Late Night Action is a talk show in the style of The Tonight Show or Conan but with a twist: it’s live and it’s Portland-focused. Starting with a monologue about local news then covering the best local celebrities, comedians, and bands – Late Night Action is now in its 6th and final season in Portland. In this Q&A, our comedy writer, Randall Lawrence, explores what has inspired creator Alex Falcone to pursue his comedic dream and where Alex sees the local and national comedy scene to be headed.
The “late night” model of programming seems so natural for you on stage. How is it that you landed on that as one of your comedic outlets?
When you do comedy you spend a lot of time in bars after shows shouting at each other saying stuff like, “You know what somebody should do?” Most of it turns into nothing, but I told a friend one night that somebody should do a rip-off of the Tonight Show but focused on Portland celebrities and local news jokes and she was like, “Yeah. I’ll produce that.” And we were off to the races.
There have been some legendary late night hosts throughout television history. Who would you say is your biggest influence in that area? How did you discover that host and what was it about them that made such an impact on you?
This is a bit different, but the hosts I spent the most time watching were Jon Stewart and Steven Colbert. Their Comedy Central shows were different because unlike classic late night fare, they could have opinions. And between the two, I always liked Colbert a bit more because he was less angry and more silly. One of the great things about doing the show on stage and in Portland is we can take a stand on all kinds of issues and people can’t just change the channel. I guess they could get up and leave but that’s way more work so they don’t do it. And I absolutely love what Colbert’s done with the Late Show. It’s so good.
Can you pinpoint the exact moment and describe when you knew exactly that comedy was your future?
I’ve always loved making people laugh. I had this old tape recorder I’d stolen from my mom when I was 6 or 7 and I used to make little radio shows. I did this parody of Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous where I would just walk around the house describing it as if we were super rich like “And this is where we keep the cereal. The Queen gave us these Cheerios.” Really glad those tapes didn’t survive.
Later, I remember watching the pilot of Whose Line Is It Anyway? with my parents and we were all in tears laughing and I thought, “All I want in the world is to be this funny.”
As far as stand-up is concerned, who would you say is/are your biggest influence(s)? What about their acts/voice/messages do you think are most impactful?
I found a George Carlin CD early on and was blown away that you could be so dirty and smart at the same time. Then my dad made me listen to his early stuff like “Al Sleet the Hippy Dippy Weatherman”, which is also super funny but SUPER different. And that was big for me that you could go such different directions and be totally funny.
And that journey is still the same for a lot of comics. You have to be clean early on to get work and then once you know how to tell a joke, you can start talking about more stuff. When comics do their first open mic and try to sound like late Carlin, they don’t do as well.
Who do you think is the most important comedic voice we have today? Why?
John Oliver is doing the most interesting comedy to me right now. Everybody complained that our attention spans were disappearing, that people wanted just sound bytes. And so Oliver was like, “I’m going to do a show with 20 minute segments about obscure tax laws” and it was amazing. He also does this thing where the show reaches out and touches the real world and that’s my favorite thing in comedy. To make a point, he’ll buy a billboard or start a church or send fans to baseball games in shark costumes. It touches the real world. I think that’s so cool.
It seems to be somewhat commonplace to hear the story of “My parents wanted me to go get a degree in x, y or z”. Were you supported initially when you voiced your comedic aspirations?
My parents have been crazy encouraging. My freshman year in college I wasn’t even really doing comedy. I’d tried out for the improv team and didn’t make it and I was writing a “humor ‘zine”, but I hadn’t gotten up the courage to stand up yet. During a break I was at a party with my dad and I overheard him telling one of his friends that after I graduate I’ll probably be a comedy writer for a TV show or something and I was blown away. I wasn’t anywhere near as confident as he was that I’d get to be a comedian!
Even now, half the traffic to my website comes from my parents because they check it constantly to see what new thing I’m doing. It’s actually kinda weird how supportive they are.
It appears that many comics will relocate to either Los Angeles or New York to continue and grow their stand-up careers. What do you think needs to happen to make Portland one of the main comedy hubs of the US?
I don’t think that’s the way to look at it. 99% of the money in entertainment is in LA and NYC. That’s not going to change any time soon. What Portland is and will continue to be is a comedy playground. There’s a ton of shows but no industry, so people can experiment. And because of the number of comics who have been graduating to the big 2, there’s a pipeline for people who get great here to move to bigger stages. I like Portland being a hub for people who are going to be huge one day to mess around and find their voices.
It’s been quite amazing to see the growth and development of your weekly showcase Earthquake Hurricane including all of the amazing acts you have been able to book lately. Where do you see that going in the next few years? Do you anticipate a “passing of the torch” to other local comics to keep the show going?
We haven’t made any decisions about this yet, but that’s definitely an option. When one of us leaves we’ll probably bring in a replacement. Four is a great number for running a show. We’ve talked about maybe someday having an Earthquake Hurricane South down in LA if/when we all end up down there. We’ve also been doing some college shows as a group and I loved that. It’s fun to take us as a group because it gives a bunch of different attitudes and perspectives to the students. I love Curtis, Anthony, and Bri and I’d work with them again any time in any situation. We started as a show because they were my favorite comics and I wanted to work with them, and that hasn’t changed.