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BRIAN MCKIM has performed standup comedy in all 50 states. He earned a B.A. in Magazine Journalism from Temple University. Any resemblance to a living person is purely coincidental.


Brian McKim
Editor In Chief

"Bob & Tom"

During a spare minute earlier last month, I Googled myself. For those of you who see rock when you look up, Googling oneself entails doing a search using the popular search engine Google, using your name as the keyword. I do this on occasion, for several reasons, not the least of which is to see if the magazine has gotten any new hits, either in conventional or online media.

This time, one particular citation caught my eye: it was something about me and Dear Abby. It was a reference to an old bit I usta do where I would read a coupla Dear Abby columns and comment on them-- often, it is hoped, with riotous results. In this case, there was mention of a .wav file (a digital audio recording) of the bit. I clicked on it and was taken to the official website of Bob & Tom.

It seems that the Indianapolis-based Bob & Tom Show was featuring a recording of my bit. It was offered through the premium section of their website. By "premium," they mean that you gotta pay if you wanna hear it.

I tried accessing the file, but, like I said, it was pay only. So, I dashed off a mock-irate email to them, via their site, asking which weasel comey club owner sold them an audio tape of my set. I also told them that I'd be appearing in Indianapolis at the end of the month, at Oneliners, and that I'd like nothing more than to come up and guest on the show and do the bit live. Within a day or two I received a nice email (and a voicemail) from Bob & Tom's assistant, Joni Downing, inviting me to appear (which, I suppose is the wrong word, being that this is radio) on the show in conjunction with that Oneliners appearance. It was decided that I would appear at 7 AM on Friday, June 27. This is good. I would be able to add "As heard on the Bob & Tom Show" to my list of credits.

During a followup phone call, I learned how they obtained audio of me doing the Dear Abby bit: I appeared on the Bob & Tom Show ! How freaky is that? I don't even remember being on the show. No one at B & T seemed to be able to recall when I had appeared, either. Which is excusable, since they've been doing their show every day, five days a week, since the early 80s. I guess I'm off the hook, too, since the last time I worked in Indy might have been 1991 or so. Over the years, I have done a ton of radio shows, so it's understandable that one might have gottem lost in the sauce. One other thing: the show has only been nationally syndicated since 1995, which means when I did it, it hadn't yet become the big hairy deal that it is now. It was a splendid show, it just wasn't THE BOB & TOM SHOW. Just how big a deal is it?

Well, the show airs on more than 120 stations in 37 states. Their morning zoo-type format wakes up millions of listeners in dozens of towns. Many of which have established, full-time comedy clubs. You don't hafta have an MBA from Wharton to figure that, from an club owner's POV, booking a comic that's appeared on B & T is a surefire attendance booster. And it's rather obvious that an appearance on Bob & Tom is an instant profile-raiser for the comedian as well. Multiple appearances on the show have turned more than one comic into a "draw." So comics who are sanctioned by the show draw more, which means they can ask for more money. Club owners like to fill seats, so they pay a premium for anyone who is a Bob & Tom regular. Well, well-- doesn't that work out well for all concerned?

Sure, you can get a Letterman appearance or get two or three Conans and parlay that into a development deal or a signing with high-powered management. But if you're interested in working the clubs in flyover country and you're interested in bumping up the money for your work in the trenches, nothing beats a Bob & Tom credit. Indeed, we were once told that the owner of a club in the midwest was trying to book only comics who had a Bob & Tom credit. At least that was his top priority. He would, by necessity, be forced to book some that didn't, but his main criteria was whether they had name recognition by virtue of their appearance on that radio show.

Their bios tell us that in 1983, Bob Kevoian (the one with the mustache) and Tom Griswold stepped off the radio merry-go-round and landed in Indianapolis. That's 1983 B.S. (Before Stern). It would be another 7 years or so before Stern could persuade Mel Karmazin to syndicate him. He did so by destroying the reigning champion of Philadelphia radio (and purported inventor of the Morning Zoo format-- yeah, right), John DeBella. As Stern tells it, he and Karmazin struck a deal whereby national syndication was the prize for knocking DeBella off his perch. DeBella's formula for his legendary success was a fast-paced show with an emphasis on comedy-- pre-taped bits, wacky phone calls, stunts, live interviews with musicians and standup comics in the studio, rock and roll. Lots of yucks, big bucks and soaring ratings for the station.

It might be said that Bob & Tom have perfected the Zoo format. The two are joined by a news gal (Kristi Lee) and a sports guy (Chick McGee). Producer Dean Metcalf presides over the whole affair, behind a large pane of glass overlooking a palace of a studio. It's four hours of humor, broken up with more humor. There's a heavy emphasis on in-studio guests-- hardly a day goes by without at least one. Guests run the gamut from comics to authors to musicians. This week, Letterman's head writer Bill Scheft will be there to plug his book, and earlier in the week, they welcomed Bob Newhart. One day last week they had Styx in the house. And on Thursday, it was me for three hours. The next day, it was comics Mike Lucas, Pablo Francisco and Mark Sweeney. You get the idea.

The show is, by nearly all measures, a wild success. It's influence in the comedy business is substantial, both nationally and in Indy. Just a look at the local comedy club scene proves that: Indianapolis is ranked 29th among U.S. metro areas, with a population of 1.5 million, yet there are four full-time comedy clubs there. That's staggering when you consider that Philadelphia, a town that ranks 6th with a population of 5.9 million in the Consolidated Metropolitan Statistical Area, has only one major club.

I arrived at the club Wednesday night and learned that I had been "bumped" to Thursday morning. Okay. I can adjust. 24 fewer hours to prepare, but I'm okay with that. I gotta say that I put substantially more thought into this radio appearance than any other. Not that I've slacked off on radio shots in Glens Falls or Tacoma or Omaha. It's just that these guys seem to have high standards when it comes to guests. The buzz is that they've been known to cut an appearance short if it's not going gangbusters. The coveted return visit isn't automatically extended, it's earned. Which all seems reasonable-- and may provide a clue to the show's suceess. But it also means that a visit to the their lair shouldn't be taken lightly.

I even went so far as to listen to a show or two as part of my preparation for my appearance. As the show doesn't air in Philly, I persuaded Joni Downing to send me a password so that I could access the archived shows on the website. I got a feel for what they wanted by sampling interviews with Drew Hastings and Vinnie Favorito and listening to some taped comedy bits.

On game day, I was escorted to the green room (which is actually the show's office). Bob came in during a break to tell me how much he liked the magazine. That put me at ease. It's always nice to know that the host(s) are familiar with the mag. An assistant told me the ground rules: Stay away from the seven dirty words, don't trash any cities (so as not to offend the affiliates) and, by the way, we're not in Indianapolis (wink, wink). In other words, let's not make any references to I-465 or the weather or the Colts, as we seek to dispel any notion that we're a local show out of Indy. During the next break I was ushered into the studio.

I'm no stranger to a radio studio. I even worked as a writer for a radio show here in Philly. The B & T studio is imposing; it's the largest one I've ever been in. The four principals sit at a horseshoe-shaped table with two spare mikes between Kristi and Chick. I took my place next to Kristi. Past her, to my far left, was Tom. To my right, Chick. Across from me, partially obscured by equipment, was Bob. The headphones actually worked. This was a good sign. How many studios have I been in where the headphones are either dead in one side or crackly or dead altogether (IF they even provide you with a set of "cans" in the first place!)? It was obvious that this operation was top-flight.

The On-Air light was lit and I heard Tom Griswold's classic radio voice announcing the day's upcoming events, including "an in-studio visit from standup comic Brian McKim..." I didn't feel as much adrenalin as I've felt on TV shots, but I did get a bit of a rush leading up to this. That might be explained by the fact that this type of appearance is different from actually performing the act in front of cameras and an audience. It's got the live element and it's electronic media, but the objectives are different and there's the element of being funny while interacting with others. It's more like what is known as "doing panel," that part of a TV appearance where you sit down next to the host after you've performed and you generate laughs by either genuinely interacting or by working in (seemlessly, it is hoped) material.

Eventually, I was introduced. After some straight interview, it was on to the funny stuff. Overall, my choice of material was good, I think. I made one crucial tactical error, maybe: I led off with what I thought was right up the ol' B & T alley-- a series of headlines and articles from my archives. The reaction to it in-studio was strange and not at all what I had hoped. I had visions of being tossed into the hallway during the first commercial break. The raucous laughter wasn't immediately forthcoming. I bulled through. Eventually things lightened up and I was still around at the beginning of the next segment. Nearly three hours later, I was still on the air.

I did some material that I hadn't yet adapted for the stage, some things that had occurred to me that morning while reading USA Today, and a coupla pieces of new material from the act that seemed appropriate for the show either by virtue of length or tone or because it actually fit naturally into the conversation. After a while, I got the distinct idea that it was appropriate, even encouraged, to interrupt the hosts or the others, provided that what was contributed had a good chance of resulting in major ha-ha's. It was appropriate to initiate interaction (as opposed to passively waiting for it). In other words, treat the whole situation as if you're all at the diner, after a gig, engaging in a spirited and friendly version of Top That, Motherfucker. It was fun. Genuinely so.

I was scheduled to appear on The Big Dumb Show, in a studio down the hall on X-103 ("Indy's Rock Alternative"), so I skittered down there and did my radio thing with host Gonzo Greg. I never did go back in to the B & T studio to say farewell. Kinda figured they were rapping things up, anyway.

Will I be back? I don't know. I haven't solicited any feedback. I think the whole process is informal. If I'm rescheduled in Indy (or if my schedule finds me passing through Indy), I may send along an email and see if I'm welcome. I would obviously like to return, not only for the reasons stated at the top of this column, but because it was exciting and it was a creative challenge. One other thing: The link to the magazine off of the B & T website shattered previous records for unique visitors.

In the meantime, I must say that we appreciate what Bob & Tom do for standup. There is no doubt that their reliance on the talent and creativity of standup comics is a large part of the success of their enterprise. But their showcasing of standup comics over the last two decades has benefited live standup in ways that are incalculable. Thanks, gentlemen (and lady), and I hope to hang with you again. HOME Back to the Top