Noticed anything different about the set of @midnight, Comedy Central’s meme-tastic late-night comedy game show, lately? That’s because the series has switched coasts for the week: It’s being taped in Manhattan in honor of the annual New York Comedy Festival, which officially kicks off today and runs through Nov. 9. The special four-show run features a spiffy upgraded set—featuring a big @midnight logo that host Chris Hardwick is convinced “Ninja Turtles are going to jump out of”—as well as big-deal panelists like John Mulaney, Hannibal Burress, Jim Gaffigan, Abbi Jacobson, Ilana Glazer, and Stephen Colbert, plus an array of surprise guests (read: Jon Hamm, waxing poetic about bodega cats).
Tuesday evening, EW chatted with Hardwick about the challenges of moving his show across the country, his dream panel lineup, and what’s next on the horizon for the Nerdist himself.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: I was just enjoying my burrito when I heard that you were ready to chat.
Hardwick: A literal burrito?
No, unfortunately. But I did really like the message that greeted me when I called in. [“Welcome to the Nerdist Industries conference line. Please hold until the host joins the conference. Enjoy the burrito.”]
Oh, nice! I forgot about that. [laughs]
So, how’s today’s show looking?
Amazing. We have Jim Gaffigan, and Michael Ian Black, and Kyle Kinane, and Ben Stiller’s going to drop in. And Dave Hill’s going to do something. It’s an action-packed show.
I was at the taping last night, which was really fun. I was really excited to see Jon Hamm in a grumpy cat sweatshirt.
Living the Meow.
Is taping the show here really that different from doing it in LA?
Oh, without a doubt. There’s a different energy in New York, and also there are twice as many people in the audience. Our studio in L.A. can fit maybe 100ish people, but this is 240, I think. You can just feel the difference immediately. And also, look, we’re in L.A. all the time. This is an extra special event. This is for a limited time only kind of deal. We’re like a McRib.
A seasonal item.
A seasonal item right now.
The show’s been around for a year, and will be on Comedy Central at least through 2015. How do you feel that it’s grown since season 1?
I mean, I’m a lot more comfortable. When we first started doing it, we always knew that there would be a point where the show was just sort of in our molecules. Like, there was a muscle memory to it. And now that I’ve done—it might be around 200 shows; I haven’t actually counted, but is’ a lot—now I can do the show without even thinking about it. You can screw around more because you know the structure so well, but you will always be able to pop right back into what the structure was.
Anything you learned from season 1 not to do anymore?
That’s a good question. I’m not sure there is anything in particular. I realize I don’t have to yell as much. I’ve managed to adjust my volume to a level that is more appropriate to the home viewer.
What would you say is the most exciting episode you’ve shot so far?
Oh, you can’t ask me that. This show is like a dream show for me, because it’s a gameshow about the internet fueled by standup comedy. I think the show last night [with Jon Hamm] was certainly one of my favorites. The Tenacious D episode. Weird Al’s been amazing on the show. There was one particular episode that was Paul F. Tompkins, John Hodgeman, and Greg Proops. They were all equally brilliant, at the top of their game; I said I felt like I was standing before a Hogwarts disciplinary committee.
You mentioned this in passing during the taping—that for a brief moment you wanted to do @midnight live, then decided it would be way too hard. Do you think you’ll do a live show at some point?
At some point we might do a special. But I don’t think we would ever just make the show live.
Oh yeah, I meant as more of a one-off.
Yeah, I would love to do that at some point. The last thing you want comedians to be is super aware of what they’re doing and saying. And if the show’s live, then they’re much more careful. So we would rather be able to tape the show, let people be able to do whatever they want, and then just trim out a little bit of fat here and there. In a live show, we’d never be able to go off on riffs and tangents. Normally, we cut a 40-minute showdown to 21 minutes. So it would be a much different show if we had to stick to the 21 minutes.
Who’s on your dream guest list, someone who hasn’t been on the show yet?
Oh, gosh. So many people! Um… You know what’s funny is that we’ve done so many shows that sometimes I forget who we’ve had on. Because every day, it’s a new group. I think Martin Short would be amazing on the show. Obviously Bill Murray for everything. I think it’d be fun to do a panel of late night hosts.
You’ve got to get Colbert before he leaves Comedy Central.
Yeah. I think someone like Bill Burr would be really great. Oh, I’ll tell you what I thought would have been an amazing panel. We tried to engineer it when the movie came out, but they were super booked—a Muppet panel. I mean, Kermit, Fozzie and Piggy? And then having like, Gonzo pop in?
He could be shot out of a cannon into the set.
Yes. I mean, the show was made for Fozzie.
Before the taping began, you threatened to play Smash Mouth songs at the audience if we weren’t laughing hard enough—and move to Smash Mouth “deep cuts” if we weren’t up to snuff even after being warned. Have you ever actually done that?
Oh, I feel bad! I don’t want to bum out Smash Mouth. They’re probably nice guys. But… we’ve had to play it before, yes. I feel bad, because they seem like nice guys, and they didn’t do anything wrong. It’s just a funny—like, you know, people are misbehaving, to all of a sudden blast out “HEY NOW, YOU’RE AN ALL STAR.” I don’t know, it just seems funny to me. I don’t have anything personally against Smash Mouth.
I didn’t think that you did. It’s just a funny ’90s callback; everyone knows who they are.
It’s a funny reference.
So AMC recently announced that it’s decided to move away from reality shows, including the celebrity bowling show you had in development. What was it like to get that news?
[laughs] That’s just a funny question: “How did you feel when the project you were working on for a year just went away?” Ultimately, it was hard to feel too bad about it, because everyone got the ax except Talking Dead and Comic Book Men. And AMC’s been great to me, so I take that stuff in stride. I’ve done television for so long, and I know this is just part of the process. We made it really far down the path with this show; we were going to start shooting in February and we had a premiere date in June, I think. But it happens. Honestly, I was bummed for half a day, and then just like, “Okay. What else can we do with it?” We made a really great pilot, and now other people have that pilot and are interested.
So you think it could have a life beyond AMC?
I do. And if the worst-case scenario is that we just keep making it on the web, I’m fine with that too. It’s a fun show. But I think it’ll land somewhere else. It was completely amicable at AMC; I know they felt terrible about it. And I’m friends with all of them, and so it’s just one of those, like, we just had an adult conversation, you know? And I know on a smaller level [from] being in control of programming at Nerdist, it’s never a fun call to say, “Hey, we’re not going to be able to do your thing.” So I also empathize on their side. But it’s just television; that’s what happens. That’s ultimately why I started my own company, so I could try to have some control over what happens. But it really is just all fine. The entertainment business is like all the little turtles trying to make their way to the sea.
Does this mean that we shouldn’t count on Talking Saul when Better Call Saul premieres next year?
I don’t think there’s going to be a Talking Saul. [laughs] But a fair question!