The Seven Best Forgotten 1990s Comedy Central Shows
I was a teenager in the 90s, and one of the things that helped me get through those years was watching ridiculous amounts of Comedy Central. And for a sarcastic 14-year old in 1991 with little to watch on TV upon getting home from school in the afternoons, Comedy Central was like a godsend to me. Throughout the ensuing decade I enjoyed countless hours of SNL, Soap, Dream On, The Kids In The Hall, Almost Live! and One Night Stand. And those were just the reruns! There were lots of original CC shows, like Mystery Science Theater and the early Daily Show, that I followed with a passion. But many other of their hilarious original shows are not as well remembered. Here are some of my favorites from those days:
1. Comics Only (1991-92)
Hosted by stand-up comic Paul Provenza, this half-hour talk show focused on -- as the name suggests -- comedians, specifically stand-ups. Provenza was a good host and interviewer, and he engaged in some funny antics and skits with side-kick Fred Wolf (who would later go on to work on Saturday Night Live, and do writing for a ton of movies and shows). The guests were usually pretty hilarious, and the skits were often edgier (and funnier) than the stuff you'd see on broadcast TV talk shows. I still vividly remember Bill Hicks and Jim Carrey's appearances on the show. They were both very funny, and Carrey was killing it back when nobody knew who he was. I don't know why this show was never re-run after cancellation, unless I missed something.
2. Make Me Laugh (1997-98)
The concept of this show was pretty simple: contestants would have to sit and have comics tell jokes right in front of their faces for about a minute. If they could last to the end without laughing, they could advance to the next round and eventually win. It was based on similar shows of the same name from the 1950s and 1970s, which I've never seen, but my guess is this iteration is much funnier than the other two. My most vivid memory of the show is a female comic (can't remember her name) making a joke about showering at the gym and there being hair on the soap. Then she said "Who wants to go to the gym to wash soap?" and the contestant promptly bust out laughing, as did I. In my book, this show had a great concept that for some reason never gained traction despite being tried every twenty years
3. Win Ben Stein's Money (1997-2003)
In this game show, contestants would play against Ben Stein (the "Bueller...Bueller" guy) and try to win "his" money (it wasn't out of his own pocket, but still...). If Ben won, he got to "keep" the cash, but if a contestant got the most questions right, he or she would go home a few thousand clams wealthier. Stein's often dry delivery, deadpan voice and mannerisms made him a good fit for the show, but the real humor was brought by his then-unknown sidekick, Jimmy Kimmel. He was replaced as sidekick in 2000 when he left to do The Man Show with Adam Carolla (also on Comedy Central). After that, Win Ben Stein's Money was not quite as good anymore, but it's still fondly remembered.
4. Stand-up Stand-Up (1992-1995)
A show so obscure that I had a hard time finding out for sure what years it was even on the air, it was a half-hour block of stand-up comedy clips. When I started watching, it was hosted by Wali Colins, and later on by Laura Kightlinger, among others. I was 14 or 15 at the time, and the show served as an introduction to many stand-up comics of the era. It was on often, and I watched it a LOT. Unfortunately, hardly anyone seems to remember it. But I still remember a lot of the names Stand-up Stand-Up brought to my attention: Dennis Wolfberg, Brett Butler, George Wallace, Caroline Rhea, Adam Sandler (whom I've grown to hate, but whatever), Marc Maron, Louis CK (when he had hair), Nick DiPaolo, Jay London and many, many others.
5. Exit 57 (1995-96)
Amy Sedaris, Stephen Colbert, Jodi Lennon, Mitch Rouse and Paul Dinello made up the cast of this quirky half-hour sketch comedy show. Despite only running for 12 episodes, it received wide critical acclaim. Sadly, this wasn't enough to keep it on the air. Fortunately, most of the cast reunited for the show "Strangers With Candy", which would air a couple of years later on the same network. Colbert is still with Comedy Central to this day, although he will soon be leaving to replace David Letterman on the Late Show. Every time I think of Exit 57, I'm reminded of the opening theme, a version of "If I Knew You Were Coming I'd've Baked A Cake". And also that it was weird and funny.
6. Short Attention Span Theater (1989-1994)
This nightly clip show was basically a better, expanded version of Stand-Up, Stand-Up. It had lots of stand-up clips, but also clips from HBO movies and original shows (Comedy Central was a corporate relative of HBO's) as well as the occasional guest. They would also sometimes show really old (well, old to me) clips of well-known comics such as Eddie Murphy and Jerry Seinfeld doing their acts in the late 70s and early 80s, before they got famous. I saw SAST as Comedy Central's flagship show during the early 90s, although it actually started at The Comedy Channel (in 1991, it merged with HA! to form Comedy Central). They had several cool hosts over the years, such as Brian Regan, Joe Bolster, Marc Maron and some guy named Jon Stewart (the original co-host, along with Patty Rosborough). Sometimes I still play the theme song in my head for no reason.
7. Night After Night with Allan Havey (1989-1992)
This three-hour long (!) late-night talk show started on The Comedy Channel, and continued on Comedy Central when the former merged with the HA! channel. It was an off-beat, smart-assed, somewhat experimental take on the talk show format that really caught my attention in those days. Celebrity interviews were interspersed with Havey's free-wheeling observations and weird jokes and bits. My favorite part of the show was the "Audience of One", a single person sitting off-camera who was introduced at the beginning of the show and whose job was to serve as the show's studio audience. What's Allan Havey doing now? Doing stand-up and occasionally appearing on the AMC show 'Mad Men', among other things. He was reportedly once considered to replace David Letterman on 'Late Night' before NBC settled on Conan O'Brien.