Three years after MTV dropped his show, Tom Green –with backing from ManiaTV — installed a half-million-dollar broadcast studio in his living room. Hundreds of thousands of Tom Green fans now clamor each night not for their remotes, but instead for their keyboards and monitors.
By Dylan P. Gadino
For anybody else in the entertainment industry, hosting a nightly talk show from one’s living room would seem like an incredibly strange concept. And it’s not that Tom Green doesn’t own up to the oddity that is Tom Green Live; he does.
But after a few minutes of talking with the former MTV icon and star of cult-movie favorites Freddy Got Fingered and Stealing Harvard, you start to think that maybe he doesn’t think it’s as bizarre as most normal people would have you believe. Then again, you never know how seriously to take Tom Green.
Regardless, his live, streaming Web show is flourishing under the freedom the Internet affords him. Each night at 11 p.m. EST, hundreds of thousands of viewers log onto Denver-based ManiaTV.com and TomGreen.com to watch the 36-year-old host take unscreened calls from viewers and chat with celebrities — Ed McMahon, Brooke Shields, Thora Birch and stand-up comedians Norm Macdonald, Orny Adams, Joe Rogan, Judah Friedlander and Bob Saget are but a few of his past guests — from his Hollywood Hills home.
Ever since the show premiered last June, the number of loyal viewers has skyrocketed. Punchline Magazine recently talked with Tom about the direction of Tom Green Live, the problem with normal television and those pesky callers.
Obviously putting quite a unique spin on the traditional talk show. Is that because you feel there are some fundamental problems with contemporary television?
I think there’s perhaps a lack of spontaneity on television that used to exist back in the ’60s and ’70s and ’80s even. It seems everything has gotten overly scripted — even the talk shows and the 24-hour news cycle. You tune in to these things and everyone’s reading off of Teleprompters or reading jokes.
And that’s fine, but I just think spontaneity is something that may be missing from television, and I think the Internet is the perfect place to be able to do that – to, say, have one guest on a show for an hour and allow prank phone calls on the air and just allow everything to get a little crazy and not worry too, too much if it all goes to hell in a hand basket. Because that’s sort of the point, ya know?
When I think about my favorite stuff that ever happened on TV, it’s always when stuff went wrong. It gave you some real emotion, some real energy and real reaction from people, which is what we’re all watching television for in the first place – to see other people.
I liked it when Andy Kaufman got knocked out or when Crispin Glover tried to kick Letterman in the head or Letterman would get mad at some guest or when Cher called him an asshole. If you were a conservative thinker, all those moments would conceivably be the biggest disasters of the show.
I liked it when I was able to convince Jay Leno and The Tonight Show — and it didn’t take a lot of convincing, by the way — to let me get drunk on the show. We rolled out the bar cart and I said, “Hey, you guys got Jagermeister?’ And I started doing shots of Jager on the show. I proceeded to do 13 shots because each time I did one, I got a cheer. I literally blacked out on stage, I think. Pretty edgy. But it was cool that they were willing to go that far with it. I don’t think it was meant to go as far as it did, but there was something about that applause — I couldn’t stop.
A lot of people say that Letterman and Leno have lost their edge, that maybe it’s the viewers’ inability to handle off-the-wall material that made the shows a bit less exciting than in years past.
I don’t know if it’s the viewers’ fault. I don’t think those shows are necessarily trying to maintain what you would call an edginess to them. Most mainstream television shows I think are trying to amass a large audience. So if you really maintain a serious edge, you’re really not going to maintain a huge audience. Because when you really are doing stuff that’s edgy, it’s controversial and it splits your audience. So if you keep splitting it and splitting it and splitting it, it’s going to get smaller.
It’s not in the best interest for a mainstream talk show to be edgy. You’re just turning people away. But it always amazes me how many people don’t get certain things. Like when you make an anti-joke – like when you make a joke that’s funny because it’s not funny.
You would think that everyone would get that but really nobody gets that or at least it’s a small percentage of people that get it. So the more you use that technique, the fewer the people that get it, but the payoff for those who do get it is much bigger, and they enjoy it more. But you can’t get away with that kind of joke every night on a network talk show. You wouldn’t be on the air for very long.
Which is why what you’re doing has got to be so liberating.
This show is the most fun I’ve ever had creatively because you’re not sitting here going, “Oh, I want to have a really big audience.” The audience is so fragmented that you can’t really worry about the them. You’re more worried about staying honest about what you want to do in the moment. I want to be honest in the moment on the air and go on the air whenever it seems right and fun and not try to overproduce it. [ed. note: Tom can actually flip a switch and broadcast live any time of day, which he's been known to do.]
What’s the most challenging part of doing a show like this?
This is not really, in any way, a television show. You could say it’s a TV show because it looks like a TV show, so I guess it is a TV show in that sense. But it’s not made the way a TV show is made and not made the way any TV show has ever been made. I have one employee. It’s me and this guy, Logan. I’ve had Robert, I’ve had Bill — people come and go.
I built this studio in my living room. I essentially improvise a nightly talk show. It’s not what you would call a normal show. Normally, all shows in the history of television, for good reason, have many writers and producer, and they spend the week and days leading up to the show writing jokes and other material. I’m just sort of improvising. I produce it myself as well, but it’s different. I just try to set up
a set of circumstances each night that will either allow for some interesting conversation or for some strange kind of behavior.
And then I combine that by interacting with the real world by bringing in all the viewers from the computer on Skype, and on the phone — so it’s kind of a live-format thing. In many ways, it’s closer to doing radio than it is to doing a television show. I’m not doing a monologue. I don’t invite the guest to walk out from behind a curtain. It’s right in my living room. You sit down there for an hour and see what happens. It’s really fun.
Do you see anything changing on Tom Green Live some time soon?
I want to start to produce it and structure it a little more in the coming months and the coming year. It’s really budgetary right now. It’s something that I’m doing for fun with a very small budget. The sponsors have helped. Samsung has helped.
But as our viewers go up and our budget goes up, maybe I’d like to hire some writers and potentially do some more stuff on the show each night. For now, it’s kind of fun to enjoy the fact that I don’s have writers. When you have writers, the realities of doing a show are a lot different.
When you’re doing a real television show, it’s almost like you’re in an administrative position. You’re approving jokes and you’re having jokes read to you: “Ok, I like that one, I don’t like that one.” Then the jokes have to get sent up to the executives to get approved. Then he kills all the ones you liked and he wants to do all the ones that you didn’t like and then you argue about that. It’s not always a lot of fun.
But here, I have no one to argue with. There are no writers, no executives. I sit down during the show, and I have a bunch of people prank phone calling me live for an hour on the Internet with eight cameras covering it and dogs running around and parrots yapping away and celebrity guests that everybody has something to ask. Generally, something funny tends to happen.
Yeah, it’s actually really funny how a lot of times a few seconds into a phone call, you hang up on the person.
I treat it like it’s a fun game I’m playing with the audience. They’re trying to prank me as well. But I do feel we’re producing the show for the iTunes audience, which is not live and for future generations of Web-o-vision watchers. It’s not necessarily on the agenda of the show to be really courteous to the people calling in. It’s more about making it funny for the person watching.
So it’s almost fun to kind of hang up on these people calling. And I think all these people that are calling and getting hung up on understand that. I get e-mails from people saying, “Haha, you hung up on me last night, but I get it, don’t worry about it.” I don’t think anyone is ever really offended to the core.
Right, you’re not getting any hate mail.
No, people are into the whole game of it.
If someone calls with regular question though, they’ll be able to ask it, right?
Oh yeah, and they usually do. The biggest surprise to me is that on some nights, six or seven out of 10 callers just randomly taken from the Web have good questions. You could tell they’ve gone to Wikipedia and researched the guest and they’ll ask about something.
And I just hit the line, and we’re live. There’s no call screener. I had a call screener before, but I got rid of it. It started to become this TV type of wall between me and the audience. The fact that the phone is just ringing right there, and we’re just hitting it and anything could happen, is neat. There are nights when we’ve gotten like six prank phone calls in a row but that becomes kind of funny, too. Whatever happens, happens.