Cyber Guide: Comedy World

The technological and business operations for Comedy World are up north in San Francisco but the fledgling network's producers and on-air talent are housed in a kind of trailer park inside a 55,000 square foot warehouse in a section of L.A. known as Marina Del Rey. Producer Terry Danuser walked me around, pointing out an area of the warehouse that will eventually be converted into a theater. Although the majority of the effort is going into audio talk shows, video of the programs is streamed for those who have high-speed Internet connections. Danuser explains that a Trinity system of virtual backgrounds is used for hosts and guests, rather than building actual sets.

Danuser: There's everything and anything that you can think of that can be used as a backdrop for the host: cityscapes, farmland, flowers, a bee farm. It depends on the host. I mean, Bobby Slayton likes to perform in front of John Dellinger's autopsy photo.

Among the original content created by Comedy World: a radio play by Scott Thompson of Kids in the Hall, a wrestling talk show and an animation series called "Billy and Sprinkles" that a press release describes as the story of two child misfits who are run over by a killer doughnut, kicked out of heaven and returned to earth to wreak havoc on an unsuspecting Los Angeles. Among the nationally known comedians holding forth in front of Comedy World microphones: Eddie Griffin, Ken Ober, Allen Havey and Beth Lapides, whois known as the godmother of alternative comedy.

Announcer: Well, hello and welcome to Comedy World and The Beth Lapides Experience. Table for you??? Lapides: I'm your waittress and I'm here to help you with all of your comedy needs here at Comedy World.

Sitting in her trailer after a show, Lapides says she insists that her show be more than a parade of the usual talk show guests with a book. movie or record to promote. She takes calls from around the country on the air but, unlike some talkradio hosts in the age of the Internet, refuses to watch her show's chatroom while the programis in progress.

Lapides: After each show I try to say "What's happening in the chat room today?" Or sometimes in the middle of the show or during a break I'll talk to the producers and say "What's the chat room hot on? What are they picking up on?" You can't follow the chat room. The chat room is not there to lead and yet it's a really interesting thing to know what people care to talk about on their own that you've been talking about. I think if I watch it while it's happening, it leads me.

Comedy World's CEO, Jody Sherman, declines to divulge how many people are visiting the web site, other than to say that traffic has been quadrupling every month. Listenership is likely to increase dramatically as Comedy World programming is beginning to air on broadcast stations around the country. The network will also sells its comedy content to Sirius, the satellite radio broadcaster, which will be able to carry up to 24 hours of Comedy World programming a day. All of its programming will be archived on the web and available free. Jody Sherman says the network's archiving system is one of the web's most thorough and accessible.

Sherman: Our entire archive is annotated so every 15-minute segment has notes and you can easily find it. We have an archivist who listens to every show. They're sitting in front of a computer and listening to the whole show and taking notes. They're marking what the segment is about, they're listing who the guest is, they're picking topics and making keywords for that so if the topic is sex, they mark it as that. If there are subtopics, they mark those things. So whatever you search on will bring up segments that are hopefully relevant. And they also mark segments that they think are priceless, the best of. And that goes on to the web. Bythe end of each show, that archive is already up.

And just like the web versions of daily newspapers now allow you to email a story to a friend, Sherman says the Comedy World archive allows visitors to send the URL for a particular chunk of comedy programming to an acquaintance.

Sherman: If somebody just happens to be at the site and they're going through our archive, which we make really available to people-- you can find it right off of the home page, if they find something they like, it's very easy to tell their friends. There's a button you press and it immediately brings up a form. You fill out the person's email address, you can give them a note and off it goes.

Jody Sherman CEO of Comedy World. You'll find them on the web at For WNYC, I'm Jon Kalish in Los Angeles.