'Full House' Alum Dave Coulier Bets on Clean Comedy in Movie Theaters
The comic hopes to recruit the likes of Jerry Seinfeld and Tim Allen to headline family-friendly comedy specials in movie theaters, though critics say it won't fly.
This story first appeared in the Jan. 25 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine.
Call it the anti-comedy club.
Later this year, a company called NCM Fathom will launch the first of what it hopes will be a quarterly series of comedy concerts beamed into 350 to 500 movie theaters. Costing $12 to $15 a ticket, the shows will be unique because of what they won't feature: the foul language common at traditional comedy clubs.
The Clean Guys of Comedy is the brainchild of Dave Coulier, a stand-up comic best known for playing Joey on the long-running ABC sitcom Full House.
"I've heard from so many people over the years, 'Thanks for doing a clean show,' " he tells THR. "It didn't take a genius to figure out people want the laughs without the F-bomb aftertaste."
The arrival of satellite technology was heralded as an opportunity for movie theaters to create event programing and series of shows that would play during the many hours between the weekends when most of their auditoriums are empty or underutilized. It has turned out to be a challenge to find content that will attract paying audiences.
NCM, partly owned by the Regal, AMC and Cinemark theater chains, was created in part to provide that kind of specialized event programming for in-theater use. By far the most notable success has been with performances of the Metropolitan Opera, which NCM beams to movie theaters via satellite.
NCM estimates that in 2011, a dozen Met shows sold nearly 3 million tickets, up from about 326,000 for six performances in 2006, the year they started airing.
Now they hope to do comedy shows. NCM executive vp Shelly Maxwell says the company tried many different kinds of programs, including a very "blue" comedy show with Dane Cook -- but that didn't draw. So now it's changing course.
"There's an appetite for good, clean family comedy, and we think that matches up well with the nature of movie theaters," says Maxwell.
Coulier, who will perform and do preshow PR, hopes to recruit an A-list star such as Jerry Seinfeld or Tim Allen to headline with him.
“It’s a PG-audience,” says Coulier. “It’s that Full House audience I’ve been in front of on network TV and in person since 1987. It’s that core group of people who come with their kids, grandparents or their boss, and they don’t have to worry they’re going to be embarrassed by hearing filthy language.”
“We are really going after this because it’s an umbrella brand,” says Maxwell, “where we can bring in various kinds of comedians underneath it, not just one.”
Shows typically will run 90 minutes and include five comics performing. One will be a big-name star, with others ranging from journeyman comics to newcomers.
To distinguish the new initiative from previous efforts, NCM will employ extensive in-theater marketing (on screens and posters) as well as some targeted social networking, especially to families and Christian evangelists.
“I’m pretty sure those people laugh,” says Coulier, tongue in cheek. “Everybody laughs. That’s the beauty of this. It’s not identified with anything other than laughter and entertainment. It’s very basic.”
That might be true, but the reality is broadcast, cable TV and the Internet already are full of “clean” comedy that meets broadcast standards. So it is no sure thing audiences will get off the couch, pack up the kids and pay to see it in theaters.
Jamie Masada, who runs L.A.'s Laugh Factory, says he tried clean comedy four years ago in 400 Carmike theaters -- and it flopped.
He also did a “kiddie” show with magicians, clowns and silly stuff that did draw a family audience. And he did some in-theater concerts that pushed the edge of foul language.
“The kid show worked, and the nasty show -- which was so dirty they couldn’t see it on TV -- was half as successful,” says Masada. “That’s the only thing that worked.”
George Schlatter, who produced the classic comedy show Laugh-In and the American Comedy Awards, says the success of any show, even a clean one, ultimately will depend on who they get to headline and their appeal to the audience.
“It’s got to be really, really funny,” says Schlatter. “The word 'clean' is not going to help, but 'funny' will help. I would just say this: Don’t invest in it.”
NCM plans to do the first show around midyear, in any case. “Funny is funny, clean or not,” says Maxwell. “Comedy clubs have a certain atmosphere. Maybe a family person doesn’t want to take their teenage son or daughter to a club where there’s alcohol and blue humor. They can go together to a local movie theater where it's clean and there are sodas and popcorn. It’s a different kind of experience.”
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