Emmys: On the '@midnight' Set, Where the Geeks Come Out at Night

8:00 AM PST 08/12/2014 by Stacey Wilson
From left: Reggie Watts, "Weird Al" Yankovic, Chris Hardwick and Thomas Lennon

A day on the Hollywood set of Comedy Central's Emmy-nominated interactive game show reveals deep (and demented) appreciation for riffing on the web's wackiest offerings.

This story first appeared in a special Emmy issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine.

It's the afternoon of July 22 at Hollywood Center Studios -- home of venerable TV series like I Love Lucy -- and a 50-year-old Korean woman is rehearsing the act of throwing kimchi on @midnight executive producer/actor/comedian Thomas Lennon. "We called casting at 2:15 p.m.; she was here by 3," jokes showrunner Jack Martin. The stunt is common on the late-night cable show, where bizarre web content -- in this case a clip of the Korean soap opera Everybody, Kimchi! -- is fodder for testing three comedians on their quickest-inspired musings (and for the occasional prank). "At 8 a.m. we get a 27-page breakdown of the craziest stuff our team found on Twitter, Reddit, YouTube -- anywhere online," says Joe Farrell, a co-executive producer from Funny or Die. "Our hiring criterion is: What is your website ritual?"

A co-creation of Lennon and host Chris Hardwick, @midnight premiered in October on Comedy Central and is the most socially interactive show in late night. Here's how: Hardwick challenges comics to deliver fast and funny jokes based on that web content, and they rack up points based on ensuing laughs. The show has made good on its Emmy nomination for outstanding interactive program (to be given out at the Creative Arts Awards on Aug. 16), averaging a half-billion weekly Twitter impressions -- no doubt boosted by the popular "#HashtagWars" segment (examples: #RuinARomCom? #WhenHarryKilledSally). "We have the best joke-to-minute ratio on TV," says Hardwick.

Competing today are five-time loser Lennon (not yet privy to the kimchi gag), "Weird Al" Yankovic and Reggie Watts. After a final bout against Yankovic, Lennon scores his first win for a (darkly) funny take on how he'd announce his own pregnancy on Facebook (see page 26). "I got tons of mean tweets: 'Dude, you can't even win your own show!' " he says. "I could not lose again. I'd start getting death threats on Twitter."

See more exclusive photos from THR's set visit here.

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