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Inside With: Bart Coleman, Talent Coordinator

Image Hosted by ImageShack.usLast November, the 92YTribeca invited me out to see Rhys Darby and get a tour of their beautiful space. It was pretty obvious then that whoever was doing the booking there was unusually hip to the comedy scene. Since its opening, the venue was putting together weekly bills with headliners like David Cross and Janeane Garofalo. And now Rhys Darby? Seth Herzog and Chelsea Peretti both opened for Rhys that night, so whoever was responsible for all this was clearly an awesome person. It was there I met Bart Coleman, the 92YTribeca's comedy curator and talent coordinator. We chatted briefly for a couple minutes and I was relieved to hear he's heard of this website (it makes talking to comedy people a bit easier). I'm bad with details, but it somehow came up that he'd been to EVERY Mr. Show taping in the 90's. Say what?! How is that even possible? It turns out my Awesome Radar was working correctly--Bart graciously provided some wildly insightful A's to the probing Q's on my mind.

When I met you, the fact that you had been to all the Mr. Show tapings really stuck in my mind. How did you get involved with all this?
In the early-mid 90's I was working in LA as a writers' assistant and producer's assistant on sitcoms, where I met a lot of comedy writers and performers. Every Sunday I would attend the Un-Cabaret show in West Hollywood where I used to see Bob Odenkirk, David Cross, Janeane Garofalo, Patton Oswalt, Andy Dick... the list goes on. It was the golden age of alternative comedy in LA and I was truly a super-fan. When Mr. Show started, Bob & David passed out flyers at Un-Cabaret with a hotline number to call for free taping tickets. The recorded instructions said to show up early for seating, so I did--so early I was usually the first or second nerd in line. That's where I met Lisa Leingang, the audience coordinator, who became my friend and mentor in the comedy biz.
And what have you been doing career-wise between then and now?
In the late 90's, Lisa Leingang was booking Mondays at Largo. I worked at a (now defunct) website during the first dotcom boom as a comedy content exec. I had the idea to shoot the Largo show, edit comics' sets down to 5 minute highlights and stream it online. Largo's owner Mark Flanagan agreed to let me document every show for over a year before the website went under. Then in 2000, Friday Night Videos on NBC was cancelled and Lisa Leingang was a development exec; she pitched a late night stand-up series which became Late Friday. She hired me as the Talent Producer and that was my first real break. We got away with some amazing stuff considering it was on at 1:35 AM and the censors paid little attention to our show. I got to work with the UCB 4, Louis CK, Jeff Garlin, Kevin Nealon, Sarah Silverman, Mary Lynn Rajskub, Jeffrey Ross, Laura Kightlinger, Slovin & Allen, Stella and so many greats. We gave early breaks to unknowns at the time like Fred Armisen, Demetri Martin and Mike Birbiglia.

After Late Friday was cancelled and replaced with Carson Daly, I had established myself in the comedy community. I went on to be the talent exec for HBO's US Comedy Arts Festival in their 10th anniversary year, which included Chris Rock, Larry David, Jack Black, Louis CK, Wigfield with Stephen Colbert, Amy Sedaris & Paul Dinello and some stellar emerging talent. After USCAF, I was a segment producer on one of my all-time favorite shows, Comedy Central's Crossballs created by Matt Besser. That cast was phenomenal--Besser, Andrew Daly, Jerry Minor, Mary Birdsong and Chris Tallman. I wish it had lasted for more than one season.

Next I worked as the comic booker at the tail end of The Late Late Show with Craig Kilborn and the first year of Craig Ferguson. That gig allowed me to book (unknown at the time) Flight of the Conchords and meet my #1 hero, Don Rickles. It was like meeting the Pope, if the Pope was Jewish and called people hockey pucks.

From Ferguson I transitioned to become a talent exec at Comedy Central, then later Director of Talent for the west coast. During these years I had the pleasure of working on many quality series, stand-up specials, correspondent auditions for The Daily Show and the Roasts of Pamela Anderson, William Shatner and Flavor Flav.

After 15 years in LA my family decided it was time for a change and we moved to NYC last year. Since the move I've done some freelance producing at MTV and started booking the weekly Comedy Below Canal series at 92YTribeca. I love the local comedy scene just as much as LA and spend lots of time at UCB, Comix, Gotham, etc. seeing everything I have time for.

What drew you to booking and production as opposed to being an agent or a manager. They appear to be similar fields, right?
I've always loved being behind the scenes and surrounding myself with creative people. Booking and producing has allowed me to be selective and work on a wide variety of comedy-related shows both live and for television. Years ago, a close friend who's a manager told me to never go into management because it's a lot of chasing down payment and dealing with needy talent. Then recently, he tried to convince me to be a manager, forgetting the previous conversation. I might be open to management one day if it involves production, but for now I'm enjoying booking live shows and pitching television projects I want to produce. I can't be an agent because I only own 2 suits.

It seems like you'd have to be impervious to star-struckness to do what you do. Why doesn't that affect you at all?
I've learned to contain my star-struckness, mainly because the context where I meet celebrities is in a professional setting. It's not like I'm meeting them in line for an autograph at Comic-Con. The closest I've come to a "Chris Farley Show moment" was meeting Ricky Gervais at Night of Too Many Stars in 2006. His agent introduced us so I had to keep it together, but in my head I was repeating, "Don't totally nerd out, don't fuck this up, be cool..." and I think I handled it well. I told him how much The Office meant to me and sincerely thanked him for the joy it brought to my life. Ricky was so gracious and humble.

Do you think you could get anybody in comedy on the phone within 2
phone calls?

This is when agents and manager relationships come in handy. If I can't get someone on the phone directly, I can at least get their representation to call me back. It helps when I'm calling about something good that actually pays. I booked some Obama fundraisers this year and that was fun because everyone enthusiastically said yes.

What is a typical day like at the 92YT? And how much of the programming
is dependent on your personal tastes?

Comics love stage time so booking for 92YTribeca has been fluid since it opened in late October 2008. Sometimes it's challenging to work around touring schedules and film/tv commitments, but it all works out eventually. I came on board before the opening after Eugene Mirman recommended me for the comedy curator position. It's nice because I don't have to be there all the time and can work on other things. The staff bends over backwards to make sure everything runs smoothly and the comics are treated like rock stars. They give me carte blanche to book my favorite acts and try different things each week. So far we've featured the best-of-the-best: Zach Galifianakis, David Cross, Will Arnett, Jim Gaffigan, Janeane Garofalo, Paul F. Tompkins, Todd Barry, Greg Giraldo, Kristen Schaal & Kurt Braunohler, Rhys Darby, Eugene Mirman, Arj Barker, Slovin & Allen and too many to list here. The bar has been raised high and I hope to sustain that level of quality in 2009.

And finally... I can see via Twitter that Julie Klausner might be obsessed with your dog. Why won't you let her bathe and nurture it?
Julie is welcome to walk, bathe or brush my dog's teeth anytime! She has major dog envy but can't get one because her cat, Smiley Muffin, would be miserable. I'm pitching a movie to Disney where Smiley Muffin and Stella Blue go on a cross-country adventure, stopping along the way to rescue pound puppies and kittens. Smiley is voiced by Julie and Stella by Aubrey Plaza. (If I can get Aubrey's agent to return my calls.)

Comedy Below Canal is every Thursday at 9pm at The 92YTribeca. Janeane Garofalo & Paul F. Tompkins return to their monthly co-host duties on Februrary 12th and their guests will be Marc Maron, Sam Seder, and John Mulaney.

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