A dream come true

Lazy Blogger Bulletin: Apparently I’ve been linked and rightly chided for a lack of updates by none other than Elizabeth Bear, whom my significant other and a personal hero have both been blogging about quite a bit recently. You have no reason to believe this post exists for any other reason than to cash in on this momentary intarwebs celebrity. However, I assure you it has existed in some form as a draft in my Gmail account for about 3 days now, since I encountered the site that spurred it. That’ll make more sense in a minute. Anyway, thanks, Ms. Bear, as it is possible Wil will read this, and I will atomize in utter geeky happiness. Also, you got me off my ass and writing, which I’m coming to understand is what people would pay you handsomely for, random denizen of the internet though you may be.

Without further ado:

It’s happening.

Let me step back a moment so that you have the faintest idea what “it” is.

When the WGA strike became a reality last year, I had a lengthy and involved discussion with Christie about it. We discussed the ethics of royalties for content, the difficulties of negotiating in such a competitive industry, the impending Rise of the Hacks, etc.

At the time, it was my fervent hope that this experience would show quality content producers that they no longer need the entertainment distribution machine that has milked them so vigorously over the years. This is a belief I have had since I set up a video web site in about 2003. To me, this trumped writers getting a fair shake of online distribution revenue – sure, I wanted them to get paid, and get back to making my shows, but in the grander scheme of things, I wanted them to realize that the world has changed since their last, crappy contract negotiation. They don’t have to play hardball, because they don’t have to play ball at all. As such, I’m sure I appeared against the writers to a degree during this time; this could not be further from the truth. I simply wanted them to reach higher.

My argument not being a pipe dream leaned heavily on The A Daily Show site, and the videos their writers made on strike. Clearly, this wasn’t a tech-savvy media geek like me simply seeing all the pieces there. They were getting it.

I’ve been a fan of The Daily Show since about 1997, when it was hosted by Craig Kilborn. I saw a live taping of the show in 98, before Stewart even came into the picture. I remember watching Colbert’s first correspondent segment when it aired, and thinking “This guy will be amazing. I hope A. Whitney Brown mentors him in some fashion.” If you had told me during this time that they would eventually have an online storehouse of ~8 years worth of shows, browsable via a ubiquitous video streaming technology, all of which was feasible due to the widespread adoption of high-speed consumer broadband, advances in video compression technology, and cheap storage, I’d have hungrily bought whatever bridge or swamp land you were selling as well.

In anticipation of the strike, Viacom was able to put together this amazing digital storehouse not only for The Daily, but for Colbert’s solo masterpiece as well. Simultaneously, the striking writers were able to put up a video criticizing their corporate parent and deftly explain their stance, to the tune of half a million views plus. This is a step toward democratic media that warms the deepest cockles of my heart.

My hope was that upon receiving the audience they have with both their back catalog and their protests, they would realize that they had the tools they needed to circumvent the industry that was treating them in a way they weren’t happy with. This was the brass ring for me. To hell with DVD royalties, make the DVDs yourself. Broadcast the shows on the web. The technology is now there. The audience is now there. The ad revenue is now there. Instead of getting a better cut, I wanted them to bake their own pie.

Enter http://www.ucbcomedy.com/

During a follow-up trip to NYC in 1999, I visited a little place called the UCB Theatre. I’d become a huge fan of their Comedy Central sketch show, and was in fact favorably comparing them to The Kids in the Hall and other far more well-known sketch groups – I loved their humor, I loved their style. When I heard they had an improv theatre, I demanded many, many stops there during my visit. It was amazing to see these people I had idolized on television playing a tiny ex-burlesque stage shut down during Guiliani’s crusade against hedonism. To sit 4 feet from someone you thought was one of the most talented people on television and have them ask you questions directly, be able to chat with them after the show – it was positively amazing in ’99, and I’m glad to say it’s more possible but still as electrifying in 2008. For the record, I got an email back from JoCo about the last entry. Electrifying.

So, the UCB has continued their history of making me feel engaged with their work, as well as providing a handy example for me to use in dancing a jig and thinking that my dream may be coming true. They’ve got a setup that’s part Viacom’s Daily Show archive, and part Funnyordie.com – but all awesome. This is the future of quality content. This is how you do things on your own – and they’ve got a pedigree.

These people came from the Improv olympics, got a shortlived TV show, opened a live theatre, and today have theatres on both coasts and a video sharing site with a roster of contributers that makes comedy geeks like me positively tingle.

Even though I was arguing for it last November, I was skeptical that this would actually happen. Seeing it happen, and at the hands of one of my favorite groups of content creators ever, makes me happier than I can convey in this kind of blog.

Now if only the striking writers would stick a UCB-created Poo Stick in Hollywood’s face, and bellow “Say I’m your momma!,” I’d be positively ecstatic.

January 2008