The Ben Show is a sketch show/man-on-the-street hybrid from the mind of comedian Ben Hoffman. Every week, with the advice of unwitting strangers and experts alike, Ben works towards a personal goal like starting a band, buying a gun, going on a blind date or returning to his hometown in Kentucky. Along the way on Ben's journey, the show features original sketches, songs and animation.
Debuting tonight with Ben Buys a Gun, we caught up with Hoffman to chat about this mind-blowing series. Will we see more Doug Perkins in the near future? Here's our conversation.
This show could use a little bit more Doug Perkins! Can you make that happen for me?
Ben Hoffman: Oh, yeah! Listen to me, I'm not joking. Episode 8? There is more Doug Perkins. Yes. More than you'll ever want to see.
He's a writer on the show, right?
Ben Hoffman: Yes, he is. How do you know Doug?
I've known that guy for almost ten years. I don't really remember where I first met him.
Ben Hoffman: I'm not kidding. He has his own sketch in episode 8. That is really, really funny.
Did you meet him through stand-up?
Ben Hoffman: No, I actually don't do stand-up. I met him on Sports Show. He was a writer there. I was a writer and a correspondent on that. We stayed friends. When I got the show, I said, "I got to get Doug on this show!" Which worked out well, cause he was unemployed.
Its weird to me now, cause all of a sudden, I am seeing a lot more people that I actually know on TV.
Ben Hoffman: Its no less a shock for me seeing myself on TV.
This show seems as though you took a couple of different ideas and mashed them together. Its not your typical man on the street show, nor is it your typical sketch show...
Ben Hoffman: That was kind of the point. Comedy Central has been great. They loved the idea of the show. They are letting me do whatever I want. If I can do whatever I want, I'm going to find a way to go do it! We were trying to figure out a way to do man on the street stuff mixed with sketch comedy, which is what we love. I think we figured out a way to do it. Am I right? Hello?
I think you're absolutely right. Yeah. I didn't know what to expect going in. And for a viewer, that first episode is always hard...I don't know how you feel about it, being on the creative side...
Ben Hoffman: That is why I'm happy. I like that we are on a new night, with a bunch of new stuff on Comedy Central. We give people a chance to discover this stuff. It's not all about those first week numbers. If you give people a chance to try and find the show...They don't have to get the first episode. It's not like a movie on opening weekend, where if you open, and you don't do well, you are sunk. We have this whole season for people to find us. After Episode 4, I think you'll enjoy Episode 1 more when you go back and watch it.
Is the first episode that you're airing the one that I got? Where you go out and buy a gun?
Ben Hoffman: Yeah, that is the first episode.
How long ago did you shoot that? The 2nd Amendment, and guns in general, are such a hot button topic right now...
Ben Hoffman: We shot it...Again, I'll give the network credit...We shot it before New Town and all of that stuff. We had a discussion about what we should do, now. That is a huge debate right now. They felt how I felt. I didn't intend for it to be a political piece in any way, shape, or form. We had an interview with the NRA set up that I canceled, because I didn't want it to be political at all. But it comes across as an anti-gun episode in a weird way. I think they were kind of...The segment I made about guns, they were kind of happy with it. I don't think they saw it as anything controversial. Here is a guy who shows you how to buy a gun. This is how you do it. He buys the gun and he got scared. That's how we do it.
I didn't find that aspect of this particular episode controversial. Maybe some of the other stuff in the episode is questionable, but not that. I thought it was a very fresh take on the subject, and I was happy to see that voice getting put out there.
Ben Hoffman: I think that's exactly what they thought. I think that's why it is airing first. Because it was originally supposed to air first, and they decided to keep it there. In the middle of all this gun debate, there is this episode about guns, and its no way controversial, and it's a fresh take on the thing. It's basically a guy having everyone around him saying, "Don't buy this damn gun." Then I buy it, I shoot it, and I flip out. You know?
So, its easy to get a gun in Los Angeles...
Ben Hoffman: Yes. I had that ten-day waiting period that you saw on the show. But without being too crass, I had that line about, 'having a gun is like having two dicks, only this one you can stick in your mouth.' That is not a common go-to phrase for the gun debate right now. So, that is a fresh take on the ongoing debate that is hot right now.
My brother loves guns, and it always amazes me how many he is able to get in such a short period of time. He gets all kinds of different guns...
Ben Hoffman: That's the thing. Where are you from?
My brother is in Oregon, that's where he buys his guns...
Ben Hoffman: I'm from Kentucky, which no one will believe me that I have never shot a gun before. All of my friends have guns. But what you are seeing on TV at the end of that show...That is the first time I have ever shot a gun in my entire life. It's the first time I have touched a gun. You are watching a man for the first time ever shoot a gun.
Which is something we need to see...
Ben Hoffman: I thought it was pretty odd.
We haven't seen that before...
Ben Hoffman: The violence of it! Like I said, this is a real reaction of me flipping out after I shoot it. I'm not saying I am anti-gun or pro-gun. I don't take a stance in this debate. It's not my place to say anything on the gun debate. But, personally, I picked up a gun, I shot it, and I flipped out. I want no part of it. That is just a personal guy who doesn't want anything to do with shooting guns. Like talking to the penis enlargement doctor? That is not something you see on the NBC Nightly News when they are talking about the gun debate. It could have been on the news. Maybe I missed it. Maybe it was on there, who knows?
I don't think you missed it. I don't think that's happening. The tone of this first episode is different than the second episode. Though, I've only seen those first two...
Ben Hoffman: How do you think the tone was different, just out of curiosity?
It seemed more serious. That episode seemed more about you and your story in terms of buying the gun. The second episode was more lighthearted. There, the skits are tighter, you are joining a band. It seemed like a funner episode.
Ben Hoffman: Its weird that you say that. Theoretically, they are supposed to be the same tone. That is why I ask. Things out of our control changed the tone of the show...
Yeah, its definitely the subject matter.
Ben Hoffman: That's fine. That's life. What are you going to do? I give credit to the network for just airing it, you know?
I thought the sketches in the second episode were right on target. I thought they were a lot funnier...I'm not trying to criticize that first episode...
Ben Hoffman: We did a lot of work to make every episode...There are eight episodes...And we had to make everyone of them...No filler, all killer was my phrase. Episode 8 should be as funny as Episode 1. Different people find different things funny, you can't make it for everyone. But it is definitely a lot of work. There is no front loading. Every episode should stand on its own and be funny.
I don't want you take what I am saying in the wrong way. It's not that I didn't like the first episode...
Ben Hoffman: No, no, no, no...To me, it's a compliment. What you are saying is, the show is getting better. That's also what we wanted.
This is one of those instances where you are at the pool, and you slowly stick your toe in, cause you don't have a clue what the water is going to be like. I hadn't heard of the show at all until I sat down to watch the episodes. I didn't hear about the show from Doug. Watching the screeners was the first time I even saw him in the show. I had no clue what to expect from this. I didn't know what it was.
Ben Hoffman: That's what I love. I can't wait to get people's reaction to turning on the TV and going, "What the fuck is going on?" Which is the reaction I'm looking for. Hearing that you liked the second episode more...A couple of my friends have said that they like the second episode more, which is actually good, because its going to take a while to build an audience. I am doing Jimmy Kimmel on Monday. That will be between episode 1 and 2. So that second episode will probably be the one a lot of people see. So it's good. It was never the plan to do one awesome show and then seven fillers. We wanted to build and build, and tell a story throughout the season, too. And within each episode. It should...I think it is a compliment. I actually like what you are saying.
Thinking back on that first episode. We don't know you. We don't know what the show is. We see this docu-drama sort of scene that introduces you in a gun store, about to buy a gun. Then we are literally slapped with the Yobitchuaries, and that comes so far from left field. I literally said to myself, "What the fuck is this now?" You know? (Laughs)
Ben Hoffman: We had that discussion. We knew people were going to go, "What the fuck is this?" My reaction was, "Awesome!" That is the exact reaction we want. That is what people are going to talk about. You know? There is so much media out there. There is TV, and cable, and Internet, and Satellite radio, and podcasts, and music...There are video games...You have to make a 'what the fuck is this' show to even get a reaction. I'm not trying to be reactionary. But going from buying a gun straight to a sketch about people dying? A gangsta rapper rapping about the obituaries? That is the exact show I want to make. I think you'd have a different take on episode 1 now that you know how it works. But I like the reaction you had with episode 1.
I don't usually look at the newspaper, but we've been getting sent this small town newspaper here at the house, and I started reading these obituaries, which I haven't done since I was a kid. Then this sketch comes on. I'm like, "What is going on in my life? Am I about to die?" It resonated with me on a whole other level."
Ben Hoffman: That's the reaction I want. "What the fuck is this idiot doing?" It's totally on purpose. We had this discussion. If you were new to this, and you see me starting to tell a story, and then I just go off into crazy land, are people going to be with me or not? Well, they probably won't change the channel. That's all I care about. You know? It will make more sense as the series goes on, but to hit them over the head at the beginning is what I wanted.
You succeed at that. Right now, we're seeing such a boom in sketch comedy, with Portlandia, and Key & Peele, and StevieTV, and Kroll Show...I have to be honest, I have yet seen anything quite like your show amongst this wide array that we currently have to choose from. It's a unique experience. I'll give you that...
Ben Hoffman: That is the biggest compliment I could get. Basically, you live your life, and all you do is fit in and be like everyone else. Than you realize you're not like everyone else. And you're like, when you get into comedy, "If I ever do a TV show, I want to do me, myself, unfiltered." So, obviously, me being unfiltered will be unlike anything else on TV. So that means it worked. Because there is no other me. That used to be a problem, but now it seems to be working to my advantage. But, I wanted to do something that my friends could turn on and go, "Man, I don't like the show, but that is him. He captured himself on screen. That is who he is." No one else is gangsta rapping the obituaries...
Ben Hoffman: Counting down the top ten internet porn videos of the week with a barbershop quartet. There are all these crazy ideas that I had. Its freeing to do that, because you don't have to worry...I've never been the type of guy to worry whether or not someone else is stealing my ideas, or if someone else is doing something similar to me...I just do it knowing no one is going to rip me off. Because they can't. Because I am doing exactly what I want to do. So, I appreciate the compliment.
And you are getting that freedom from Comedy Central to do whatever it is you want to do?
Ben Hoffman: Yeah. We were at the premiere party last night, and I said on the podcast that all of my friends are making fun of me for being a company man. But it's the truth. They are having this new era at Comedy Central where they are giving comedians the freedom to do what they want to do. They are also giving...When they give notes, they say, "You don't have to take this note if you don't want it." Secondly, the notes are good. They make the show funnier. They want me unfiltered. They bought me as me. They don't want anybody else. As a guy who has been out in Los Angeles for a while, working for quote/unquote 'the man', usually having someone scream out the invisible enemy, the reason for all my misery, having that work on my side...I want to yell just to get it out, even though I agree with what they bring. You'll see new shows on Comedy Central, like Kroll Show and Key & Peele, that are really funny. There is a lot of cool new stuff, so it's a good time to be there.
I love Workaholics. I don't know how you feel about that show...
Ben Hoffman: Yeah, that's a great show too. That's another show where, like, they were nobody before that. Let's give them a shot and see what happens. It's a really funny show. Like I said, it's a really good time to be there. Especially if you are doing a show that is so out there, like the show that I'm doing. I don't want to emphasize that too much. There is a lot of grounding. It's the only show out there....You see my dad, you see people in my life...So there is a weird mix of craziness, and a mix of real stuff. Its probably the craziest mix of that you've ever seen in the same show. I don't know if you find that odd, but it's exactly what I wanted.
I have two more questions for you...
Ben Hoffman: Cool.
Tell me about this passing of notes to strangers and passerbys. You make other people on the street do your intro work for you...
Ben Hoffman: That was a thing we started out with. Comedy Central wanted us to do a man on the street show. I wanted to do a sketch show. We are trying to find a way to do both. I had a lot of goals. I wanted to create a new kind of sketch show. I also wanted to show people in my life, and I wanted to show real people. To me, real people are as funny as the sketches. I thought, "What if my co-hosts were just the real people out in the world?" So we took it from there. What if, instead of me or some actory host, real people introduced the sketches? It all happened organically. I didn't want to have to teach them the lines. Because then its not going to look like a real person. It will look like they are acting. I will just take a piece of paper, write it down, and have them read it. No one is going to learn it. I don't mind if the audience knows they are reading it. Its better than watching them pretend to act. Then, of course, it becomes a joke to watch them try to read. Then, of course, my favorite part is that you think I might be playing a joke on them. But the paper usually has an insult about me. That is the funniest thing. It's the cruelest trick of all time, which is, I am getting people to read something on camera that makes fun of me. That is the dumbest prank ever pulled on camera in humanity.
The girl in the second episode looked like she got a little upset about the idiot line. Like, she didn't understand it was pointed at you.
Ben Hoffman: Which one was that? I don't remember...
She's this young blonde girl, and the intro says something about an idiot reading it. I don't remember the exact line.
Ben Hoffman: Oh, yeah. That is the thing, too. She wasn't upset at all. It's important to me that everyone on the show...I don't like fucking with people. I don't like pissing people off. I like to be the butt of the joke. If anyone gets upset, or says, "Don't air this!" I immediately don't air it. Everyone that is on TV wanted to be on there. I just don't want to play pranks on people. Well, though, we obviously did that with the old ladies. We did it on that one...But everyone seems to enjoy it. We tell them its for Comedy Central, and you know...After they do it, they have to sign a release, don't forget. They have the option to sign it or not sign it. They all signed it. I feel...It is what it is. They are happy to be there. There was one guy who said he'd rather this not air. So I tore up his release, and I said, "If you don't want to be on the show, I don't want you on here." It works out fine, you know?
Ben Hoffman: (Answer Censored) ...I knew Norm MacDonald from Sports Show. I don't know if you are a Norm MacDonald fan, but I think he is the funniest man that ever lived. So, why not take the funniest guy ever, and put him in the dumbest scene of all time. Completely waste his talent. There are four of these throughout the series. Four of these Norm MacDonald parody movies. I wanted to have him over, tell him nothing, do these awful puns, and watch his reactions. That's what I love about Norm. He can make anything funny. He has not seen any of these films. Which one did you see?
The Social Network...
Ben Hoffman: Yeah, you would have seen The Social Normwork, I guess. We have more coming up that are even dumber than that. And watching his reaction to that, he is just one of the funniest guys. He kind of, in a way, he gave me my break. At a time when I was down and out, he hired me on this show. Having your favorite comedian tell you you're funny, and read your jokes, and being so supportive...Its not that he 'saved' me. But at that time, it kind of did. My payback is putting him in the dumbest sketches of all time. It was one of those things where I saw Norm perform at the improv because I bought a ticket. And two weeks later I am writing jokes for my favorite comedian to say on TV. In a weird way, that's what led to this. It gave me confidence. I got my confidence back. To have my favorite comedian saying my lines, telling me I was funny. It meant a lot. So I thought I'd pay him back in the most annoying way possible.