This past Friday night, Comedy Central debuted a unique special called Mash Up, which featured a blend of standup, re-enactments of jokes, and other random video sketch pieces. It’s really unlike anything else I’ve seen on Comedy Central and I highly recommend you check it out when they inevitably rerun it.
I was particularly interested in Mash Up, because I played a small role in its creation and I think its mere existence can teach you a lot about how the business is changing.
Way back in 2006-ish, I was producing standup comedy tours. One of these tours was the High Times Comedy Tour, and when we decided to take the show to Chicago I went to the Internet to find a local comedian to be the opening act on the show.
I don’t remember exactly how I found them – maybe it was a Google search, maybe it was a local Chicago comedy blog, but I came across a group of Chicago comedians who were calling themselves Blerds (short for Blog-Nerds).
I found my way to the group’s website and discovered a huge collection of talent. Blerds consisted of 12 standup comedians who had teamed up with a filmmaker and launched a site where they all posted blog entries and videos that were shot by a young talented filmmaker named Jordan Vogt-Roberts. Here’s an example of one of their videos from that time:
At the time, the comedians were virtually unknown to anybody outside of Chicago comedy groupies, but now I bet you’ll recognize a lot of the guys as some of the fastest rising stars in comedy today. Kyle Kinane, TJ Miller, and Kumail Nanjiani are just a few of the group members who have gotten a ton of attention in the past couple years.
I wound up booking TJ Miller on our show, and meeting with the rest of the group while I was in Chicago. I thought they had a ton of potential and could use a little guidance, so I started working with the group as a producer and with a couple of the guys as their manager.
I helped Blerds spread the word about what they were doing – we took their videos off Quicktime and uploaded them to YouTube and MySpace (hey, it was 2007) where they were more likely to be seen and shared.
I helped them set up showcases in Los Angeles at the Hollywood Improv and UCB Theater, and invited industry people to come see what they were up to.
And I helped them craft web series pitches in the hopes of finding somebody to pay them to produce content.
Sure enough, things started happening for the guys as a group and as individuals. Suddenly, “Hollywood” knew about them. I helped them sell two different web series pilots to Warner Bros. and Comedy.com, and the UCB Theater showcase turned into a monthly show. Their videos took off online, generating millions of views, they got booked at HBO’s Vegas Comedy Festival and the guys started moving to LA and NY to capitalize on all the “heat” they received.
I’m not about to pretend that this all happened because of me – these guys are super talented and it would have happened anyway. But I’d like to think I was at least able to help them speed up that process by working with them to use online tools to grow their fanbase, get attention, and jumpstart their careers.
Eventually, Blerds disbanded and while all the guys have remained great friends and collaborators, they each went off in their own direction to pursue their individual careers. I’ve been thrilled to remain friends with them, and we still find the occasional project to work on together.
So what does any of this have to do with Mash Up? Well, Mash Up was directed by the Blerds director, stars several Blerds comedians, features the same re-enactment videos that were Blerds trademarks, and even feature some videos that were first seen in those initial UCB showcase shows.
In a lot of ways, Mash Up is a Blerds special, just with a different name.
Ok, so why should you care about this beyond humoring me as I take a fun trip down memory lane?
The mere existence of this Comedy Central special demonstrates the impact that teaming up with other comedians, embracing online marketing for your content, and working to create something different and unique can have on your career.
Plenty of comedians have bubbled on to Hollywood’s radar in the past couple years, but most didn’t get an hour Comedy Central special like this – only Blerds did. And the reason is because of the work they started doing way back in 2006, when most comedians thought the secret to Internet success was to buy a MySpace friend adder.
A couple years from now, somebody reading this is going to get a Comedy Central special. And I guarantee you it will be in small part because they’re paying attention and making an effort to take advantage of the amazing opportunities the Internet can provide a comedian.
I hope a couple years from now when your Comedy Central special debuts, I’ll get to write an article about how it all began for you when you read this post.
Here’s the guys who made up Blerds. They’re all hilarious – go check out their stuff.
And here’s a video that Jordan made to screen at a Blerds roast, where the guys officially declared the end of Blerds.