Sunday, December 04, 2005

Almost Live is Almost Jive

Re-runs of Embarassing Seattle Sketch Comedy Show Still Pollute Local Airwaves

An alarming trend has awakened the need for the Seattle Tattler to speak out against unfunny sketch comedy show Almost Live. Why? Because KONG-TV now plays re-runs of the show (which ran from 1984-1999) every weeknight at 11:30 and that makes me wonder why something new and fresh is not in that same time slot. The show that was never really alive to begin with comedically now refuses to die.

According to the imdb Almost Live "had a short run on the Ha! network (which eventually evolved into Comedy Central). Despite their producing some non-Seattle-centric skits, it never caught on with a national audience." That's because the show never represented the real Northwest, just the uninspired, timid, undaring "spirit" of a dozen or so bland, corporate white people.

John Keister - falls short in the laugh department even with local material that would seem to write itself

The Almost Live Reunion Special on September 12th was a failure. It was mostly a re-run of skits from old episodes, with a few new bits thrown in - recyling their themes of mocking Seattle's poor. As part of the "where are the cast members now" opening skit host John Keister is seen working at Dick's burger joint. Flipping burgers is not a joke for literally millions of Americans. The "Folk Songs of South King County" infomercial and the "Studs of South King County" skit make fun of the poor, with their trucker hats and their chewing tobacco and their bad hair. I'm not sure that such material is funny to many of the residents of South King County, a place with a Wal-Mart and lots of people walking around looking like they bought their clothes there and then ate at Wendy's. Almost Live's ongoing joke of mocking non-yuppies was played to death and then some, and then ressurected for the special.

Rare appearance of black people on Almost Live, playing stereotypical burly thugs.

John Keister, Pat Cashman, Tracey Conway, Nancy Guppy, Bob Nelson, Bill Stainton, Steve Wilson, Joel McHale and Ed Wyatt appeared on the reunion special, and frequent guest Bill Nye did an uninspired bit with Keister. Nye achieved international fame as his 'science guy" character with Disney. Bob Nelson, Keister's less unfunny counterpart and writer of some of AL's more passable skits, just wrote the screenplay for a movie called Nebraska, to be directed by Alexander Payne of "About Schmidt" fame. Perky, petite and persistent oddball Nancy Guppy remains a local media personality as the host of City A Go Go on the Seattle Channel. Tracey Conway suffered a near fatal heart attack because of an undiagnosed genetic defect, and then did a deadpan serious tv commercial for a local health clinic. Pat Cashman is a popular local media personality on radio and tv. He has an uncanny resemblance to Bryan Cranston, who plays the dad on Fox TV's Malcom in The Middle and has been appearing regularly in TV roles since the days of CHiPs.

Almost Live cast (with Pat Cashman look-alike Bryan Cranston in inset)

It is tragic that the resources of an entire tv studio, a large crew, and the broadcast time which Almost Live has managed to soak up over ten years could be squandered on a show that is unfunny and unreflective of the true northwest comic spirit. The folks behind Almost Live, particularly the host John Keister (Keister means "ass" in Yiddish) were given a golden opportunity to do something funny that would put Seattle comedy on the map. The point is not that the Almost Live folks were overseen by a corporate parent and perhaps unable to do anything remotely daring, political or funny because of this, the point is that the goddman show is still running Monday through Saturday (King/Kong has a long tradition of running late nite Almost Live re-runs after Saturday Night Live) which is an embarassment to our city and an insult to our multiethnic history and culture, and is also blocking the opportunity for some new group of comedians who are passionate to do a locally based show. I know they are out there.

John Keister and Bill Nye - can you guess which one has aged terribly?

Almost Live host John Keister and the five other caucasian cast members played to an exclusively white audience in their homespun ripoff of Saturday Night Live. There are no minorites in the studio audience at all, to the best of our knowledge. (TATTLER CONTEST! Videotape a re-run of Almost Live and find us a non-white audience member. WIN $5!)

Stay tuned for future Almost Live updates from the Seattle Tattler!


Anonymous Stephanie said...

Loved Almost Live. Can't believe how much great comedy they put out despite having virtually no budget and very little support. (King 5 barely tolerated them from what I understand...TV stations are used to extremely large profits and this show only provided them with large profits.) The Reunion Specical also had no budget and reminded me of how much I enjoyed those old skits.

Unfortunately, they can't release it on DVD because they used a bunch of music that would have to be licensed, which of course would cost millions.

I know you don't think it had any value, but I loved it growing up and still remember it fondly today.

1:09 PM  
Anonymous cj said...

While you're right on about the lack of minorities on Almost Live!, I don't think it was nearly as bad as you're saying. I mean it was just kind of fun piffle, and I don't think it was their intention to give this all-powerful voice or image to the Pacific Northwest (not saying that you said this, I'm just kind of thinking out loud here). I have to say I kind of miss the show, because it DID end up giving a voice to a lot of funny things about Seattle, a city that often feels faceless. What about East Side Story? Ballard Driving School? Those were hilarious sketches. Of course for every East Side Story there was a Worst Girlfriend in the World, but you take what you can get. Seattle takes itself too seriously and Almost Live! was a fun way to take the piss out. I always laughed harder at AL than I did at SNL, a show that manages to get more half-assed and smugly self-referential with each passing episode.
Anyway, interesting points, it was a good read, just wanted to give my spects to the AL crew.

1:12 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

AL was definitely a product of it's time period, and as such wasn't concerned with racial parity and overly sophisticated and cutting edge type comedy. It was on KING 5 for crying out loud. I guess you could say, in that respect, the material hasn't aged well, but there's something to be said for goofy simplicity. Especially in a city where artists and people who consider themselves serious consumers of art take everything so seriously that all the enjoyment is sucked out.

3:24 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Blow me - Almost Live rocks. Old Seattle lives - die yuppie scum!!!

3:59 PM  
Blogger LAB said...

Goodness, I’m so happy to know that people here think that show is unfunny. I moved to town about three years ago and I’ve always been dumbfounded if people in Seattle really like that show! To me it always seemed a mild step up from a skit at a high school talent show making fun of the teachers or something. Are people sitting around like “haahaha oh shit…the Kingdome…that’s great!”

It's not like moving here I expected to get my yucks from locally produced television, but that show is PAINFULLY bad. When the Vern Fonk ads are giving you a run for your money in late night comedy that's saying something.

4:53 PM  
Blogger Seth said...

It's ironic that you'd call Almost Live an example of corporate blather--that's exactly what it wasn't.

It was a locally-produced television program, hiring local actors, local sound guys, local costume designers. Sure, it was sometimes unfunny (especially towards the end of the show's run) but what are the free TV sketch comedy options now? Soulless, corporate, brand-driven drivel like MAD TV and SNL.

We were lucky to have local comedy as good as Almost Live in Seattle, and I don't think it's a coincidence that we have so many talented comedy groups here now.

If you are going to rant about corporate/white/establishment entertainment, turn your gaze at what passes for local TV these days--knockoff syndicated bullshit like "Gimme The Mike," and "news reports" about the latest Washingtonian to appear on Survivor.

I'd rather watch Almost Live reruns any day.

4:54 PM  
Blogger Willis said...

I grew up watching Almost Live, and in the early 1990s it was the only funny thing on TV in its timeslot (I'd usually watch AL, then go to bed before SNL - because SNL in the early 90s SUCKED hardcore).

So step on off your pedistal, buddy, and give AL some credit.

How can you go wrong with the Lame List, Green River Dance, and Ballard Driving School?

4:57 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I grew up on Almost Live, and even in fifth grade I knew it sucked. Sure, I watched it anyway, and there was the occasionally funny local reference, but christ that show was bad!

Man I can't believe y'all are in here talking about how awesome Ballard Driving School was!

AL: "People in Ballard are OLD"
Y'all: "LOL It's funny b/c it's true!"

5:24 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

AL sucks hard! I think this Blog speaks the truth, plain and simple.

2:08 PM  
Blogger Doug A Scott said...

Maybe we weren't watching the same show. Because they made fun of the rich a hell of a lot too. It was a fun show with some great recurring material.

This (mercifully defunct) blog now goes on the Lame List.

Now, lighten up, or we'll have to sic Speed Walker or Billy Quan on you.

Almost Live forever! :-)

4:38 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

That show holds a perverse appeal, for all the wrong reasons.

Of course everyone I ever knew or ever talked to found it DREADFUL AWFUL and thoroughly unfunny and unwatchable.
They will forever refer to the show as "Almost Funny"

People would go running from the room when it came on! (and still do)

For me the most aggravating flaw with the show boils down to the name and logo itself:

Small word = almost
Giant size word = LIVE!

As if that's funny. As if the word "LIVE" is funny or exciting.

They make the word 'LIVE' the big emphatic important word, and the word 'almost' the modifier/secondary tag-on word.

Well and good. And predictable and boring. And not-funny.

Make the word 'ALMOST' the big important word.
and make the word 'Live" the little modifier tagged onto the bottom.


The show is called ALMOST... and this is ALMOST "live"

That's all I have to say about that.

p.s. Those Vern Fonk ads truly ARE brilliant and strange and funny.

12:03 PM  
Blogger script180 said...

Material still stands up. It was a regional show in Seattle people, so in that sense inside but the talent was big.

1:42 AM  
Blogger SpoogeGod said...

Okay, I have issues with this.

One: Bryan Cranston and Pat Cashman are alike only as much as jalepeno peppers are similar to chocolate. Seriously, look up pictures of them, as well as watch comparisons in acting. There is no comparison.

Two: For the whiners, imagine if SNL (also produced by Lorne Michaels) was composed of roughly 2/3 jokes about New Jersey or Long Island residents. Would that be considered as "funny"? Every time it aired? 10-20 years down the line? Hell, most towns and cities outside of Seattle have evolved since the 90s, yet if you were to go by Almost Live's jokes, we're still corn shucking tobacco chewing inbred rednecks, even as far north as Kent! If people are basing their opinions and "cultural" observations purely on Almost Live, the only civilized place in the entire Puget Sound, is the hipster capital of Seattle. Seriously, this is the only city on the face of the planet that has a totally outdated image across the US, and prides itself on it.

2:25 AM  

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