Dying Is Easy...Comedy Is Hard!
Updated: Oct 1, 2020
My good friend Art Bell has just released a must read book; Constant Comedy: How I Started Comedy Central and Lost My Sense of Humor. It's a a great story about the early days of Comedy Central (including the short lived but in retrospect incredibly influential Comedy Channel). Art has been a close friend, colleague and mentor since we met in 1989 at Comedy Channel and I'm so excited for him. He had the original idea and vision for a 24/7 comedy network and I was thrilled to work at his side to help him realize that vision.
Art was the Director of New Business Development at HBO in the 80's. HBO pretty much owned stand up comedy with a wide range of specials featuring comedy's biggest names.
Art's idea for the 24/7 Comedy Channel was unique and quite risky. He pitched Michael Fuchs (then head of HBO) the idea of a comedy network that would feature classic Movies, TV Shows and Comedy Specials. The thing that made it risky was that the network would also feature short form comedy clips hosted by comedians who added their own special brand of comedy. And on top of everything else, it would have commercials...a big deal for HBO considering that they were pioneers in the world of pay TV.
Launching something called the Comedy Channel was not for the faint of heart. A channel that focused solely on Sports, Mystery or History could easily deliver on their brand. The world of comedy is a whole different animal...people take there comedy seriously and you better deliver on your channel's name.
The Comedy Channel launched on November 15th, 1989. We were lucky to have a great group of VJ's, each with their own specially designed sets from our studios on 23rd street and the ground breaking series "Mystery Science Theater" broadcasting from their "satellite of love" aka Minneapolis, Minnesota.
Original One Sheets For Our Hosts
Clockwise; Rich Hall's Onion World, Joel Hodsgon's MST 3K, Higgins Boys & Gruber, Tommy Sledge, Rachel Sweet and Allan Havey's 'Night After Nite'.
The network also featured Jon Stewart (and later Marc Maron) hosting our signature show "Short Attention Span Theatre"
As luck would have it, shortly after we launched, MTV Networks launched their own 24/7 comedy network called HA! and ironically, their network did not feature VJs...it was just half hour comedy shows (not much different from Nick At Nite.) This was the early days of cable TV and the market barely could sustain one comedy channel let alone two. The message came down for the then all powerful cable system owners; merge or you will both be gone within months.
Cable Network Comedy Duel
And that is how Comedy Central came into a being. Art had the difficult task of overseeing the merger with MTV and the inevitable cultural and comedy clashes between the staffs. But unlike some of us hot heads, Art had the skills and smarts to navigate the changes and we launched the Comedy Central on April Fools Day in 1991 by having comedienne Judy Tenuta descend from the top of Times Square (ala the New Years Eve ball drop.) Judy was a trooper and we were off and running.
Comedy Central Drops Comedian From Times Square
Judy Tenuta being dropped from the top of Times Square to launch Comedy Centra.
Comedy Central - The First Five Years
There were lots of ups and downs in our time there but I'd like to think we set the table for all of the amazing things the next wave of executives were able to accomplish. Here's a timeline what we all accomplished in the first five years.
You can read all about it in his book which is out today! Congratulations Art!
Art Bell and Vinnie Favale 2018
Comedy Channel & Comedy Central Photo Gallery
Here's a little photo gallery of some of highlights of Comedy Channel and Comedy Centra's early years...enjoy!