Variety Shows Aren't Dead


Born out of the vaudevillian tradition of blending comedy, song, dance and sketch performances, there was no television programming more popular in television's early days than the variety show because it offered unparalleled entertainment value to early TV audiences. However, by the 1970s, the format began to fall out of favour.

Audiences were more fractured than ever with the proliferation of channels and market research began to show that variety shows appealed to older audiences, which was troubling to advertisers as they were hoping to reach younger demographics. On top of that, the oversaturation of variety shows turned audiences off the format, leading show-biz big wigs to declare the format dead. But not everyone were so quick to abandon this style of show...

Among those who refuse to believe programming a comedy show with a variety of acts died in the 70s are Montreal-based performers Alex Brown, Paul Solomon and Saima Ahmed with Regulation Variety Time Slot.

Alex Brown took some time out of her busy schedule to convince us that variety shows aren't dead...yet...

Why a variety show?

Excellent question. I'd like to answer that question with another question:
When you go to a comedy show don't you think, "Gee, this show is great, but I sure wish that it had stand-up and sketch comedy and improv and clowns and a jug band and heck, maybe even a video or two thrown in for good measure'? I knew it.

The charm of the variety show is simply its variety: there's something for everyone, and if you don't like what you're seeing at the moment you can wait five minutes and something else will come along to tickle your fancy. Not only is it enjoyable for the audience, but it also does a great job of bringing together a bunch of different types of performers who may never cross paths otherwise.

What do you think about the assertion that the variety show died in the 1970s?

I don't think it's true, necessarily. Sure, maybe the format has changed in terms of how people view it, but I think that the success of YouTube along with late night shows like Jimmy Fallon and Jimmy Kimmel (noticing a trend here), who often have at least three types of performers on their shows and all sorts of different segments every night, has kept the variety show alive. Plus, you know Sonny and Cher would have been all over lip-sync battle. 

What's your approach to programming to ensure the show has a variety of acts?

Originally myself and my co-producers Paul Solomon and Saima Ahmed set out to create a show wherein the acts were 'weird' and something you wouldn't normally see on a comedy stage in Montreal. We've stuck with that concept a little bit (we ask our acts to do something they wouldn't do in another show for fear of it being too absurd), but over the course of the three shows that we've done so far it's morphed into us choosing dynamic performers and asking them if they'd be interested in doing a specific kind of act that they haven't necessarily done before. The 'weird' just seems to follow.

Paul is the one who I think does the most planning in terms of having a clear idea of what the show will be each time around. Then we all work together to program the acts and make sure the show is diverse and well-rounded. We think very carefully about the show order and try to incorporate different types of media like music and video and sound to make the show even more of a spectacle.

How does one go about booking a jug band in a place as modern as Montreal?

If I told you that I'd have to kill you.

According to Wikipedia, variety shows began to lose popularity when research showed that variety shows appealed to an older audience and advertisers didn't like that. Is your show for old people?

Absolutely, word around the RVTS water cooler is that we're the Werther's Originals of comedy variety shows. And we're darn proud of that, I mean who doesn't love a hard toffee? And a hard toffee that also makes you laugh? Why, Willy Wonka himself couldn't come up with a more delightful bonbon!

Any variety show worth its salt has a major sponsor. Milton Berle had Texaco. Ed Sullivan had Sullivan's Foods. The Muppets had Jim Henson's totally fucked up mind. What brand are you or would love to be affiliated with?

We're in talks with British Petroleum to do the PR for the upcoming shows.

Regulation Variety Time Slot's time slot is Saturday nights. And it's also a live show. How worried are you about receiving a cease and desist from Canadian treasure Lorne Michaels?
Follow-up question: How did you get the cojones to take on Saturday Night Live?

People think Lorne is a scary control freak who will come down on you hard if you cross him. And they are right in thinking that; we are very scared right now.

As for taking on SNL, long story short is we lost a drinking game with a couple of guys from the mailroom at 30 Rock and our choices were either mounting a variety comedy show in Montreal on Saturday night, or spending a night in a haunted mansion. All the haunted mansions were booked on Air B'n'b so here we are.

Who would win in a fight, Regulation Variety Time Slot or Saturday Night Live?

Instead of a fight I would like to see a Bring it On style cheerleading competition. RVTS would obviously be the Clovers and come out on top in the end because we know that integrity and a strong work ethic is more important than flashy uniforms or jazz hands.

Neil Patrick Harris or Carol Burnett

Now that's a presidential race I could get behind. Imagine the choreography at those debates!

One could imagine the choreography or they can go see the next best thing:

Saturday, October 22nd, 10PM @ Montreal Improv.