Tomorrow marks the 25th Anniversary of Comedy Central, formed April 1, 1991 via the merger of HBO’s The Comedy Channel and Viacom’s competing Ha! Along with breakout series including The Daily Show, South Park, Chappelle’s Show, Inside Amy Schumer, Key & Peele and Broad City, Comedy Central has ensured stand-up specials remain at the programming forefront. Former Insomniac host Dave Attell, whose Comedy Central Presents, album Skanks for the Memories and hour Road Work special are among the network’s 25-year highlights, explains why specials are so important for both developing and longtime comics.
Up until that point it was really just doing a TV spot on a late-night talk show, Letterman or Leno. Comedy Central Presents was another thing. That was the first long-form, 23-ish minute option. It was definitely a cooler vibe in terms of pressure. There weren’t the same standards as the networks.
Then they started giving out the hour specials. Up until that point, HBO was what everyone was pulling for, and really no one else was in the business of the hour special. So that was cool, because a lot of us don’t rate an HBO special. That’s a very select group of specials.
They would run them a lot, and it would really help you on the road. You did an hour special, and if it was well-received, that was almost a guarantee of doing really well on the road, with selling seats and booking work. There’s some guys who basically popped hard off of Comedy Central. Dane Cook, his half-hour special there really did help propel him to the next level. And there’s a lot of stories of people like that, who banged out a special over there and it really did put them in the position where they could headline anywhere in the country.
Getting an hour on Comedy Central is something you shot for. Even though there’s commercial interruptions, they’re still pretty good with not filtering the language. They would put it in their programming loop and just play it and play it and play it. You’d be like, “Hey look, it’s on at 1 o’clock, then 10 and 12, and now three in the morning!” They would play it a couple times a week for months. You would do an hour, get about 2 or 3 thousand DVDs, head out on the road, and just start counting money. They really forced you to write new material and start getting back there and work on the next hour.