PERFORMING ARTS

Constant Comedy: How I Started Comedy Central and Lost My Sense of Humor

Ulysses. Sept. 2020. 320p. ISBN 9781646040896. $24.95. TV
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Drama drives Bell’s (Web Sightings) memoir about Comedy Central’s early days. After convincing HBO there was a market for a 24-hour, all-comedy basic cable channel, Bell helped launch the Comedy Channel. The station mirrored MTV’s format, with comedians hosting collections of comedy clips. MTV quickly countered with its own HA!, another all-comedy channel, although relying more on sitcom reruns. Bell energized his struggling channel with innovative content, such as Mystery Science Theater 3000 and HBO’s stand-up comedy library, but neither station found traction, leading to an unlikely comedy station merger and Comedy Central. Although Bell survived the merger, his Comedy Central career was precarious. Bell openly describes threats from Hollywood egos and office politics, a lunchtime meeting at a strip club that had the gravitas of a Mafia movie, and the dread he experienced at each unexpected phone call and impromptu meeting.
VERDICT Bell acknowledges that he’s taken liberties, but his unexpectedly gripping account of the early 1990s cable television scene makes for compelling reading.

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