarchic. Well, after a while, the Marx Brothers disappeared from the silver screen, but before long a new medium showed up for Groucho, Chico, and Harpo to jump on, and as you might imagine, they brought that same sense of anarchy to television. Today we look at a wide selection of the Marx Brothers appearances on television, sometimes in pairs, but usually solo, as seen in the new DVD set The Marx Brothers TV Collection.

Here's the thing about early television of the 50s and 60s: it's all over the place. There were sports shows, panel talk shows, sitcoms, hundreds of variety shows, and the Marx Brothers appeared on whatever they would throw at them. I don't know the best way to do dive into this because there's a lot of stuff in this set, and I have to imagine the majority of it has never been released, unless there's a box set of the TV show Championship Bridge with Charles Goren that I don't know about. (In 1960 there was an actual TV show that was just watching people play the card game bridge and Chico Marx lost badly on it. Now that I've typed that sentence, I realize that this show isn't all that different from the billion poker shows that were on TV a few years back.) Let's go brother by brother through the set and pick out the highlights, starting with the one, the only Groucho Marx. READ MORE

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Looking Back at Dennis Miller's First Solo Show

119 - DennisMillerThe 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.)

Now, I don't want to get off on a rant here, but Dennis Miller is a guy who’s gone through a lot of different personas throughout his storied career. He's been the smarmy "Weekend Update" anchor, smarmy late-night talk show host, and most recently a smarmy conservative political commentator. During this run he's had more shows with his name in the title than Tyler Perry that have been attached to more networks than Paddy Chayefsky. His reference-heavy, laid-back demeanor has made him the kind of guy you either love or hate. Well, today we look back at his first solo venture; hot off the heels of his six-year Saturday Night Live run where he hosted his first late-night talk show entitled The Dennis Miller Show.

Premiering on January 20, 1992, The Dennis Miller Show was syndicated, which meant he was a world away from the freedom he would later be given on HBO with his much more long-running Dennis Miller Live. What's interesting about that date, however, is that it meant that Miller was starting out in a much different late night landscape than the one that exists today. At this point, Letterman was still on NBC at 12:35, Carson was just finishing up his run on The Tonight Show, and apart from Nightline the only other competition was from The Arsenio Hall Show. Dennis Miller was there to speak to a younger audience that wasn't being served by Carson's show, but maybe wasn't into Arsenio. However, this was a narrow audience that was probably already being served by Late Night with David Letterman, which might explain why Miller's show lasted only seven months. READ MORE

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When Jon Lovitz Performed an Original Play on Live TV

jonlovitzThe 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 introducing Jon Lovitz for one of his many appearances on Late Night, Conan O'Brien summed the man up perfectly when he described him as a "living cartoon character." He has his catchphrases ("I was ACTing!," "Yeah, THAT's the ticket…," "ACKhem!," and the list could go on and on…), he has a signature cadence — there's no better way to say it other than this: he's just so Lovitzy.

He got a chance to shine on Saturday Night Live, obviously, and his roles on The Critic and Newsradio were great, but when I discovered a special for Fox that he had co-written and starred in on live TV, I was excited to see his pure, unadulterated vision for what a Jon Lovitz television event should be. Airing on May 20, 1992, the fantastically named The Please Watch the Jon Lovitz Special was performed for America, and served as a nice little throwback to the olden days of television as Jon and his cast perform an original play for the assembled audience (all in their formal clothing). READ MORE

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Seinfeld Roasts Tommy Chong, and Other Weird Things That Happened on the Playboy Channel

chong-1The 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.)

A warning before we get into this: this installment is going to feel a little bit like a trip to an alternate dimension. A dimension in which the Playboy Channel aired things without boobs. Where Tommy Chong is a name big enough to be on a televised roast. Where Richard Belzer isn't a network TV detective. Where Jerry Seinfeld is big, but not Seinfeld big, and yes, he has to stand at the dais and say mean things about a fellow comedian. Welcome to the world of 1986's Playboy Comedy Roast of Tommy Chong, which aired exclusively on the Playboy Channel, and was a really weird time for everybody, including the audience.

To begin, let's run through the lineup. First and foremost, there's Tommy Chong, the guest of honor, best known as half of the original stoner comedy duo Cheech and Chong. Our MC for the evening is David Steinberg, currently the host of Inside Comedy on Showtime, and frequent guest of Johnny Carson's Tonight Show. In addition to Seinfeld and The Belz, our roasters include Slappy White, a comedian of the old school, who came up on the so called Chitlin' circuit of standup in the 50s and 60s, working with Redd Foxx before becoming a Friar's Club roast superstar. Also at the head table are Mack and Jamie, a comedy team who at the time were the stars of their own syndicated comedy show Comedy Break with Mack & Jamie. Dick Shawn, who played the actor who played Hitler in the original film version of The Producers is there, breaking out of his traditional stuffy demeanor. And finally there's Marsha Warfield, who is probably best known as the bailiff from Night Court, who David Steinberg touts as the very first woman on the dais of a roast. "Because of the presence of a woman, we'll be a little more contained than usual tonight," he says, beginning his joke. "Fuckin' well better be," she interrupts, ending it for him. READ MORE

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Watch Woody Allen's Incredibly Rare Short Film 'Men of Crisis'


One of the rarest pieces of comedy of the modern era, Woody Allen's short film Men of Crisis: The Harvey Wallinger Story, has appeared on YouTube. Originally made for PBS but deemed too critical of the Nixon administration to air, the film has never been officially released.

For more info on Men of Crisis, see the first installment of our ongoing column "From the Archives."

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When Johnny Carson Just Didn't Know What to Make of Weird Al

weirdal-carsonThe 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.)

I feel like every article written about "Weird Al" Yankovic since, oh, let's say 2001, begins with a thesis statement that basically amounts to "can you believe the "Eat It" guy is still around?!" (Maybe by this point they've updated the reference to "Amish Paradise.") And as irritating and dismissive as that sounds, this lazy article opening speaks to the incredibly impressive fact that Al has managed to sustain a recording career for more than 30 years based solely on pure silliness. Next Tuesday, Al will release his 14th (and potentially final) album entitled Mandatory Fun, so I thought it would be fitting for us to take a journey into the Paley Center Archives with the intention of looking back at Yankovic's storied career.

Unfortunately, that was more difficult than I anticipated. There's a lot of potential material out there to find, Al's various MTV takeovers throughout the years would have been fantastic, but unfortunately, there's not a lot at the Paley Center. What I did find, while light on the Al content, still reflects an important moment in Al's career and is a lovely time capsule of entertainment in 1985. Today we look back to July 25th of that year when "Welrd Al" Yankovic appeared on The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson.

Let's begin with Al's appearance. Following Michael J. Fox's segment, Johnny returns from commercial and announces to the audience: "It is now silly time." The fact that Weird Al is about to perform on The Tonight Show in 1985 is already surreal enough. This was the TV show of record at this time. You've no doubt heard comic after comic from the 70s and 80s talk about how one appearance on the show was enough to make their entire career. At this point Al had already hit it big, but now, just as he was getting ready to perform, Johnny Carson, America's Dad, just told everyone in America that it was "silly time." If someone out there in Middle America had somehow escaped Al's work before this point, I don't know how he could get a better introduction. READ MORE

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Exploring the Lunacy of 'The Goon Show'

115 - goon showThe 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.)

It's summer, and for many that means travel. With that in mind, at various points throughout the season, I will be providing you, the reader, with classic forgotten comedy of the audio persuasion to help you pass the time on your road trip while digging deeper into comedy history.

In the Venn diagram that connects The Beatles and Monty Python, there's an awful lot in the center of those two intersecting circles. Ringo appeared on Flying Circus, George Harrison basically bankrolled Life of Brian all by himself, and of course there's the Eric Idle solo project, The Rutles: All You Need is Cash, the pitch perfect spoof of the Beatles entire career to that point. But way up at the top of the list of commonalities there's one thing that stands out in big bold letters: a deep love for The Goon Show.

You may never have heard of The Goon Show, but In England it's still very highly regarded as classic comedy in the early days of BBC. The program aired from 1951 to 1960, and there's honestly no better way to describe it besides "weird." Today, weird comedy is, oddly enough, common. The bulk of the Adult Swim block of programming is designed to barrage the viewer with odd characters in even odder situations. But in the 1950s, comedy was setup-punchline. There was a formula to comedy, and it worked. The Goon Show had a loose formula to it, but it certainly didn't feel that way as one listened. READ MORE

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A Look at 'I Love Lucy's Radio Roots

114 - favehusThe 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.)

I'm no expert on writing snappy headlines to get attention, but as far as book titles go, Mr. And Mrs. Cugat: The Record Of A Happy Marriage is a horrible name for a book. I don't know who Mr. and Mrs. Cugat are, so why would I want to read a book about them, particularly when it's clear from the subtitle that nothing interesting is going to happen to them. But in spite of that, the book became one of the best-selling novels of 1941, was adapted into a film with the (much better) name of Are Husbands Necessary?, starring Ray Milland and Betty Field, a radio show, and finally, a sitcom you may have heard of called I Love Lucy. This column has mostly neglected the radio format, but today we examine My Favorite Husband, the show that gave birth to one of the most important TV sitcoms of all time and introduced Lucille Ball into the nation's homes every week.

In the 1940s, Lucy had worked her way up from cigarette girl to Broadway showgirl to a contract to appear in pictures with MGM. However, after appearing in a number of flops that never really allowed her to truly break out (she became known in Hollywood as "Queen of the B's" after starring in so many B-movies), she decided to approach stardom from a different angle. Instead of making the American public come to her, she'd go to them via radio. On July 23, 1948, My Favorite Husband premiered on CBS radio. She starred as Liz Cugat, who would be renamed a few episodes later to the more accessible Liz Cooper. Her husband, George, was played by Richard Denning, who later in his career would become King of the B's, starring in such films as Creature from the Black Lagoon, Day the World Ended, and The Creature with the Atom Brain. Today we examine the earliest available episode of the show, entitled "The Portrait Painter," and we venture into another dimension's version of I Love Lucy. (Spoiler alert: The dimension I'm talking about is the dimension of sound.) READ MORE

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The Fake Talk Show is Born with 'Fernwood 2 Night'

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.)

Fake talk shows: today the TV is lousy with them. In fact, the form has been constructed, deconstructed, and reconstructed so many times that there are some real talk shows, such as Craig Ferguson's, that have adopted fake talk show components. It makes sense that the genre would be so ripe for parody as it provides a perfect template for comedy. At its center you have a strong figure to lead and guide the show, often to serve as the audience's point of view. Through the guests you have a steady stream of characters to shuffle through, or big-name celebrity guests, depending on the goal of your fake talk show. Plus, the format of the show doesn't require a narrative through line, which can make the writing process more like a sketch than a sitcom, but if you want to have one, it's not difficult to throw one into the mix as well. With so many talk shows on the air these days, both real and fake, let's take a look back at one of the first fake talk shows to play with the form, create some very real characters, and just generally mess with its audience. I'm talking, of course, about Fernwood 2 Night. READ MORE

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A Reunion and a New Sketch from 'Late Night with Conan's Writers

Well, the Paley Center has been temporarily closed due to repairs (it's reopened now) so instead of dipping into the archives, today we head over to the gross Gowanus Canal in Brooklyn to Littlefield, home of Scott Rogowsky's weekly live talk show "Running Late." On April 30th, 2014, his show hosted three former writers from Late Night with Conan O'Brien, Andy Blitz, Jon Glaser, and Brian McCann, to reminisce, watch some clips, and perform a new, original sketch for the audience gathered there that evening. Luckily, the cameras were rolling and these videos can be enjoyed by everyone, including the people who didn't walk past the world's most disgusting canal (Guys, seriously. It tested positive for gonorrhea.)

In this first clip, Scott's monologue is interrupted by a series of more and more ridiculous gunmen. This insane moment is a new original sketch from the trio, and serves as a nice little reminder of why we love their comedy: weird premises, strange logical arguments, and sandwiches. READ MORE

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Looking Back at Ellen and Mitch Hurwitz's Sitcom 'The Ellen Show'

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.)

Before Mitch Hurwitz created Arrested Development, he cut his teeth writing on The Golden Girls, but you already knew that. Between the latter and the former, there were a few projects that he worked on that helped him to transition from the classic three-camera sitcom to the rule breaking single-cam that is Arrested. One was The John Larroquette Show, which he ran after the departure of creator Don Reo. Another was Everything's Relative, a CBS sitcom starring Jeffery Tambor. And then there's The Ellen Show.

The Ellen Show is also a transitional show for Ellen DeGeneres, the titular star of the show. It comes a few years after her successful and controversial ABC sitcom, Ellen, and before her mega-hit daily talk show, The Ellen DeGeneres Show. Ellen's second sitcom, co-created by Hurwitz and Carol Leifer, shows an Ellen who has learned from her previous sitcom, but isn't apologizing. Her new character is still a lesbian, despite the controversy that announcement caused last time, but this is less of a focus in the new show. Ellen's mom (played by Cloris Leachman) and sister are totally accepting of it and treat it as old news. It comes up again briefly when she's visiting her hometown to accept an award and stops by her old high school. Her high school prom date, played by Jim Gaffigan, tries to hit on her and she tells him that she's gay. Thrown for a loop, he gives a nervous chuckle, then, unsure what else to say, congratulates her. Ellen responds, "Thank you. You may actually be the first person to congratulate me for that." Without missing a beat, one of her old teachers (played by Martin Mull) joins in congratulating her, as do everyone else in the room. Ellen quiets them, saying, "That's enough! No need to harp on it!" making a tongue-in-cheek reference to what the rest of America told her in the final season of her previous sitcom. READ MORE