When Walter Latham’s Comedy After Dark premieres this Sunday, Feb. 24 at 12:30 am on Comedy Central, it will not just be about the laughs. Sure, headliner Michael Blackson and comedians Kelly Walker, Steve Brown, Damon Williams, Howie Bell and Darius Bradford will deliver exactly what urban comedy fans desire, but for the show’s creator, Latham – the man behind the game changing, career-launching Original Kings of Comedy feature film and tour – this night of entertainment symbolizes a new order in the world of comedy.
Ever since Louis C.K. self-released Live at the Beacon Theatre in December of 2011, well-established comedians who had already enjoyed respectable paydays and a level of popularity not realized by most of their contemporaries, began revaluating the way they do business. Jim Gaffigan and Aziz Ansari were the first to follow the direct-to-fan model, releasing their latest hour specials through their websites.
Eventually, they proved this new model could co-exist with traditional distribution methods; Gaffigan’s special Mr. Universe was released through Netflix’s streaming service and aired on Comedy Central and then released commercially through Comedy Central Records. Ansari’s Dangerously Delicious was similarly serviced through Comedy Central and Netflix. Comedians Rob Delaney, Joe Rogan, Maria Bamford and Ari Shaffir are just a handful of others who have since embraced similar strategies to great effect while comedians like Moshe Kasher, Todd Glass and Tom Rhodes have recently released new hours exclusively through Netflix.
But now, in the midst of this still-new hybrid distribution method, Latham is twisting an already twisty process. “You don’t have to play by the rules of the Wild Wild West,” Latham tells Laughspin. “This is an opportunistic time, if you know what you’re doing.”
Latham knows what he’s doing.
Comedy After Dark was born from a deal Latham made as part of the YouTube Original Channel Initiative, wherein the video site’s parent company Google kicked in $100 million to develop original, premium content. The official Walter Latham Comedy channel launched in July of last year and began featuring daily programming; every Saturday a new episode of Comedy After Dark – a stand-up show hosted by porn star Jenna Jameson, model/actresses Rosa Acosta and Carolina Catalino and hip-hop star Trina – would premiere.
“Six months into the YouTube deal I learned the digital space is moving so fast, that YouTube sometimes doesn’t even know where it’s going,” Latham says. “So I decided I’m going to play this game, but play it by my rules. We’ll fulfill our obligation to deliver exclusive content for one-and-a-half years but then we’re going to exploit it on television.”
Part of doing things on his terms includes using the Google money not only to shoot the high-quality programming YouTube wants, but to also shoot as much extra footage as possible, which, per his three-year contract, he can use however he sees fit.
Latham says Comedy Central will air Comedy After Dark four times in 30 days. “After that, it’s gone and I could then sell it back online,” he says, adding, “Who’s going to give you the most money for it? Netflix. You want to go back to the Internet, but you want to go back stronger. Netflix pays the biggest licensing fees.”
To that end, Latham is prepping Comedy After Dark for an exclusive streaming deal on Netflix, which, to his benefit won’t limit his ability to further distribute the project. He’s also in the midst of brokering deals with services like Amazon’s Instant Video, where users can rent or download to own.
The life of the stand-up special then returns to its original home on the Internet (not that it ever left) for a much more sustainable life online– not to mention more exposure for all comedians involved than if these videos simply lived and died on YouTube. There’s 40 episodes of Comedy After Dark online as well as hundreds of other videos spanning the Original Kings of Comedy, classic stand-up clips and the original mock-reality show Beauty & the Beast— all of which will likely enjoy a bump in viewership thanks to the power of Comedy Central and the million or so viewers who’ll tune in on Sunday.