Set List - the live show in which comedians have to improvise entire routines from scratch – is to be made into a TV series.
Sky Atlantic has ordered 14 half-hour episodes of the show, which presents comedians with a series of unusual words of phrases around which they have to generate a spontaneous set.
It will be filmed in London, San Francisco and Los Angeles, with five US comics being flown to the UK to perform to British audiences, and five British comics making the opposite trip across the Atlantic.
The shows will not have a host, but follow the comics on stage, and talk to them afterwards about the pressure of coming up with material on the fly. Producer Paul Provenza – who also directed The Aristocrats movie and made the Green Room comedians’ talk show in America – said the idea was to ‘take the audience on stage with the comic.’
‘We’ve been working very hard to make something very different. It’s less presentational stand-up than a documentary.’ he told Chortle.
‘Stand-up on TV can be a passive experience, so emotionally uninvolving that you could answer your emails while watching, but this will have an emotional texture, a more human aspect.
‘We will be taking people who could sell out the O2 and place them outside their comfort zone – so we will have layers of interesting human drama on top of the funny. We will take the green room dynamic and capture the energy and atmosphere backstage.’
Victoria Payne who is making the TV show for indie Princess Productions called the show ‘the antithesis of Live At The Apollo’.
Provenza said he had nothing against the polished routines normally shown on TV, saying: ‘That is what the comedians want to do, honed and crafted work.
‘But Set List is like showing you how a painting is made with all the brush strokes, all the do-overs, that make the finished work what it is.’
‘The decisions we make on editing will not be based on the stand-up alone, but what is the most interesting aspects of the experience. Because I’m a comedian, my vision is going to be different from that of TV executives, and I think I’ve earned the trust of the comics taking part.’
The show was originally devised by Troy Conrad in Los Angeles, and Provenza decided to help develop it as a TV show after taking part in one of the first performances.
He said ‘I was watching the audience and they were wide-eyed, as they had never seen comedians working this way before. It was a unique experience; I walked off stage so excited I immediately wanted to make it as a TV show.
‘The first place we took it was Edinburgh, as it’s a place where comedians and audiences are up for something different, and it really caught on. We’ve since done it at festivals around the world – hundreds of times with hundreds of performers and every one has a different approach. Much like The Aristocrats, it shows “it’s the singer not the song” when it comes to comedy.’
The show is returning to Edinburgh this August, and Provenza said: ‘Comics are passionate about taking part. You wouldn’t believe the people we’ve had emails from.
‘And for the TV series, Sky are keen to have an international flavour, so we’ve got comics from Canada, the US, Australia and New Zealand alongside the Brits. It’s great we can introduce people from other parts of the world to UK audiences.’
Each show will feature three comedians, and other acts set to take part include Rich Hall, Russell Kane, Andrew Maxwell, Josie Long, Paul Foot, Tony Law, Roisin Conaty, Richard Herring, Marcel Lucont, JB Smoove and and 30 Rock’s Judah Friedlander.
The UK shows are being recorded at the Electric, Brixton, on July 4,5, 10, 11 and 12. See our free tickets page to be in the studio audience.
Here are some clips from the Edinburgh show: