Multimedia: Jokers Mild
The live webcasts of the U.S. Comedy Arts
Festival’s Seinfeld panel and
Stiller reunion were nothing to laugh at.
by David Kushner
In cyberspace, no one can see you wince. That should have been the motto for the live webcasts from the fifth annual U.S. Comedy Arts Festival in Aspen, Colo., March 3-7. Despite some serious star power, the event was just plain bad–and thanks to the Net, it was worldwide.
Last year the festival made a media splash by assembling thesurviving members of Monty Python’s Flying Circus; unfortunately, fans without HBO didn’t get to see Terry Gilliam “accidentally” spill the late Graham Chapman’s ashes on the carpet. Uncertain of cable coverage this time out, the USCAF teamed with online portal Excite at www.uscaf. com to simulcast the cast reunion of The Ben Stiller Show and a dialogue with Seinfeld co-creators Jerry Seinfeld and Larry David.
In theory, the March 5 Stiller audiocast was a no-brainer.
Though the Emmy-winning sketch-comedy show aired on Fox for less than a year, its skewering of early-’90s pop culture inspired a cult following and launched the careers of Janeane Garofalo, NewsRadio’s Andy Dick, Mr. Show’s Bob Odenkirk, and, of course, big Ben himself. But the creative spark behind such classic Stiller bits as the U2 bar mitzvah concert fizzled at the USCAF.
The cast simply didn’t have anything to say, funny or otherwise: “Boy, I don’t know where to go with this” was moderator Andy Richter’s most resonant refrain. More disappointingly, Excite did nothing to augment the audio streams: no chat rooms, no color commentaries, no live questions from surfers. The essence of a webcast is the quirky interactive features you can’t get on radio or TV, but when Dick spewed out an incoherent rant against his cast mates, there was no way to ask if he was really wasted
or just being arty.
Excite was better prepared the next evening, when David and Seinfeld (in town to receive the American Film Institute Star Award) were interviewed by Bob Costas. First off, you could watch the event via streaming video this time, so there was the novelty of seeing David and Seinfeld together, explaining how they’d selected the cast and battled NBC execs. (David confessed that he discussed the word penis so many times with one network censor that he started to find her attractive.)
Unlike the Stiller reunion, though, the Seinfeld event featured a so-called cyberhost–comedian Steve Marmel–who filled in the gaps before and during the show. The bad news was that Marmel’s witty asides were all prerecorded; worse, the same lame man-on-the-street interviews were played over and over again.
Watching crooning comedy duo Kravits & Jones perform their cutesy Seinfeld song parody was painful enough the first time around.
Elsewhere on the site, Excite pumped up the coverage with updated photos and glib daily reports (perhaps fortunately, the festival’s Web coverage has not been archived). Still, it’s not enough simply to dump an offline event onto the Net and rely solely on the novelty of the broadcast. Cybercasters have got to
start thinking, at least in part, like old-media producers: Write bits ahead of time, hire a live host, and, in general, don’t be afraid to cut away if the shtick stinks. Because when a comedian flops at 28.8, the death isn’t just slow, it’s painful.
Ben Stiller reunion audiocast: D David and Seinfeld webcast: C-
Entertainment Weekly, 03-26-1999, pp 92, Copyright 1999 Time Inc.