Kevin Pollak’s Chat Show Holds For Laughs

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[show=pollakchat size=large]Comedians don’t always make the best talk show hosts, as anyone old enough to remember Chevy Chase’s failed attempt might remember, because not all comedians are both funny and likable enough to engage an audience. So here is the question worth asking before checking out the latest celebrity-tries-his-hand-at-this-whole-Internet-thing web series, Kevin Pollack’s Chat Show: If I had to pick a modern American comedian to watch talk to famous people, would it be Kevin Pollak?

Well, he’s definitely funny, and I loved him in A Few Good Men and The Usual Suspects. So I was all set with my “yes.” But when I found out that Chat Show, executive produced by Mahalo.com founder Jason Calacanis, consisted of hour-long episodes live-streamed at 5 p.m. on a Sunday, my answer got demoted to a lukewarm “maybe.”

As seen in the archived episodes, though, Pollak is at ease chatting with famous acquaintances and cracking wise. The first episode features about 10 minutes of begging on Pollak’s part for people to submit ideas for theme songs and other questions; he then turns around and cusses out the stupid responses he receives via Twitter and live chat. Then he does his William Shatner impression and tells Shatner stories for about five minutes before bringing on Levar Burton (Star Trek: The Next Generation star and Twitterer). It’s a surprisingly fun time.

Pollak seems to take perverse glee in not being ready for each live episode as it starts, which immediately sets up his engagingly informal approach. Chat Show could stand some tighter structure, if only to make sure that he doesn’t get bogged down in one gag or another. Otherwise, the appropriation of Charlie Rose’s format — black studio serving as a blank slate; interviews framed as conversations, not confrontations — isn’t an awful choice, though it renders the show’s video almost irrelevant. Wisely, an audio podcast version is available from blip.tv, though beware of listening to it at too high a volume, as there sure is a lot of audible hum.

According to TechCrunch, future guests include Felicia Day, Jon Hamm, Alex Albrecht, John Krasinski and Jon Favreau. Hopefully that’ll help spread the word, as the audience for Chat Show‘s first episode hovered around 1,000 viewers, which Pollak admitted on air was well below expectations (Calacanis had predicted 3,000, while Pollak’s own guess had been much higher). But part of the problem might be that it airs on Sundays at 5 p.m. PST, which I wouldn’t immediately assume to be prime video-watching time. I’d love to know more about why that time slot was chosen.

Chat Show‘s most obvious problem is how much Pollak’s roots as a stand-up shine through. He plays to both the small studio and large virtual audience as if they were all with him in a packed comedy club, but it doesn’t quite work in this format, mainly because instead of receiving the immediate feedback that laughter provides, he’s forced to settle with a flurry of @kevinpollak Twitter replies. That’s the problem with a live stream — try though Pollak might to make the show as much the audience’s as it is his, the communication will never quite be two-way.

13 Comments

warren

Well, I’ve been watching and downloading the podcast for over a year now. Some shows (Matthew Perry, Billy Bob Thornton…) have been particularly good. Some (more often than not the ones involving not massively well known stand-up comedians) have been overlong and tedious. Others have been downright terrible to be frank. Kevin makes for an amiable, likeable yet condescending and oftentimes smug host. He is sycophantic to the point of making me sick on occasion, especially when interviewing more famous guests. I have never seen him put his hands up and say “Sorry, I don’t know who that person is,” when a guest goes into detail about someone Kevin clearly doesn’t know. Instead what he’ll do is say “Wow,” rather unconvincingly before moving onto something else.
Why he decided to drop the whole ‘This is your show’ schtick that he adopted at the beginning – asking for viewer contributions in terms of music and ideas is painfully obvious. He had some ‘big’ name guests contribute those things instead and decided to leave it at that. He does show alarming disdain for his followers on Twitter though. Yes, he may read out your questions but he’ll probably rip the piss outta you along with it. If only he had as much balls with his guests or annoying sidekick girlfriend on occasion.
I do have my problems with the show as you can tell. I also think the format, the host and some of the guests have been truly informative and interesting to watch on occasion. I prefer to download than to stream and prefer the video option over the audio, just to see those little nuances that can mean so much in an interview situation. I hope it remains to be a free download as I would much rather skip through a couple of minutes of advertising than pay for the pleasure of watching. To be honest, I don’t think I would pay. Not because I’m tight and not because I think the show hasn’t earned it, but because this is clearly a vehicle for Kevin and his guests to flog their wares, which they inevitably always do. This is a vanity project that works nicely, both for the host and the viewer, but I’ll be darned if I’m gonna pay to hear Kevin fawn all over some guy I’ve never heard about in my life. The podcast slips in nicely alongside all the other free podcasts that I download each weel. It rarely excels above them, though the fact that it is a video podcast definitely works in its favour. Sometimes you want to have something to look at- maybe on the train or at the gym. Just something to take your divert your eye and that you can concentrate on.
So to summise I think the show is very good indeed. It could do with a little tweaking here and there for sure. The Larry King Game has never been particularly funny but it is a welcome attempt at humour at the end of a two hour interview. Personally I’d like to see more of these little games peppered in amongst the show. The Twitter Game is more succesful and again offers some light-hearted relief in amongst all the chatter. I’d like to see more of Samm Levine who is a genuinely funny and seemingly sweet guy. His contibutions are always good to hear. The crew gag at the end of the show is terrific. It’s nice to see the guys behind the scenes getting their chance to shine. Hmmm, Jaime Fox annoys me a little if I’m to be completely honest. I know that she is a major contributer to the show but it reeks a little of favouritism when she is sat there oftentimes just glaring at a screen alongside Samm Levine. Why isn’t she out of the way like the rest of the staff? Hmmmmm.
I’ll leave it on a positive note and say that I genuinely find Kevin to be funny and interesting. I wasn’t always a fan of his to be honest but he has won me round with this show. Just a little less brown-nosing of the guests and a little more appreciation for those that have taken time out of their day to watch, listen and write into the show would go a helluva long way.

Liz Shannon Miller

@Marco — the show is live-streamed at 5 p.m. on Sundays. That’s when Pollak’s audience is encouraged to tune in and interact with the proceedings. Hence, time slot.

Marco

What the hell is a “time slot”. You’ve heard of the Internet, right? Click to play?

James

I watched Pollak’s interview of Tesla/SpaceX/PayPal/Zip2 serial entrepreneur Elon Musk, and it was painful. Pollak seemed uncomfortable and intimidated while acting a bit like a sycophant with his empty praise of Musk’s endeavors (I think he just wanted to be bumped up the priority list for the new Tesla sedan). I knew Elon back in his Zip2 days (before his omnipresence), and although intelligent, he’s not particularly intimidating.

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