The Magic of Channel 101
by Jake Kroeger on November 3, 2011
Throughout the bloodlines of comedy history, one can trace many of today’s best and brightest in the comedy world to such institutions as SNL, Mr. Show, the Daily Show, Freaks and Geeks, Human Giant, and more. If you’re wondering from where the future of comedy might come, please familiarize yourself with Channel 101.
While having the Lonely Island as “alums” and more than their fair share of cameos by some of comedy’s best and brightest (The Nerdist’s own Jonah Ray is in several Channel 101 programs), Dan Harmon (creator of NBC’s Community) and Rob Schrab have created an institution that’s probably the closest thing to a true artist’s colony as there ever was in comedy.
Some of you might know the story and some might even know the story much better than how it will be summarized here. Starting from a challenge amongst friends in Rob Schrab’s living room, Harmon and Schrab have built their own “cutting edge” of comedy that needs no validation from a network, studio, or sponsor. The “channel” consists of a website and regular live screenings in New York and Los Angeles.
The rules of 101 make for an ongoing March Madness of short form TV series. Once a month, ten shows screen in front of hundreds of people, five of which are programs that are voted back from the previous month and the other five of which are brand new shiny (or not so shiny depending on production value) pilots. The audience votes for five to return, the results are tallied and announced, and then history is made. In its simplicity, Channel 101 has proved itself as a breeding ground that only need to follow the will of the audience.
There are short programs that experiment in how lo-fi or slick they can be, or how high-concept or “that’s so dumb, it’s hilarious” they can be, without worrying about all the ancillary nonsense that poisons the minds of so many talented creatives working their way up the ranks of “the industry.” The only promise, if one can make it into a Channel 101 screening, is that a few hundred people will see it during one night (and possibly more, because it just might get passed around the Internet’s water cooler). There’s no pressure of losing friends because of how your show was received, or that people might not talk to you anymore because you don’t “heat,” or even the pressure of being blacklisted, like Harmon and Schrab claimed they were after being cut from Fox.
Only two weeks ago, Channel 101 showed a TV series shot completely in the first person while switching bodies (Switcher), an episode taped and simultaneously broadcast at the same time (Sex Teenagers LIVE!), and a show that eschewed story almost completely in favor of character, Gumbel. At one point I was a screener for a film contest or two, and I never saw anything come close to how amazing the last round of 101 was a week ago. Even more amazing is the fact that Channel 101 is pretty much always like that, both in Los Angeles and in New York, every single month.
If that’s not the future of comedy, then I’ve been having delusions that my time machine made out of cardboard actually works.