The Paley Center for Media, which has locations in both New York and LA, dedicates itself to the preservation of television and radio history. Inside their vast archives of more than 150,000 television shows, commercials, and radio programs, there are thousands of important and funny programs waiting to be rediscovered by comedy nerds like you and me. Each week, this column will highlight a new gem waiting for you at the Paley Library to quietly laugh at. (Seriously, it’s a library, so keep it down.)
In the past I’ve covered a number of panel discussions held at the Paley Center for New Media ranging from 30 Rock to Sid Caesar to what it’s like to write for Late Night with Conan O’Brien. Admittedly, those aren’t all that different from one another, but what do you expect from a column that deals exclusively in comedic content found at the Paley Center? Generally these affairs are quiet, rather dignified evenings in which we learn about the behind-the-scenes processes, some laughs are shared, and a grateful audience gets an opportunity to ask the creators of their favorite shows a few questions, face-to-face. Aziz Ansari, Rob Huebel, and Paul Sheer of Human Giant elect to shoot t-shirts into the crowd while yelling, “How’s everybody doing in the Paley Center? And all those slack motherfuckers in the closed-circuit room?”
On April 1, 2008, in the midst of their second season on MTV Aziz, Rob, Paul, as well as co-Human Giant/director Jason Woliner, executive producer Tom Gianas, and writer “Jim” (a horrible writer portrayed by Jon Glaser) were joined together in a panel discussion moderated by comedian Eugene Mirman. From the moment that the President of the Paley Center, Pat Mitchell, hands over the reigns to Eugene, it is immediately clear that this panel is going to be very different from the usual fare offered at the museum. First Eugene makes fun of Pat for mentioning the fact that he did the voice of a potato for the Food Network. Then he introduces the T-Shirt Squad.
In what is probably the only instance of a Paley panel beginning with a live sketch, Human Giant comes out in character, runs around the front of the stage and makes everybody in the audience get pumped up by performing a cool chant: “I promise! I will not sue! The Paley Center for New Media! If I get hit in the face with a t-shirt!” They fire their t-shirts into the crowd from their scary-looking t-shirt cannons, then put on stockings and reveal that this is in fact a robbery. Rob is killed in the process, then Aziz double crosses Paul before Paul reveals that he, and everyone in the audience, are undercover cops. Paul is shot in the back with a t-shirt and Aziz tells the audience to enjoy an episode of their show before the panel.
When they return, a fairly traditional Q and A begins, except for the part where everybody, including the moderator, is constantly doing bits (including Jim, whose existence is as a bit). Eugene acknowledges this when he gives his lead off-question about their writing process, before explaining that he’s going to toss-off all of his questions but they’re actually sincere. Executive producer and SNL-alumn Tom Gianis answers that the first thing they do is “fit all these crazies for straightjackets. It’s like an asylum!” Huebel then tries to give an answer, beginning “We get into a room,” before Eugene interrupts, “Boring!” Aziz then picks it up from Rob and explains that they get into the room with their head writer, “former Bull Scottie Pippen.” Paul then attempts to describe the idea that all of the members of Human Giant must approve a sketch idea before it appears on the show, saying that it’s “incredibly hard. You can have a funny idea, but everyone else has to-“ Eugene breaks in and interjects: “Ruin it!” However, after a short while everyone settles down and the show is actually discussed, but at least the distractions are entertaining along the way.
Due to this “writing by committee” approach, there are a few sketches that didn’t end up making it. These include one inspired the then-recent movie 21 in which a group of college students bring down a blackjack table, only in the Human Giant sketch they would be bringing down a buffet table. The laughter from the audience at this description promoted Aziz to gloat, “So, fuck all you guys, because they laughed at it!” A sketch that made it past the pitch and into the script stage but was never filmed involved the guys getting into a car accident that severed all three of their penises. When they were reattached, no one got the correct penis. No one could remember what happened as a result of this mix-up. And then of course, Jim the bad writer had a number of ideas that weren’t used such as a cop who drops his badge and says “my badge” instead of “my bad,” and a guy at a rave who says “don’t glow there.”
One of Human Giant’s contributions was their introduction of Bobb’e J. Thompson to the world of comedy, but they weren’t always so lucky with all of their casting as they tell us. For example, in the sketch Gas Guzzlers which takes place in Texas, one extra asked Aziz if he could put in some fake hillbilly teeth to “up the comedy.” Deflecting, Aziz told him to talk to director Woliner. Instead of doing that, the man quickly slipped the teeth in each time action was called which forced Tom and Jason to have to discuss on their own whether or not those were his actual teeth before eventually telling him to stop it. This inspired “consultant” Jon Benjamin (legally they couldn’t be called writers) to write a sketch in which an MTV executive sees the dailies, gives the hillbilly teeth guy his own show, eventually leading to the teeth alone hosting Saturday Night Live.
Another sketch featured a millionaire of the Monopoly Man variety, played by Larry Sherman from the film North by Northwest, offering Aziz and Rob a million dollars to have sex with Paul. They allow it; he throws Paul into a limo and has sex with him. The two men were in their boxers for the scene, and in addition to those, wardrobe provided them with jock straps and briefs to wear, which Larry apparently did not elect to put on. During the filming of the scene Paul describes suddenly feeling something that was “neither thigh, nor butt” on his back. Jason describes holding a camera and suddenly noticing something that looked like an old leather purse, but his mind was unable to process what he was looking at.
The group also reached out to some A-list celebrities for some incredibly small roles, who proceeded to turn them down. Vin Diesel was approached to play himself in a sketch entitled Osama Bin Diesel and his agent almost instantly responded, “Sorry, this one’s not for the Deez.” Tom Selleck’s agent refused to do a sketch that referenced Magnum P.I. a lot because Selleck was trying to distance himself from the role. However, when they asked someone who knew the actor for his email address they learned it was “something like firstname.lastname@example.org.” According to his agent, “John Malkovich will only play ‘John Malkovich’ when Spike Jonze is directing,” and Phillip Seymour Hoffman’s agent told them that the actor was out of the country just as, in a massive cosmic coincidence, the actor walked right by them in Washington Square Park. But they got Bobb’e J. after bribing him with a Playstation 3!
The Q and A with the audience was no less unusual than the panel itself. The first question comes from Brett Gelman identifying himself as “Jorey Fields,” who is very combative and demands to know why he wasn’t cast in the show. He tries to audition for the guys on the spot by performing an original monologue which is just stolen from Goodfellas, and an original character named Jaques French Fries who is just Borat. Jackie Clarke, wearing a neck brace, complains about the content of the show as “Pam Queefy” from the Parents for Responsible Media organization. When told that if she doesn’t like the content she can just change the channel she responds that she doesn’t have that kind of control because of Chablis. Paul assumes Chablis is her teenage daughter, but no. She’s just referring to the white wine. Another audience member asks if they’re going to bring back “Get Up and Go.” Rob angrily corrects her that the sketch is called Let’s Go and Paul reveals that that is his mom, and she has asked this question of him and the rest of the group numerous times. He then shoots her down and tells her that that sketch will not be coming back. I don’t think that third one was a bit.
Through this unorthodox, but thoroughly entertaining panel, it’s clear to see what made Human Giant such a fun show to watch: the people that worked together obviously enjoyed each other’s company. The fact that people were able to goof around and build on each other’s ideas in a relaxed environment no doubt helped immensely and encouraged the creativity that is evident in the sketches they produced.
Unfortunately, at no point in the evening did anyone mention the sketch Corn Maze which means I had to write this clunky sentence in order to link to it in this article.
Ramsey Ess is a freelance writer for television, the head writer of his website, a podcaster and a guy on Twitter.