Comedy Central is a network that’s been on a serious upswing in the last few years. Gone are the days of a network committed to nothing more than cheap poop and sex humor with Daily Show and South Park existing on the schedule for the sake of street-cred. Today, Comedy Central is home to some of the funniest voices on television, and that’s why it’s no surprise that this year’s Paleyfest featured an honoring of the network with the help of some of its brightest stars, including Keegan-Michael Key, Jordan Peele, Abbi Jacobson, Nick Kroll, Andy Daly, Blake Anderson, Adam DeVine, Anders Holm and Kyle Newacheck.
The first question on everyone’s minds as the panel began was, how has Comedy Central seen this much of a turn around after such a prolonged period of downturn after downturn? “They’re so good at finding people with a specific voice,” said Jacobson, “[and they’re really] helpful in expanding it.” Kroll would later go on to add, “It’s a cool time to be at Comedy Central. There was a time it wasn’t.”
But cool as it may be, the voices in question don’t go through the process without the occasional note, such as a story concerning the early days of Key & Peele, according to its stars, where the show was originally going to be called Key vs. Peele and feature the two often at odds with one another. This was later followed by a story from the duo that explained how they received a note during the first season that simply asked, “Is Star Wars a thing people care about?”
However, none of the anecdotes compared to one from the Workaholics gang that detailed a time where they wanted to do a story about creating an unburnable American flag and had to wait until season 2 to even attempt it because the network was flat out against it. But when the time did come, they had no problem actually burning several flags to make the joke stick. Kroll would later clarify, regarding oversight, “[The network] is incredibly hands off with what we can and can’t do.”
In fact, it’s this hands off approach that allows all of the various programming to shine in ways that often go undiscovered until the actual shooting process is underway. “Comedy Central found out about Ilana jerking off a tree when [the first cut was sent to them],” Jacobson explained about one of the more memorable moments from Broad City’s recent history, adding, “It wasn’t my idea. We fought for it though.” This sentiment of freedom for Broad City was expounded upon further when Jacobson went into a story concerning the famed “pegging” episode, stating, “I was really proud of [that].”
Of course, freedom doesn’t mean a lack of worth ethic for any of the network’s stars. In some ways, it often makes them try even harder in the writing stage to make sure that they’ve created something great prior to stepping foot on set. “We gotta have a script,” explained Workaholics’ Anders Holm, to which Blake Anderson added, “We work really hard on our scripts.”
However, that doesn’t mean that the script is set in stone for these shows, as is the way for Key & Peele. According to Keegan, “My favorite scenes are the ones that go off the rails naturally. What you see on screen isn’t what’s in the script.” But based on the way the duo’s story continues, it’s clear a good script is very much required as the starting point for those scenes that reach a natural derailment.
According to the panel, Comedy Central even offers its creators freedom in who they choose to collaborate with. Said Jacobson, “We read all these great writers for the first season, but we just ended up hiring our friends. A lot of people we ended up with worked on the web series.” Kroll then added, “I ended up working almost exclusively with people I knew. Who do you trust [more] with a funny script, or on camera?”
As the panel closed out and questions shifted to the audience, Anderson did say of Workaholics’ future, “I think our show will only get funnier the older and more pathetic we get.” As for why he chose to end his series in its third season, Kroll simply stated, “We came to a natural conclusion with our stories.” Regarding why the format of Key & Peele shifted from stage bits with an audience to cutaways to the friends on a road trip, the duo explained, “We always wanted to see us in a car [because it’s when we] get to moments [of pure laughter]. We’re at our most whimsical in a car. [We] didn’t want to feel like we were simply playing to the live audience.”
The most important take away from the Paleyfest Comedy Central panel is that everyone at the network truly loves their job right now. It seems executives and creatives alike have come to realize comedy comes best from a freedom-encouraging environment that does nothing more than give unique voices a place to yell their hearts out. If the trend continues, there’s no reason to believe the network won’t have a long and prosperous comedic future in the years to come.