Buried in the noise of absurdist sketch and twisted animation that is Comedy Central’s recently announced developmental slate, one compelling concept stands out: a new comedy series called @robdelaney. It’s a TV show inspired by the raucous Twitter feed of comedian Rob Delaney, who was relatively obscure until almost 270,000 followers helped propel him to web fame. He developed the series with co-creator and showrunner Chris McGuire (@xchrismcguire on Twitter).
While the phrases “variety show,” “Twitter mastermind,” and “Twitter trends” may sound like Sh*t A TV Exec Says, a show harnessing the Tesla coils of ever-wisecracking talent, like @robdelaney and fellow comedians on Twitter, is an intriguing experiment in how to successfully bring social media to the small screen.
Inspired by Delaney’s raucous, sometimes NSFW–and, yeah, potentially offensive as hell–tweets (sample: “HOLIDAY PARTY TIP: If the mood’s right under the mistletoe, don’t be afraid to go in for a little mistlefinger“), creators shot the pilot last November and, it’s currently awaiting pick-up by the network. Comedy Central is mum on the verdict, but Delaney himself believes the 140-characters-at-a-time messages translates perfectly to the boob tube (and not just because a fair number of his tweets are about his preoccupation of actual boobs). “What I want to take away from Twitter,” says Delaney of his plans for the show, “is the spirit of the joke that struck you and inspired you to write it right away.”
Brevity being the soul of wit and all, the notion of Twitter TV–a half-hour mix of comedy show and talk show–actually makes sense. The social media monster has long been considered the world’s largest comedy writers room. What @robdelaney has working in its favor is in its efficiency in joke-telling: A series of well-crafted tweets already have the feeling of an opening monologue and Delaney hopes that makes his show’s line sticky enough to stand out. “The ability to write a good tweet does translate well to tight TV-style jokes,” says Delaney. “Should the show get picked up, the jokes would be airtight, offering you no option but to laugh out loud. Like, ‘Goddamn it, I can’t wait to repeat that to my friends.’”
It’s not yet clear if Comedy Central is eyeing the pilot for a four-time-a-week Daily Show-style format, or more of a Tosh.0 weekly series, but one thing is certain: There’s no shortage of fresh material. Delaney can pull ideas not only from his own mind but from tweets of his ever-increasing number of followers. The show can mine for gold in the largest tract possible. “We integrate stuff that we source from the Internet,” says Delaney, “but only in an effort to produce the biggest laughs.”
To do this, they need the industry’s best dredgers to find those nuggets of gold. Among the pilot’s veteran writers like Frank Sebastiano (Saturday Night Live) and prankster Brendon Walsh is a newbie Delaney himself found on Twitter: Megan Amram. Now a comedic voice in her own right (with 125,000 of her own followers), Amram created an account after graduating from Harvard last year and simply began posting whatever funny thoughts popped into her head. Her tweets caught Delaney’s eye, who “plucked her out of obscurity” and helped her build a following with constant retweets and urgings to his substantial number of followers to add her to their own feeds. Other comedians and celebrities followed suit and, soon enough, her Tweet-writing skills landed her jobs on The Disney Channel, the 2010 Oscars and, now, this pilot. For Amram, inhabiting Delaney’s voice has been painless. “Rob and I naturally have similar joke-writing styles and he has a few themes he keeps coming back to,” says Amram.
At this point, Delaney certainly should know Twitter talent when he sees it: He’s been the medium’s biggest success story thus far. Before his tweets, Delaney was just another comedian in the nebulous muck that’s the L.A. comedy scene. But after he began posting his unique blend of surreal one-liners and horrifically disgusting sex admissions (and just as cringe-inducing Speedo-wearing avatar shot), the followers started to multiply, and legitimate offers began rolling in. Along with this Comedy Central pilot, he recently landed a book deal with Random House (“a cross between a Henry Miller autobiographical mess, a manifesto, and standup on paper”) and a column for Vice.
To be fair, though, the pilot’s not a shoe-in for pick-up. Say “Twitter TV show” and people think, CBS’s $h*! My Dad Says flop. But Delaney hopes the format–more Talk Soup-meets-Tosh.0–will appeal to Comedy Central’s young male viewers.
Stephen Falk, a writer and producer on the series Weeds, attended the pilot taping in November and left feeling optimistic about Twitter as inspiration of a series. “They’ve found a way to harness what has really become, along with the comedy club, the place for comedians to tell jokes.” That is, as long as Delaney is the host. “He’s like a really handsome Mr. Rogers,” says Falk, “who then tells you how he saw his neighbor bending over to pick up the paper and jizzed in his pants. That dichotomy is funny.”
While Delaney waits to hear back from Comedy Central, the striking and filthy Mr. Rogers will continue crafting his intricately chiseled musings on the digital stage in preparation for pick-up. “I’m a comedian, I want to make people laugh,” says Delaney. “Twitter is a tool to do that, so is TV. We might have a larger arsenal of weapons at our fingertips in 2011,” says Delaney, “but if we don’t use them to the right effect it won’t matter.”