Bill Bellamy: 'Last Comic Standing's sixth season is "incredibly good"
By Christopher Rocchio, 05/22/2008
Last Comic Standing is seen as a legitimate competition amongst comedians, according to host Bill Bellamy, who said the NBC reality show's upcoming sixth-season will only add to its credibility.
"What I've noticed as the host of the show is that the buzz amongst comedians is that the show is a legitimate show, that it's fun. That's you'll get an opportunity - it'll increase your value as a comedian. Thus, we get better quality comedians coming out," Bellamy told reporters during a recent conference call. "I think this season is going to be incredibly good. We just have some really funny people with, you know, just creative, original, veiny - like so unique, you're like, 'What is that?'"
Last Comic Standing's sixth season will premiere with a 90-minute broadcast on Thursday, May 22 at 9:30PM ET/PT before moving to its regular Thursdays at 8:30PM ET/PT time slot beginning May 29. David Friedman was tapped to executive produce the show's sixth installment, and he told reporters he tried to keep the changes minimal but worthwhile.
"To me like the most important thing was not to mess with the format because it's a great show. It's been successful for five seasons," Friedman told reporters. "So I was very sort of aware of like, 'I don't want to be the guy that screws the show up.' But what I wanted to do was I felt the show needed to look a little bit larger and feel a little bit larger, and add some elements that made it a little bit more sort of well-rounded."
"It's little bells and whistles that I tried to bring in and add in production value, and I had some ideas like the talent scouts," he explained. "And little things here and there, and all along keeping in mind that the - not to screw up the format because the show is a good show."
"We sat down very early on in the process [with NBC]," said Friedman. "We really sort of went through all sort of shows, both past and present NBC shows, successful shows, and we kind of looked for talent that might have had more of a background, whether it be improv or whether it be on the standup stage. And we just kind of threw around names. And then we sort of put out feelers to see who'd be interested in it. The response we got was overwhelming."
Current NBC stars who will serve as sixth-season talent scouts are The Office stars Angela Kinsey, Oscar Nunez, Brian Baumgartner and Kate Flannery; Law & Order: SVU actor Richard Belzer; The Tonight Show with Jay Leno's Steve Schirripa; 30 Rock stars Lonny Ross and Keith Powell; and Scrubs actor Neil Flynn.
Former NBC stars who will also serve as talent scouts are Newsradio and Thank God You're Here star Dave Foley; Cheers actors George Wendt and John Ratzenberger; Veronica's Closet actress Kathy Najimy; Third Rock From the Sun actor French Stewart; Chuck actor Josh Gomez; Mad About You stars Richard Kind and Fred Willard; and The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air star Alfonso Ribeiro.
"Talent from NBC were excited to lend a hand. The most difficult thing, as you can imagine, was schedules. You know, getting different talent to different cities was the toughest challenge," added Friedman. "But everyone really was interested in doing it."
Bellamy said he enjoyed working with the talent scouts, especially Belzer and Schirripa
"Oh my God. Not only were they on point, they gave good criticism, but they were hilarious," he said. "Like they gave me stuff that you would never think they would say. It was incredible."
The aforementioned stars will serve as Last Comic Standing sixth-season talent scouts during the first five episodes of the series, which will follow the open casting call and audition process. Friedman said the talent scouts mostly worked with the show's producers and were on the same page for most of the casting process.
"You really can tell when someone's on the stage popping. We were really in tune with most, if not all, of the scouts in every city we went to," he said. "They definitely have different tastes because some come from improv and some come from pure standup. Some are just on hit comedy shows. But there is something about when someone hits that stage and makes you laugh, you know, you know it. There really wasn't a situation where we were disagreeing or like - or even kind of on different pages."
Friedman said the talent scouts "really did an amazing job and really added something this season that previous seasons didn't have."
"It really had a better impact," he added. "When you can make Dave Foley laugh or you can make Richard Belzer laugh, I mean, that's an accomplishment in itself. So it was really a successful thing."
Similar to the show's Summer 2007 fifth season, NBC went global for Last Comic Standing sixth-season auditions -- with stops in 14 countries around the world, including England, Australia, Scotland, Sweden, South Africa, India, New Zealand, Norway, Japan and Israel. Stateside stops include Los Angeles, New York City, Toronto, Minneapolis, Houston, Tempe, San Francisco, Nashville and Miami.
"I think what's important to us is to make it as big a search as possible because we have got great comics from all over the world and it's our chance to introduce those comics to America and to American television," said Friedman. "And the excitement you get when someone from the UK or someone from Australia, or someone from India or whatever, that hits our stages in the States, you get this really genuine, like, 'Oh my God, this is the American dream.' And it just makes it larger for us."
Friedman said Last Comic Standing's sixth season will feature 32 semifinalist who will be invited to Las Vegas, however he added that there wasn't a set number of comedians they were looking to cast before production began.
"There were no hard numbers. It's not like we said that in every city we're going to pick three or in every city we're going to pick five," he explained. "It really just depended on the numbers game."
Friedman said the talent on the show this year shouldn't disappoint and hinted that the sixth season might produce Last Comic Standing's first-ever female winner.
"I think this year we did see a lot of strong women," he said. "I mean, we really did and I think that's a great sign for everyone in the comedy business because it has been a difficult sort of thing for women to break through. But I think this year we have a great talent pool."
So the show isn't so male dominant, British television personality Fearne Cotton will serve as a Last Comic Standing sixth-season correspondent.
"I felt like it needed was a little burst of female energy in the show because, as Bill will tell you better than anyone, the comic world is very male dominant," said Friedman. "It's something that we're trying to change, both with our comedians and also I thought that Fearne would add a female dynamic that would really help the show."
Bellamy called Cotton a "great addition to the show" and Friedman said her impact on it was immediately felt.
"Obviously all the male comics loved her. All the females liked her because she's just that person. She's very friendly and personable," he explained. "She really added the backstage vibe while Bill was sort of hosting the show. And we saw it from every city we went to. And they worked well together, too. It was a great dynamic between the two of them."
"It's turned out to be incredible because not only are we going around giving other comedians an opportunity - we are really getting into the world of comedy and showing people how hard it is," he explained.
New to the show's sixth season will be a slight tweak of the prize package, with the winner receiving a brand new Honda to go along with an NBC talent contract deal and $250,000. Bellamy described both as simply icing on the cake for the exposure gained by contestants.
"I would have loved an opportunity like this because I mean, the viewership is so huge. It's mainstream America. You get an opportunity to perform on such a huge platform," he said. "And then you get to win some money and a comedy special, and a car. Man, you should've seen my little club car back in the day."
Bellamy said he "wanted to bring the excitement of energy to the show" -- something he thought was lacking with its other previous hosts.
"It didn't have any swagger to it... I didn't get that enthusiasm from the other hosts. So I was like, 'You know what? That's what I want to bring to it. I want to bring that kind of feeling, my personality, make it funny so the jokes aren't just the comedians doing their standup; but it's the host being funny.'"
Overall, Bellamy said viewers won't be disappointed by all that Last Comic Standing's sixth season has to offer.
"It's those intermittent fun moments with the crowd, on the street, going to these different cities, walking into an ice cream parlor and kicking it with real people," he said. "To me, I think that makes a whole hour or two hours of entertaining television."