100 Episodes of TCGS: a few self-indulgent personal ramblings
In June of 2011, I was in a UCB class that Chris Gethard had been teaching— a really crazy, experimental improv performance class called “( )” that had almost 30 students in it. It was huge and we did things that were weird and unexpected, both in the classroom and the performances.
If you were to look at a snapshot of that class you would see a lot of familiar TCGS faces: Murf, Phil, Duke Ponzetti, Dru, JD, Don Fanelli, and at least a dozen more people who have shown up as characters or in recurring bits on the show.
I think it was after one of the performances that Gethard asked me if I was interested in doing videos for TCGS’ new incarnation on public access television.
I didn’t really know Chris at this point— even though we had both, it turns out, lived in the same neighborhood, about three blocks away from each other, for the past several years. I had gone to a lot of his stage shows at UCB, when TCGS was a monthly midnight show on Saturday nights. I had attended these shows in spite of the fact that at that time I would have to be up for work early on Sunday morning, which often meant that I was guaranteeing myself only a few hours’ sleep and that I would feel awful for a few days after. But I kept going because TCGS was always different and always interesting.
[FUN FACT: one of the first Gethard Shows I attended was a charity raffle where you could pay to win various prizes and all the money went to The March Of Dimes. One of the prizes was a chance to sit in with The Stepfathers. I gave money to my friend Tom Levin to buy two tickets for himself to win this prize, telling him “I can’t put my own name down. I don’t deserve to be on that stage with The Stepfathers.” This was almost exactly one year before I would be asked to join the team.]
Anyway, Gethard asked me to do videos because I used to do a lot of promo videos to plug any indie improv shows or class shows I was in. I would steal old weird footage from YouTube and then re-dub all the voices. I asked Maëlle Doliveux— super talented artist and illustrator— if she wanted to make some animated films where she would do all the visuals and I would edit the footage and then figure out what the audio would be. For the first 13 weeks of TCGS, we did a brand new weekly short film, using stop motion, stills, puppets and anything else we could come up with to make The Lone Cornmeal Machine. Each episode was based off a viewer suggestion and sometimes I would literally finish doing them mere hours before they went on the air.
After 13 weeks in a row of doing short films, we reached a burnout point where it became impossible to keep making them— they were all essentially no-budget films, and the pressure of doing a new one each week was unsustainable! We’ve done an occasional one every now and then but it’s hard to re-gain the momentum we had in those early episodes. (Also: we were almost never able to have a monitor in the studio so that the studio audience could actually WATCH them, which meant that they were often just a weird silent patch that people would have to sit through, frustrated that they couldn’t see the cartoon.)
Meanwhile, I had also figured out my other “bit”: running for President. This largely came out of me accidentally sitting on the panel one week— it was the 3rd episode and I had come by to watch in the studio, but someone was late and Gethard said “hey, Connor, you wanna sit on the panel?”
I recall being awkward and uncomfortable, and it was then that I realized “I gotta come up with a thing to do on this show.”
I was 35 years old at the time, so I figured it was time to run for President. I think I texted Gethard and asked him if it was okay if I ran for President on the show, and I think he responded: “sure.”
And so began a 15-month bit* which has now given birth to a 45-month bit in which I train for the 2016 Summer Olympics.
(*”bit” stands for “Big Important Thing”)
TCGS has given me a platform to do so many crazy things that never would have even occurred to me to do on my own. And even beyond that, it’s something that I enjoy going to every week, just to see it happen, whether I have a “bit” that week or not. (The one big exception being the period where the show had to move to MNN’s studios in Harlem— the studio was smaller, so it was less comfortable to just stand at the margins and watch, and the commute home for me, thanks to numerous MTA difficulties, would take over 2 hours. This meant that, for a while, I become a loyal home viewer. It was a real relief when the show returned to 59th Street so I could once again stop by to just watch the madness.) I’m proud to be a small part of it, and it’s exciting to see the way it has grown and changed since those first episodes in the summer of 2011.
I don’t know what the future holds for TCGS— I still hold out hope that some entity out there will realize that there is a way for something this weird and exciting to be a big moneymaker for them if they just swoop in and take the chance, but maybe that’s just me being naive.
I do know this: the friendships that I’ve made through TCGS, and the relationships that TCGS has solidified into creative alliances and partnerships, mean a lot to me, and being a part of TCGS has been a defining thing for me, creatively. Whether it was unexpectedly wrestling in my underwear on a stage at SXSW or the 12 hours of consecutive Election Night coverage or having my parents sit on the Night Of Zero Laughs panel or debating for an hour with Jimmy McMillan or the countless hours that I’ve spent just watching the insanity from the sidelines, it’s hard for me to pick a favorite moment or memory. I’m grateful for all of it, and to know all of the remarkably talented people who put on this show week after week.
EPISODE HUNDO IS TONIGHT.