On Sunday night I went to a screening for Channel 101. The way it works is that people submit videos of five-minute "shows," the shows get voted on by a live audience each month, and the top five shows do another episode the next month.
Channel 101 has been getting a lot of publicity lately, thanks to the Lonely Island Guys (who used to do Channel 101) and their "Lazy Sunday" short on SNL, and some video making fun of Bill Cosby that raised some legal ruckus. All that adds up to twice as many people going to the screening on the same night a couple of USC pals and I decided to go for the first time.
The venue has an address but not a name. Well, it's CineSpace or something, but it doesn't say so anywhere. There's also no number on the building, which is how you know you're cool for lining up outside. You go upstairs and there's a hip, colorful bar. Little screens in pillars show slides from past shows and the bar keeps filling up until you start to feel like you're in the comfortable and stylish bar car of a crowded Nazi P.O.W. train. Not at any time do you get any hint of where to go or what to do, so you stand around, watch other people schmooze and try not to look too uncomfortable. Eventually you overhear enough conversations to put the puzzle pieces together.
The screening is in the next room. People are allowed in once everyone with a table reservation has been seated. If you don't have a table reservation, you go in and find a comfortable place to sit on the floor. Or you get left standing because it's the most crowded screening ever. Someone hands you a ballot to use later.
One of the Channel 101 founders, Dan Harmon, takes the stage and jokes that there's a fire and you're all dead and there's no point even trying to run. See, he's saying what you're all thinking.
The shows all play in a row, and at the end you check the boxes next to the five shows you like best.
I voted for:
"Yacht Rock," mainly because my friend Mike likes it a lot. Honestly, it's kind of too in-jokey for me, plus the jokes are on musicians I know nothing about. But it's presented in such a way that I can imagine how it would be really good if I understood it.
"McCourt's in Session," a new show that is basically just a simple skit, but a very funny one. A blustery, straight-talking TV judge handles weird cases.
"Channel 101: The Musical," which again is actually too in-jokey but I enjoyed past episodes and I was a sucker for the gimmicky Sarah Silverman cameo.
"Hi-Jacked," which is a juvenile but surprisingly clever parody in the style of 24.
and "Superhero Theater," which is a one-joke premise but done pretty well.
As for some of the stuff I didn't vote for:
"Rodeo" is a slapdash effort seemingly by someone who knew someone, but kind of inexplicably funny in spite of itself.
"Classroom" is an efficient parody of the tough inner-city teacher genre, if you feel the need for one.
And "Unbelievable Stories" is simply one of the vilest, most loathsome things ever to be animated and shown in public. It is not funny so much as it is compelling evidence of someone's dangerous mental sickness. Don't be confused; I am not recommending that you watch it. It really is horrible.