By: Ilana Michelle Rubin
The comedy scene nowadays is saturated. It’s kind of like a subway car during rush hour traffic: people packed in like sardines at risk of popping out any time, waiting at platforms, discouraged to get on by the amount of people they see. But for everyone that gives up there is a handful that sticks to it. They believe so hard in their vision that their dreams come true.
If you don’t believe in poetic analogy, just visit MNN studios on Wednesdays at 11PM. There you will find the cast and crew of The Special without Brett Davis living and breathing this prophecy.
I arrived at about 10 P.M. to MNN Studios, an acronym I still can’t say without sounding like a broken robot. For anyone in tune with the NYC comedy scene, the MNN facilities hold special meaning beyond those rooted in municipal and religious interests. It’s a portal into a world where you’ll find some of the most driven and hardworking people there are.
The show’s proprietor, Brett Davis, has been putting in his work for a while now. He’s the purveyor of experimental comedy shows like The Macaulay Culkin Show, The Tuesday Special with Brett Davis, and The Lethal Lottery. Having taken inspiration from more unconventional public access shows like Glenn O’Brien’s TV Party and The Chris Gethard Show, Davis, who has enough range to play the entire cast of a Tim Burton movie, is quick to diffuse all credit for the ideas that inspire each episode of The Special.
He works in tandem with his co-writer and show-runner, Darren Mabee and Frank Flaherty, the former being a featured player on the show. Many of Davis’ characters are ones he has performed before. Their strategy, according to Mabee: “Sitting around on a Saturday and thinking we have five days ‘till the show airs and then we’ll think of things we think are funny and try and put a twist on it.”
The answer sums up how most comedy acts begin: having an idea of what you enjoy, putting a personal twist on it, and then doing that thing.
Edmond Hawkins, The Special’s director, says that by Monday the team already has the bare bones of the episode. Throughout the course of the week they’ll continue to outline, but the show is never fully scripted. Spontaneity is another welcomed cast member at The Special, putting faith not just in the host, but in the guest stars, giving them just as much ownership of their characters as Brett has of his.
Whoever the featured player(s) is of that week, he or she also gets the opportunity to pitch ideas for characters. Speaking about Joe Pera, another NYC based comedian/recurring guest on the show, Davis says, “I wouldn’t want to write for Joe Pera. [He] has such a unique voice. Who am I to write for him?”
That’s what really makes The Special, special, for me*. It never feels like a platform for Brett to showcase his talent. Instead, he uses it to highlight his friends’ talent alongside his own. As he told me, the show is “just a way for me to show off my funny friends.”
According to Mabee, “Each week is essentially a new pilot.” To fans of the show, there are the familiar faces: Ana Fabrega, Joe Pera, Jo Firestone. But the characters they play are ever-changing.
The collaborative cast isn’t the only thing I took note of. I had arrived just minutes before a final run through of the show, but the crew had already been there for a couple of hours. Kevin Bannon**,the show’s Talent Coordinator, relayed to me that after Gethard’s ascension to cable TV some of his crew-members continued to pay respect to the local cable game by helping out with The Special, where they helped the newer show’s crew get started with camera operation, audio, and other production duties.
Since then, they’ve been training new crewmembers so that everyone can dabble in different areas when necessary. “Whenever I think I’m tired at the end of the week,” Bannon told me, “I think about how tired Brett must be and then I just go on about my day!”
It’s worthy to remember that everyone there is a volunteer; there’s no monetary incentive. They’re there because they want to be.
The show relies on the quality of the tasks being fulfilled by all of these people. MNN doesn’t give the outsiders creative input on the show, so everything you see is the brainchild of the cast and crew.
Getting the chance to record your show in the MNN studio is itself a badge of honor. But the battle doesn’t end there. You don’t venture into this sort of commitment without the willingness to put in the hours. The cast and crew at The Special without Brett Davis are fully aware and willing to go all in on this journey. It’s just like that crowded morning commute: not everyone will do it, some may phone it in, but the ones that believe in their destination will put in the time to get there.
You can watch The Special without Brett Davis on Wednesday nights on MNN at 11PM.
**Upon my arrival at MNN Kevin greeted me and introduced me to SO many people. He also brought me a Fiji water bottle and not the tiny ones! A really huge one! Fiji!