The Future of Comedy By The Numbers – Gonzo author, James Campion dissects underground comedy of late 90s’ local access television.

Genesis Magazine 1/98

PAST IS PRESENT(The Future of Comedy by the Numbers)

The world of comedy television is not unlike several other corners of the entertainment business. From music to radio, commercial literature to Broadway shows, the influence of one amalgamates into the other to form hybrids of unique art to which theme and style begin to fade into several like colors in the wash. However, the origin and destiny of their movements often lie in the darkest corners of America, and develop in the obscurity of a cult world bubbling over with the kind of originality networks could only dream about.

Today, a large portion of the comedy seed is grown in the garden of local and public access television, where the fantasy guffaw of Wayne’s World comes alive nightly throughout the fruited plain. Starving entertainers fill the free air space with the bizarre slant of life that longs to leap out of their heads. In the two biggest media sponges this country has to offer, New York and Los Angeles, the irreverent and the wise-cracking emerge from literally nowhere to gain notoriety.

Two classic examples of the type of programming that may seem frightening to network executives now, but will probably be the flavor of the 21st century are West L.A. Cable’s Colin’s Sleazy Friends and Time Warner Cable of Manhattan’s Exactly 29 Minutes.

Back in 1992, Colin Malone, a struggling stand-up comic, and his friend, Dino Everett, were two young men bored out of their minds working at a video store in L.A. when they decided to cause a ruckus talking about their bizarre personal lives on a half-hour television program of their own devise. The idea began with barely a whimper, then Malone decided to invite porn star, Ron Jeremy with the promise of a free lunch, and Colin’s Sleazy Friends was born. Five years, and a host of porn guests later, the show is one of the most talked about in Southern California, and now with the help of the True Blue Network, and satellite television, it is potentially viewed by millions.

“I’m the most famous poor guy in America, ” Malone laughs today. Every Wednesday at midnight on Channel 3 out of West L.A., a time slot which enables the twisted duo to steal from the Leno/Letterman channel surfers, the show pushes the obscenity envelope with X-Rated film clips and scantily clad porn actresses discussing the inner workings of the genre. But it isn’t just about smut for Malone. “It’s really a comedy show,” he says. “But we’re getting a lot of crap from the cable companies who try and force the obscenity issue.”

Malone, a sloppy, corpulent, long-haired slick talker with a rabid personality and keen sense of audience seduction, has built a mini-entertainment empire. Now mainstream celebrities Drew Carey and Jeanene Garafilo join cutting edge music acts like Danzig and Insane Clown Posse in calling themselves sleazy friends. “We’re hot right now,” Malone notes proudly. “Almost everywhere fans are having these ‘Colin Parties’ and I’ve already taken meetings with people from Fox to HBO.” Malone has even parlayed his infamy into a cameo on an upcoming episode of the number one sitcom on television, Seinfeld.

Exactly 29 Minutes, although no less inventive and determined, is on the other end of the popularity totem pole. Producer, writer, and head nut-case, Al Quagliata’s monthly character-driven romp through themes such as flem, masturbation, and old security guards whining about “the good old days” has been seen in New York homes from Manhattan to Westchester since the mid-80s’. Originally titled Zodiacs, Maniacs, & Just Plain Yaks, the half-hour sketch show has taken a page from the Monty Python-Second City style of featuring bit players willing to take on any character and attack subject.

“The show is a great source of exposure for my other work as an actor and stand-up comic,” says the 32 year-old Quagliata, who sites the late-great, Ernie Kovacks as his main influence. “But although we’re proud of the work we’ve done, dealing with cable outlets and bicycling the tapes all over becomes far too much work.”

Sometimes huge national fame and fortune is not the only legacy for the talented and ignored. Long before there was such a thing as local access, in fact, before cable became a household necessity and satirical comedy sketch shows ruled airwaves, a New Jersey native by the name of Floyd Vivino decided to branch out from his burlesque comedy roots and parody kiddie show format with his wild and wholly entertaining Uncle Floyd Show. Vivino and a cast of crazies worked, as he describes, “like animals” taping five straight hours weekly; sometimes in the middle of the night in order to fill a daily one-hour show packed with music, laughter, and mostly mayhem. “After awhile we realized the kids hated me, ” Uncle Floyd says today. kids, “They were frightened of us, but the adults and the older the college kids, they loved us.”

The Uncle Floyd Show was a pioneering effort in the world of local television. Vivino and his cast rented studio time and air-brokered space on channel 68 out of Newark. “I hate the word local access, ” he says. “We were professional all the way. Booked the time, brokered the space, and sold the time. We did it all.” It’s live to tape format with people screaming off camera and flubbing lines has now become a familiar staple on Saturday Night Live, Mad TV, and even wacky morning radio shows. Hip rock acts like the Ramones and David Johanson along with up-and-comers like Cindy Lauper and Bon Jovi frequented the tiny studio. “We had no idea that we were influencing a whole comedy generation,” Vivino says.”We were just trying to survive.”

Not only did it survive, but when it was all done The Uncle Floyd Show produced 6,000 programs of which only 300 still exist. “The Shaneckie Video found about 84 shows from 980 that they’ve released regionally in two volumes,” Vivino, whose brother, Jerry plays in Conan O’Brien’s Max Weinberh Seven Band, delightfully announces, while remembering what it was like in those chatoic days of near banckruptcy and abuse from his detractors. “At least it was fun,” he chuckles. “It was always fun.”

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