I love it when any of the themes of this blog overlap in one project, so I was tickled to read about Comedy Central’s new show, The Comedy Jam, which premieres tonight at 10 p.m. The concept is that a comedian or comic actor lives out their rock star dream by performing a song with a live band in front of an audience, and tells a story about why the song is important to them. On the first episode, Chris Hardwick sings “Wanted Dead Or Alive” with Bon Jovi guitarist Richie Sambora – a natural choice, since Hardwick sang the song the original cast of Rock of Ages – Tiffany Haddish sings the Ike & Tina Turner arrangement of “Proud Mary,” and Bobby Lee sings “Do Ya Think I’m Sexy.”
Having interviewed Jim Breuer before, I was delighted to see him standing next to Rob Halford of Judas Priest singing “You’ve Got Another Thing Coming,” which is featured on an episode airing April 12. I know how much that must mean for the guy, and I also know he’ll knock that thing out of the park. Not every song features a guest appearance from the originating artist, but there are a bunch of them to look out for.
The list of comedians who sing with guest performers – Jay Pharoah and DMX, Taryn Manning and Def Leppard guitarist Phil Collen, James Davis and Montell Jordan, Jon Rudnitsky and Kenny Loggins, Bert Kreischer, Scott Stapp and Ron “Bumblefoot” Thal of Creed, Big Jay Oakerson and Lukas Rossi, Mark Duplass and Kevin Cronin of REO Speedwagon, Fortunate Feimster and Dixie Chick Natalie Maines, Sam Richardson and Tia Carrere, and Awkwafina and Linkin Park singer Chester Bennington.
The show is based on comedian Josh Adam Meyers‘ Goddamn Comedy Jam, which started in July of 2014 and happens monthly in Los Angeles, and also inspired the one-off special on Comedy Central last August. Kreischer, Haddish, Lee, and Matteo Lane are all veterans of the live version who will appear this season. I sent a few questions off to executive producers Mike and Tim Duffy, who first saw the show in 2015 and helped bring it to television, to get some background.
What made you want to bring The Comedy Jam to television?
We had been looking for a music & comedy format for a very long time – close to 15 years. But everything we saw was overcomplicated and forced. The Goddamn Comedy Jam live show was epic and perfect in its simplicity – comics do a set and then sing a song. Our goal was to capture the energy of the live show but we knew we needed to develop it a bit… the simple change we made was making sure that every story clearly setup the song and that the segues made sense. For instance, in the special, Adam Devine tells the story of losing his virginity after a Blink 182 concert. To set the mood, he played “All the Small Things” but when he realized that’s the worst possible song to lose your virginity to, it was too late. And it created a totally new context for “All the Small Things” and created opportunities for him to call back to the story within the song itself.
Did you try to get all of the original performers to come on and play with the comedians, or did you have to pick your shots?
We tapped into our relationships with musical talent. For instance, we (Mike and Tim Duffy) had the relationship with DMX. So we got him on board and then asked Jay Pharoah if he wanted to do “Party Up.” Our Director/ Executive Producer, Joel Gallen, has tons of relationships in music because of all the music shows he’s done over the years so pretty much everybody we booked was a phone call away. Joel literally produces and directs the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame awards and has 20 years of experience in that kind of programming so we’re really lucky to have him as our partner. Every musician (and comic) who has done the show says it’s one of their favorite things they’ve ever done. Our goal is always to make it an awesome experience for the performance and to deliver best-in-class music and comedy. Judging by the first season, I think we’ve accomplished that goal.
Who did you most enjoy watching? I’m especially looking forward to the Jim Breuer/Rob Halford episode.
Jim and Rob were amazing! Picking our favorites is like asking a parent to pick their favorite child. We love them all! But Tiffany Haddish doing “Proud Mary” is one of the greatest moments we’ve ever produced on TV. Other standouts for us were Fortune Feimster doing “Goodbye Earl” with Natalie Maines. Mark Duplass with Kevin Cronin from REO Speedwagon. And of course, Bert Kreischer singing “Higher” with Scott Stapp from Creed. I mean, how cool and hilarious is that? Making this show is a dream come true. But the moment to watch out for is at the end of the 1st episode when Bobby Lee literally lets it all hang out after singing “Do Ya Think I’m Sexy.”
Were you surprised at any of the comedians’ musicality? Or did you look for comedians you knew were musical already?
For the most part, we chose comedians who had musical confidence. Our number one rule in booking was to only book people who, good or great, wanted to showcase their musical chops. Some are better singers than others but, as comedians, they all bring a world class performance to the stage. We think viewers are going to be pleasantly surprised at the level of musical talent showcased on the show. After all, this isn’t karaoke — this is rock-n-roll, so we chose badass performers who were ready to rock.
Were royalties ever an obstacle to what songs you could present?
No. We cleared every song we wanted thanks to our amazing clearance producer, Joel Gallen’s relationships and Comedy Central’s willingness to pay the necessary fees.
Would you say Lip Sync Battle helped clear the way for this?
No. Lip Sync Battle is its own type of show. Since they don’t actually sing, it’s more about the choreography and the spectacle. Our show features amazing musical talent so, in that regard, we share more of our DNA with shows like The Voice and America’s Got Talent, except we’re a comedy-first viewing experience.
How involved is Josh Adam Meyers in what we’ll actually see on screen, apart from the After Jam?
Josh is such a rock star! On the TV show, you’ll see him in the documentary segments here and there, but you’ll always hear his raspy rock star voice introducing the performers. He is the beating, dancing, bleeding heart of The Comedy Jam. We love us our Josh Adam Meyers and couldn’t be more appreciative of him allowing us to co-parent his baby and make it into a TV show. But that After Jam digital series is a wild ride that showcases Josh’s talent in a really unique way.