Reality overload

Stand-up inspires Pop Idol spin-offs

Pop Idol-style searches for new comedians are to become America's next reality TV craze.

Comic Relief has announced a talent hunt, combined with a Big-Brother style house, just a week after the NBC network announced an almost identical show.

And the producers of the black stand-up tour The Original Kings Of Comedy are also pitching a similar idea.

The Comic Relief project has the backing of Freemantle Media, which produced Pop Idol and its successful American spin-off American Idol.

The series will first focus on a hunt for up-and-coming stand-ups, double acts and teams in 14 US cities who will then live together and receive coaching from professional comics.

Comic Relief founder Bob Zmuda told Variety: "We'll be able to bring in the top bananas to deal with these contestants. We want the comedy community themselves to really find who the next icons are."

Prizes for the winner could include a talent deal, concert appearances and film roles.

The project came about while Freemantle and Zmuda were in discussions about making an American version of They Think It's All Over.

Their show is almost identical to the series Funniest Person In America, hosted by Jay Mohr, which NBC picked up last week. But producers believe the Comic Relief link gives them the edge.

Meanwhile, Kings Of Comedy producer Walter Latham has struck a seven-figure sponsorship deal for his talent search, and has been pitching the idea to network executives.

The original two-year Kings of Comedy tour, starring Bernie Mac, Cedric the Entertainer and others, grossed $39 million - a figure almost matched by the Spike Lee tour movie.

Televised hunts for stand-up talent in Britain have so far been confined to low-budget graveyard slots on ITV, or the BBC New Comedy Award which also airs late at night. The final of this year's competition will be shown at 11.40pm on BBC1 tonight.

Published: 20 Sep 2002

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