Remembering The Comedians Of Comedy, Netflix’s First True Original Production (A Quasi-Oral History)

    Rath: It was a politically charged year. And [Patton] mentioned something, he did a joke about George [W.] Bush or something. He had hecklers. It turned bad, and he had never dealt with that before. So he is like, “I don’t want to do comedy clubs anymore. This is not good for me. And we need to get to our fans somehow.” But he and the whole alt [comedy] movement was still growing at that time, and it wasn’t as mainstream as it became within a few years.

    He and Posehn were just hanging out one day and they called me and said, “Hey, we just came up with an idea.” We were saying, “Look, we need to figure something out. Maybe you guys can go out together and cull your audiences.” And he goes, “We came up with an idea. We want to be the Comedians of Comedy, as opposed to the ‘Kings of Comedy.'” That was really big at the time. And I said, “Maybe that could work.” So we kind of put it together. We did a little show.

    In the beginning of the film, there’s footage with someone behind the camera (seemingly Blieden) talking to Oswalt about this nugget of an idea that would become the indie rock-style tour for “Comedians of Comedy,” but he’s hesitant to think that he and comedians like David Cross are the ones to make it work. I also asked Oswalt about this moment along with the inception of the tour and film.

    Oswalt: I can’t remember why that was being taped. I think we were just kind of filming everything back then. I was having trouble kind of reaching fans that I wanted to reach just being in comedy clubs because they have kind of a set audience. And then I saw what some of the comedians, including David Cross going to smaller music venues, and I think Eugene Merman was also doing that. I said, “Oh, that might be a thing for us to do.” Yeah, I don’t remember why I said we’re not the ones to do it. I think there was a lot of people that were doing it at the time, and it’s probably because it was the first show and I didn’t know that it would get as big and popular as it did. So I’m glad it did. I’m glad I was wrong.

    It was also just, I was on a sitcom, and the people that were coming to see me were people that had watched the sitcom and liked it, but they’re like, “Oh, this is a guy from that sitcom we like,” and so they were kind of expecting more family-friendly humor. And it wasn’t that I wasn’t doing family-friendly stuff, but that wasn’t completely me. So it was a chance for me to kind of, again, get out in front of the fans that would actually like what I was doing and want to see specifically me, rather than just going, “Oh, let’s just go see some comedy.”

    Blieden: I had been videotaping Michael Penn, he’s a singer-songwriter pop star from the nineties in L.A., and he and Patton were close. So I’d been videotaping Michael Penn’s performances, so I had all this footage of Patton. It was before streaming, but I think Louis CK had just made the first successful self-released comedy DVD off his website, so Patton said, “I would like to do the same thing,” and he knew that I had been taping people.

    We went on this mini road trip, just me and Patton and Zach Galifianakis. We did Athens, Baltimore, and one other city. Just a small crew. We cut it together [as] a pilot-ish thing and went into a meeting with [Netflix CEO] Ted Sarandos [seen above] and said, “Hey, do you want to…” because I knew Ted had been wanting to make original productions in comedy, and said, “Here’s what it would look like. It would be them f***ing around and then intercut with stage footage,” and he said yeah.

    Rath: It was Ted Sarandos. Ted was a comedy nerd. He loved this kind of comedy. He got it, and he just took a flyer. For whatever reason, I think he had someone working under him with [Netflix co-founder and chairman] Reed Hastings, who ran the whole thing. Ted probably went to Reed and goes, “I love this movement. This is a thing. This is the future of comedy. They’re out on tour. There’s a doc that’s coming together, I want to acquire the doc. Finish or acquire the doc.” He convinced someone, it wasn’t a lot of money, he convinced someone to do it. And it was part of an initial phase of originals they were planning. It just so happened to be one of the first. It was all Ted Sarandos.

    Blieden: Ted was awesome. He’s like, “Great, go make it,” and we shot it, and then I gave it to him. There’s no process that I’m aware of. I don’t remember a single note or anything. We showed the cut internally to people, they probably said something, but I don’t remember it, and whatever it was, it was only helpful. It was a beautiful thing.

    We reached out to Ted Sarandos in an effort to get his perspective on all this, but we never heard back.

    Bamford: I did not know any of the guys super personally. But I think Patton just asked. I think it was just through representatives. And I was delighted and available, obviously. On my end, that’s, I think, how it went. I knew of them, but I didn’t know them super well — just work ships in the night.

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