In 2014, local comedian Adam Cohen decided to develop a sitcom, an autobiographical comedy called “Your Pal Adam.” He scripted and storyboarded it, he recorded the pilot, and then, after all that prep, he put on the brakes: This isn’t how things are done anymore, he told himself.
“The landscape in terms of selling a TV show these days has changed,” Cohen says. “Networks are more likely to find properties that are viable, that have already proven they resonate with an audience.” Years ago, he tried the classic model. He developed a pilot for Cartoon Network. It took three years, and, in the end, the network didn’t spring for the show; it didn’t pass a focus group. He wasn’t willing to go down the same wormhole for “Your Pal Adam,” but he wasn’t giving up either.
So he came up with four shows, presented as animated shorts under the Band Candy umbrella. “Badges” revolves around the naive philosophizing of two adolescent Scouts; “Socks” stars a bitterly cynical housecat; “TMI” is a rapper with a self-explanatory name; and “Chuck and Zane” are co-workers who take hard-right rhetoric to absurd extremes.
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On these shows, Cohen collaborates with local comedians – stand-up acts he has met and befriended during his four years on the local circuit.
Launching at SPARKcon
It’s a busy scene indeed, worthy of an entire subsection of this weekend’s massive SPARKcon festival. ComedySPARK features seven distinct events, of which Cohen is involved in at least three: The Band Candy Launch Party Thursday night is one of these. At the event, Cohen and other area comedians will do stand-up and show sneak peeks of videos. After the show, he’ll stick around to draw pictures for attendees.
Additionally, Cohen co-produces the Dangling Loafer, a monthly stand-up showcase at Kings, with fellow comedian Shane Smith, and he came in second at Goodnights Comedy Club’s North Carolina’s Funniest competition this year. With all this experience, Cohen has learned not to put all his eggs in one basket; instead of one show, Cohen is launching several, seeking a YouTube subscriber base, and seeing which, if any, of these catches on.
“Television is dead; it’s dying,” says Ryan Higgins, who voices Socks the Cat and one of the Scouts on “Badges.” “All these major networks are buying Web series left and right. They’re finding people that are doing it on their own instead of hiring studios.”
In this landscape, sketches from TV shows can end up more popular as viral content than in their original context, or networks’ websites can be just as robust as their traditional programming. Online Adult Swim shorts “Too Many Cooks” and “Unedited Footage of a Bear,” for instance, boasted 8.8 million and 1.7 million YouTube views, respectively, as of early September.
Strong local scene
Cohen’s ambitions are realistic, though. His youngest child graduates high school in four years, and he’d like to take his comedy on the road by then. “I figured, get this channel going, maybe over three or four years get a following to where I can book a tour with the Band Candy comedians,” he says. “At the same time, pitch these shows to TV networks. There’s all kinds of outlets that need content online and on TV, more than ever.”
Thomas Dixson, who voices TMI, also feels that’s the direction things are going. “It’s not so much about trying to find larger entities to latch onto as it is about doing your own thing, putting it out there and seeing how people react,” he says.
Dixson started doing stand-up about 3 1/2 years ago, he says, and he met Cohen and Higgins through that scene. It’s a small group, and you can get to know most of the local comedians in about a month of actively doing stand-up in various clubs.
“The amount of talent around here is incredible,” Higgins says. Unlike in many scenes, he says without naming any names, there’s very little competition or jealousy here. “It’s the antithesis of the larger scenes I’ve been to. I don’t think I would have made it this far if it was a scene that was negative and not supportive.”
Accordingly, Band Candy reflects the strengths of many local comedians: “Badges” reflects Cohen and Higgins’ natural improvisational chemistry, while “Chuck and Zane” rides Cohen and Greg Hohn’s interplay. “Socks” was co-created by Higgins and another comic, Eric Trundy. Remarkably, Higgins says, Cohen recalled the details of all the “Socks” bits he wanted to include. And though Cohen created TMI, it’s Dixson’s love of rap that brings the character to life, Cohen says. TMI’s Flava Flave-like necklace, with its functioning ATM, was Dixson’s idea.
“Even if no one ever buys any of this stuff, I can still have a great time creating them and building my own audience for them,” Cohen says. “If I’m able to somehow parlay that audience into people who come see me and my friends do stand-up, all the better.”