LA Legendary newscaster Fritz Coleman extends his show “Unassisted Living” at North Hollywood’s El Portal Theater. Today we talk with Fritz about comedy during “cancel culture”, performing clean and his comedy special playing on TubiTV.com
Below is edited for length and clarity. To see the full conversation, visit FlavRReport YouTube Channel.
Today we have a returning guest. Fritz Coleman, thank you so much for coming back again
Fritz Coleman: I am honored to be back. It’s so rare to be invited back anywhere and you’re a gentleman.
Joe Winger: Last time it was very diverse. Because I’m a comedy geek, and I love live comedy. I really want to dive deep with you this time.
So the show is called Unassisted Living. It’s taped live at the El Puerto Theater, shown on TubiTV.com.
Fritz Coleman: Tubi is a free streaming service. It’s like Hulu. It’s an advertiser supported streaming service. There are very few ads at beginning and in the end, but I’m just happy to have it there.
We appealed to Tubi by saying that there are a lot of Netflix and Amazon prime comedy specials, but very few geared to the demographic that I talk to, which is, as I say, old people and their parents.
We thought that it would be fun for boomers and above just talking about the common experiences of aging and having grandchildren and how do we survive the pandemic and all that. We seem to have found an audience for this. We’re just having a blast. I love that.
What’s Live Comedy like after the Pandemic?
Joe Winger: You’ve mentioned a few times in public about how it’s funny to go back to a regular comedy routine after the pandemic. What’s changed the most?
Fritz Coleman: That’s a great question. I would say a couple of things have changed. Some good, some bad. I think, and I don’t know that this has anything to do with a pandemic. It has to do with a cultural divide in America. The difference in opinions and how prickly and protective people are about their own opinions.
Things have gotten very politically correct. Now I don’t do political humor. I don’t even do current events humor, really. And there’s a selfish reason for that.
First of all, the shelf life of current events material is very short and second of all nobody’s going to do it better than Bill Maher or Stephen Colbert or Jimmy Kimmel.
Third of all, it’s just a time where people are so hypersensitive about everything you don’t even have to do a punchline about Donald Trump or anything related to that.
You can just say the word in the setup and be booed. You get it from the audience. So I want to avoid that.
The good aspect of what has changed in comedy
Truthfully now the good aspect of what has changed is I don’t think there’s been a time in recent history when comedy has been more important because there’s a kind of a malaise.
There’s a sort of a mild national depression again, it’s the cultural divide. It might be a post pandemic PTSD kind of thing, people just want to be taken out of their heads. So what I do is get up there and talk about the common experience of getting old and just the common experience of American life for people my age.
If you connect with them and they recognize what you’re talking about and they laugh, it’s very cathartic for them.
For that one hour and 15 minutes, you’ve taken them out of their heads. You’ve made them forget that things are not perfect in the world. And I think it’s very therapeutic. So from that respect it’s a good time right now for standup, but it’s also a time when it’s fraught with landmines.
Joe Winger: I want to go a little more into detail on TubiTV, what it’s like to shoot a show. Obviously in the 1980s and 1990s, HBO and Comedy Central did a lot of live comedy. I should say live to tape, it’s not actually live. Now Netflix has become so incredibly popular.
Tell us how to access and see the show. So what’s it like both starring in the show, producing the show, and what does it actually take to make the show happen?
Fritz Coleman: I have a favorite theater in Southern California called the El Portal Theater in North Hollywood. I have a residency there through May now.
We’ve just been extended for the second time. Once a month, I do a show there. And within the El Portal, it’s a very iconic Southern California performing venue, hey have a smaller theater called the Marilyn Monroe Forum. It’s a 100 seat theater. It’s a semi-circular. It’s a half theater in the round.
I chose this venue for a couple of reasons. First of all, I like the intimacy of it. I like to walk up and look into people’s eyes and see their reaction.
It becomes more of a conversation than a performance. I saw this venue on Hacks, which is a great show about stand up starring Jean Smart. I don’t like shows about stand-up mainly, I’m too
They did one of their episodes where they wanted to shoot her in a more cocktail table environment. They shot an episode in this theater where they had six or seven cocktail tables in front. Overhead cameras and lighting, beautiful lighting.
I thought that’s where I want to do my show. That’s exactly how I want it to look. It’s not a big, broad performance where you’re strutting the stage like Chappelle or any of those guys.
So I taped it there and it felt really good.
When you [produce the show] yourself. You hire a producer and a director and I did that and trusted that they would bring my vision to light. We had a great show, we took one Sunday afternoon to tape two shows, 3pm and 7pm and then we cut the best of the two together and presented the final product to all the streamers.
We had some interest from First World Digital which is the digital content arm of A24. Then got interest from Tubi.
So we had to find a streamer that thought it was important for us to appeal to boomers and adults.
It works so well that I got a residency at this theater, meaning once a month I do a show there and we just got extended for the second time.
We will be there once a month through May and It’s fantastic. I’m at a stage in my life where I’m not looking to have national fame. I just love the work. I love to do local theaters and clubs and whoever will have me now. And it’s been a blast.
Joe Winger: You seem so incredibly comfortable on camera. You’ve mentioned in the press, the daily grind that was your day job. What I’m wondering about is what’s your process like building up your show?
Fritz Coleman: It’s your daily job. There are two guys that had a spectacular work ethic in our business. One was George Carlin, who wrote for hours every day, and Jerry Seinfeld, who would discipline himself to write for a couple hours every day.
Even if you don’t have anything ruminating in your mind, you have to write every day. You have to discipline yourself to sit in front of that page and write. Something will happen. And you have to do it, and it’s a grind. And all writing can be lonely and laborious and not productive, but you have to do it.
And then you have to try it. But I think one out of ten concepts or jokes or bits that you come up with, ultimately make it into your long act
Larry Miller, one of the great stand ups, a great friend of Seinfeld said, “Building a stand up act is like operating a moonshine still. You get one drip at a time and it takes forever.”
And it really does. The beauty of not having my job and I had the fortune of having an astonishingly wonderful job at NBC Los Angeles for 40 years. I was their main weekday weather guy.
But I did 12 hours a day there. Then I would write, then I would do shows between the early and late news and come back. But now that I’m retired from that job, I can discipline myself to write every morning. I can concentrate on the quality of my shows. I have this Residency, which allows me to do new blocks of material every time.
So more than any other time in my career, my set is expanding more quickly. It requires discipline and it just requires sticking to it.
Joe Winger: Jerry Seinfeld is famously not blue. But other names, George Carlin, Richard Pryor, Robert Klein are certainly more aggressive
In your own words, you’re famously “squeaky clean”. Is that a deliberate choice on your part? What are the advantages, disadvantages to that?
Fritz Coleman: There are both advantages and disadvantages. I’m clean for two reasons. When I first started in comedy, when I came out here in 1980 to Los Angeles to do stand up, and you were auditioning to go on the talk shows, Carson, Merv Griffin, Dinah Shore, whoever’s talk shows you were doing, you had to be clean.
And when you were working in the [comedy club] rooms, you had to be clean, even if you weren’t auditioning for the talent coordinators on their shows, because if they were in the room watching somebody else and saw you be blue or really edgy on stage, it would be impossible to get their attention because they were afraid for their own job.
So you had to work clean.
So I just disciplined myself into that. The second reason why clean is important is because you will get more very lucrative corporate work, if you’re clean. If IBM has a conference in Las Vegas and they’re looking for somebody to entertain their 10, 000 person mid-level-management convention, you have to be squeaky clean.
You can’t even do double entendres and many times they’ll want to parse your act before you even do it. It’s better business to work clean.
Third of all, I’m in my seventies and people my age appreciate a cleaner act.
That was another thing we pitched to Tubi. I’m Dave Chappelle’s biggest fan, Chris Rock’s biggest fan, but there are people my age that just wince at some of the language and stuff.
I don’t want them to be uncomfortable. I’m not here like Richard Pryor was or George Carlin was to challenge the First Amendment. I’m not there to push the boundaries. Honest to God, I just want to make people laugh and smile and have a good time and feel better for one hour.
Joe Winger: When you’re out and about at these shows, you meet younger comics who might be asking you for advice. Is there any common advice you give to young performers or performers newer to the industry?
Fritz Coleman: Yeah, be true to yourself. Find who you are.
You’ll always start out copying somebody else. When I started out, I was copying, and sometimes you do it subconsciously. I was copying Robert Klein and his beautiful stage presentation, and George Carlin and his writing skills.
Then after a while, you’ll find out what makes you unique and you’ll write to that and find yourself. Stick to that and don’t quit.
It can be a ruthless business to try to get a foothold in, but don’t quit. The longer you go and discipline yourself to, to writing and being true to your character, people can sense phoniness from a mile away.
Just be true to yourself. And that’s what people resonate with.
Find Fritz Coleman’s comedy special “Unassisted Living” on TubiTv.