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.