Showtime's Inside Comedy kicks off its second season tonight with one of today's edgiest comics as well as a funnyman who thrived for decades without an ounce of grit in his act.
The series, hosted by veteran comic David Steinberg, certainly grabs the names we want to know more about. Tonight's premiere episode, airing at 11 p.m. EST, features Louis C.K. and Bob Newhart, and next week's installment checks in with Tina Fey and Judd Apatow.
We get to hear some of comedy's brightest minds expound on their craft in a way that's all but impossible on a couch overseen by Leno, Letterman or Kimmel. Too bad the series doesn't trust its audience enough to let us get to know its guests better.
The half-hour installments bounce between the guests, so just when you're learning something new about Newhart's early years in comedy the show switches to C.K. describing why he cut down on the masturbation gag quotient in his act. It's both jarring and unfortunate, and while Steinberg's questions are more chummy than piercing, he seems eager to get at the root causes of his guests' success.
The host would be better served bringing himself up less and letting his guests fill in more of the blanks.
C.K., looking alternately guarded and forthcoming, shares what he thinks is a critical step for any stand-up comedy.
"If you're afraid to be bad you won't develop," says C.K. who got a heaping helping of bad reviews for his writing/directing review, Pootie Tang.
C.K. adds some insights into developing material as well as when he knows he's hitting stride. Telling a joke after your last one killed is no test at all, he explains. It's best to lose the crowd for a moment and see if a new gag can win them back.
As for Newhart, we're hear reflections on his earliest days in comedy - he landed a gig before he ever graced a stand-up stage - and why he still performs before live audiences today.
"I just can't imagine not doing it," he confesses.
Next week's episode features Tina Fey and Judd Apatow, and while the surface is barely scratched once more we still are privy to intriguing reflections on two celebrated humorists.
Steinberg asks Fey a brief question about her famous Sarah Palin impersonation, but the rest of their chat is more proof that the comedienne is both endlessly self-deprecating and mentally sharp.
Apatow reveals the tears of a multi-million dollar clown by describing how he longs to get back at industry types who cancelled his past projects like Freaks & Geeks and The Ben Stiller Show. Apatow also credits Garry Shandling for helping to shape his wildly successful film career.
"Everything I know how to do I learned from watching Garry write and edit those stories [on 'The Larry Sanders Show]," Apatow says.
He e also explains one reason why he cast his wife, actress Leslie Mann, as the female lead in his latest comedy This is 40. It's downright therapeutic to share his own marital struggles with strangers.
"The worst worst moments [in marriage] were what I wanted to share with people," he says. And when Mann asked why he wouldn't reveal their happier times as well he told her, "no one wants to watch that."
Upcoming guests on Inside Comedy include Drew Carey, Martin Mull, Steve Martin, Lily Tomlin, Jim Carrey and Keenen Ivory Wayans.