Bill Bellamy and executive producer David Friedman are on another quest for the funniest unknown stand-up comic in America with Last Comic Standing, which comes back to NBC on May 22 at 9:30 ET. I was recently in on a conference call with the second-year host and producer of the hit reality show and here's what they had to say.
Bill, how did you get mixed up with this show to begin with? And what is it about the show that blew your skirt up enough to want to be a part of it?
Bill Bellamy: First of all, it was just timing I think. You know, the producers - some of the producers on our show already knew my work and stuff that I've done with comedy - and gave me a call, and asked me would I be interested in a project. And at first, I was like what - because I haven't hosted anything since MTV, you know. But I watched, you know, some of the tapes of the shows and I saw, you know, the comics and things. And I thought about what I could bring to the show, and I thought it would be a fun job. And it's turned out to be incredible because not only are we going around giving other comedians an opportunity - I mean, we are really getting into the world of comedy and showing people, you know, how hard it is and how - some people make it look easy. But we come across a lot of non-funny people, too. So it works both ways. It's really good.
Yeah, so non-funny people - what do you do? You just sort of have a smile frozen on your face, or are you rough with them?
Bill Bellamy: Well the thing is, when you put them all together, they really become hilarious. That's the power of the edit. We've had some crazy people. Everybody that's on line, obviously is not a comedian. I think they just want to be on TV, some of them.
Would this kind of show helped you when you were just starting out?
Bill Bellamy: Yes, sir. I would have loved an opportunity like this because I mean, the viewership is so huge. It's mainstream America. You get an opportunity to perform on such a huge platform. And then you get to win some money and a comedy special, and a car. Man, you should've seen my little club car back in the day.
Was there a pivotal moment in your life when you realized that being funny could be something that could be a career as opposed to just, you know, amusing your friends, amusing yourself?
Bill Bellamy: That point came in college on pretty much just stepping outside the box. I got into this little talent competition and was hoping that I would be funny. And, you know, I kind of put together like three minutes. That probably is all I had at that time and once I got on stage and I was in front of the people, and I got that rush, I knew at that time that this was something I wanted to do. I didn't know if I could get better at it. I just knew the gut feeling was that I liked it a lot. And, you know, 16 years later look what's up.
You sort of hinted at it before, but is it - are you tough to please? Are you - is it hard to make you laugh now that, you know, you've been in comedy for so long?
Bill Bellamy: I would say yes and no. I mean, it just depends. I mean, as a comedian - I'm a comedian's comedian. I look for originality, you know, good writing, you know, personality coming through your material and I get a sense of who you are. And, you know, when I see that shine on stage, I get excited because I know that there's a lot of potential for that person. And, you know, even though we only give you maybe four minutes or three minutes in certain sets, you can really tell in the short period of time if the person has the magic, you know.
You're not like, you know, you're not like a Grinch out there?
Bill Bellamy: No. I'm for the comedian, you know. A lot of people are like man, you seem so, you know, excited and you want everybody to do well. I really do. I mean, I don't want anybody to come on TV and fail. You know, I want these guys to take advantage of this opportunity, go all out, try not to be so nervous about being on TV. I mean, it's easy for me to say because I've done it so much. But I'm just saying, just forget about you're on television and just pretend you're in the club, you're comfortable and just do what you've been doing. That's what I encourage them to do.
I was a little confused watching these first two hours because there would be a couple of people who would - could go ahead and then they'd say we've only got one left. And I didn't know if they - just those were the only people who got it. How many people for each city got a go ahead to the semifinals?
David Friedman: What did you watch? What did you get to see?
New York and then Tempe.
David Friedman: Oh, you did. Okay, yeah. You know, the process is such where the - you know, all day long they come in and audition for our talent scouts. The talent scouts weed through, as you can imagine. I mean, in some cities (you see) thousands of people. And then the ones that they like are asked to come back.
I couldn't tell - it looked like only about four guys went to the semifinals from New York.
David Friedman: That's probably accurate. I can't remember - I don't have the numbers in front of me. But let's say the four guys or four people came out of New York and two or three more came out of Tempe - eventually we end up with 32 people that go to Las Vegas and the semifinals. So from every city it varies. Some you get four. Some you get three. Some you get five. And basically more what the scouts feel were the best three. There were no hard numbers. It's not like we said that in every city we're going to pick three or in every city we're going to pick five. It really just depended on the numbers game and how many we really said that, you know, we just have to have these three or you know what, only two really sort of blew us away so we're only going to take two from Tempe or wherever.
So let me ask both you and Bill this question, though - if you were a comedian trying out, would you maybe have picked some other city, other than New York to try out in? Because there was so much talent in that New York one.
David Friedman: Yeah, definitely - it definitely plays a hand. I mean, there's a lot - we see that like in Tempe and, you know, a lot of people from the West Coast like from California or LA, will fly to Tempe. We also ran in San Francisco, so you have something from - you know, so you kind of - I see a lot of the comics sort of making choices as to where they might want to go audition because you're right, the numbers game does play a hand in it, for sure.
Bill Bellamy: Yeah.
David Friedman: But it is also hard to anticipate. It's hard to say just because the numbers are big doesn't mean the talent will be great. You know, we go to Minneapolis where it's 15 degrees below zero, but we've got great talent there. So it's really hard to kind of guess where you're going to shine, over what city.
I want to know how the scouts were chosen. Do you know how - could somebody tell me how the scouts were chosen?
David Friedman: We sat down very early on in the process and sort of with NBC - with the help of Marc Hirschfeld over at NBC and other casting people at NBC. And we really sort of went through all sort of shows, both past and present - NBC shows, successful shows, and we kind of looked for talent that might have had a - more of a background, whether it be improv or whether it be on the standup stage. And we just kind of threw around names, really is really what it comes down to. And then we sort of put out feelers to see who'd be interested in it. And the response we got was overwhelming because, I think like Bill mentioned before to a previous question, the success of Last Comic Standing really has helped so that every season people - it's more and more sort of recognizable. And so talent from NBC were like excited to lend a hand. It was just - the most difficult thing, as you can imagine, was schedules. You know, getting different talent to different cities was the toughest challenge.But everyone really was interested in doing it. And ...
How did you come up with the idea of going all around the world?
David Friedman: Well I think - and this is my first season doing it. And I think last season - correct me if I'm wrong, Bill. I think, you know, they added the international aspect to it. I think what's important to us is that - is to make it as big a search as possible because we're introducing - you know, we have got great comics from all over the world and it's our chance to introduce those comics to America and to American television. And the excitement you get when someone from the UK or someone from Australia, or someone from India or whatever, that hits our stages in the States, you get this really genuine, like oh my god, this is the American dream. And it just makes it larger for us.
David, for you - coming in as the newcomer, what did you want to change? What did you think worked and where did you see room for improvement?
David Friedman: Well that's a good question. I mean, and to me like the most important thing was not to mess with the format because the format - it's a great show. It's been successful for five seasons. So I was very sort of aware of like, let's not - I don't want to be the guy that screws the show up. That's the worst thing you could do to our show.
Bill Bellamy: Right.
David Friedman: But what I wanted to do was I felt the show needed to look a little bit larger and feel a little bit larger, and add some elements that made it a little bit more sort of well-rounded. I mean, if you look at network television and the genre of competition shows or reality shows, or non-scripted - whatever you want to call them, it's just blown out - it's just blowing up now. All the shows that are on the air, and I just felt that Last Comic Standing -- because it's such a great show -- needed a little bit of a facelift to get - to really play with those other big shows. And so it's little bells and whistles that I tried to bring in and add in production value, and I had some ideas like the talent scouts. And little things here and there, and all along keeping in mind that the - not to screw up the format because the show is a good show.
Bill, I have two quick questions for you. So many people have hosted shows like this before. What did you want to do differently?
Bill Bellamy:I wanted to bring the excitement of energy to the show and make it fun, and get people at home to be, you know, really, you know, involved with the show. And that's what I thought this show lacked. I mean, it was sort of like - it didn't have any swagger to it or, you know, sort of like urgency of like well this is the best in the world. We went here and we have affirmed on the street with real people, getting really real responses. I didn't get that enthusiasm from the other hosts. So I was like, you know what? That's what I want to bring to it. I want to bring that kind of feeling, my personality, make it funny so the jokes aren't just the comedians doing their standup; but it's the host being funny. It's those intermittent fun moments with the crowd, on the street, going to these different cities, walking into an ice cream parlor and kicking it with real people. To me, I think that makes a whole hour or two hours of entertaining television.
It seems like the comedy game has changed a lot - especially, I should say the standup comedy game. It seems like there's fewer venues to play at. It seems like that stepping stone from Dangerfield to your own TV show has kind of vanished. To your thinking, how has the standup comedy game changed?
Bill Bellamy: I think it goes in cycles. You're obviously right that it did kind of - like a lot of comedy clubs, you know, closed. There wasn't as many places to perform. You know, we're not even talking about TV. But there - the clubs have become corporate in a way. You know, there's a lot of improv and funny bones. And only the really top comics are able to play those clubs because, you know, they're looking for headliners to fill the seats. So a lot of the little clubs kind of got, you know, pushed to the side. But with the urgency of, you know, television needing, you know, different types of entertainment, comedy has got an opportunity to breathe again or on a mainstream platform. And I think Last Comic Standing provides that opportunity. It gives a person who really has something, you know, the dazzle, you know, the material - the - you know, the look or opportunity to be seen my millions. That's what I like about it.
What was the funniest city for you, David, of all the talent you saw? Which city had the best talent away for you?
David Friedman: Oh man. You know, San Francisco really did it for me this year and I don't really know why. I think it was because we got a lot of different things. You know, we had - we met a trio out there for the first time - three brothers.
Bill Bellamy: Yeah, it was great.
David Friedman: You know, we had this kid just come out with - singing and just blew us away. And there was just a great amount of diverse talent there. And San Francisco, I guess, is known as sort of an alternative type comedy scene. And I thought it really shined. That was one of the best for me. New York, obviously, is always strong and I'm a New Yorker so it was nice to be home, and see great comics. And - but I would have to say San Francisco probably for me.
Peter Ingall told me that the women really brought it this time. Is that true?
David Friedman: Well, you know, I - we were at the press tour the other day up in Pasadena and I know it came up about the women and how it's, you know, usually a male dominated sort of sport, for lack of a better description. And I said, you know, one of our women is - you know, it blew us away and continues to blow us away week after week. And she has been challenged and competing against the male comics, and has really emerged as a great star. And I think this year we did see a lot of strong women. I mean, we really did and I think that's a great sign as - for everyone in the comedy sort of business because it has been a difficult sort of thing for women to break through. But I think this year we have a great talent pool.
Bill Bellamy: Yeah, you'll be proud.
Last Comic Standing premieres on Thursday, May 22 at 9:30 PM ET on NBC.