In a meeting this morning the topic of Comedy Central was being rigorously discussed. Its shows, its stars, its programming and its brand positioning were all being dissected and I asked the question aloud “How long has Comedy Central been on the air”. Over 20 years was the answer given but the actual answer is closer to 19 years, depending on how pedantic you want to get (and I intend to get plenty pedantic).
A little background information before I get started: my family did not have cable television until late 1987 or early 1988 when we finally moved into our house in suburban Marietta, GA. Living in rural Michigan in the 80’s we had rabbit ears and nothing else. My wife assures me that this fact makes me a luddite (her family has had a satellite dish since they were the size of small moons) but I take some measure of pride in remembering PBS classics like Reading Rainbow and 3-2-1 Contact.
Being a new cable TV viewer and adolescent in the late 80’s means two things: I watched a TON of late night movies on USA’s Up All Night (I obviously preferred the dulcet tones and *ahem* other assets of one Rhonda Shear instead of Gilbert Gottfried‘s trademark voice) and TNT’s MonsterVision with Joe Bob Briggs. It also meant I was around to see the launch of two competing comedy networks: HBO’s The Comedy Channel (Launched: November 15, 1989) and Viacom’s Ha! (Launched: April 1, 1990).
I was always much more of a Comedy Channel fan. They had MST3K, The Higgins Boys & Gruber and all the brief, funny clips of Short Attention Span Theater (which was my first introduction to Jon Stewart) and Night after Night with Allan Havey (featuring announcer Nick Bakay). Ha! – at least to me – was only ever some clever animated bumpers and Mel Torme commercials. Don’t believe me? Check these out:
I won’t overload you with more than that one embedded example but you should definitely peruse these as well:
And while both networks eventually merged together to form Comedy Central, the official premiere date was April Fools Day of 1991, making the current incarnation 19 years old. Yes, if you trace the roots back to The Comedy Channel it’d be 21 or if you go back to Ha! it’s 20, but I’m sticking to my story that Comedy Central is 19 years old.
Once HBO was out of the picture, my remaining memories of the original Comedy Central are mostly related to MST3K (at least until Joel left and Mike Nelson started) and a steady diet of stand-up. Comedy Central seemed to become more like its corporate brethren MTV with all the bumpers and intros and near-constant use of Denis Leary on-air (not that I minded at the time).
Hard to believe it’s been nearly 20 years of Comedy Central. I wonder if they’ll do some kind of anniversary stunt next year. Would be neat to acknowledge Kilborn’s Daily Show or any of the old Comedy Channel talent, especially MST3K.
A TV fan can dream, I guess.
One item I couldn’t find on YouTube – a video of a show open/tune that’s been a near-constant earworm since the first time I heard it – is for a show called Breakfast Special. It was probably one of those clips shows that both networks specialized in at the time and it featured (at least in my recollection) a Frank Sinatra impersonator that may have been Toby Huss.
The theme song went something like this:
Good morning! The headlines are depressing,
have some morning comedy between showering and dressing.
Have you coffee black or with your shaving cream
and start the day the Breakfast Special way ….. (I usually just hum the rest)
If you know of a place where I can see and link to this video (or, really, if you have even the slightest idea what I’m talking about) I’d be really grateful.