Working on anything that has the word “comedy” in the job description should be fun and a laugh a minute or at least every 15 minutes.
But unless you are in the cable television business or part of the SNL group (I don’t really have to say what that stands for, right?), you learn by reading Art Bell’s memoir that working on a show or channel devoted to making people laugh is akin to falling down Alice’s rabbit hole. You don’t know what’s behind an innocent-sounding “eat me” lunch invitation sign or an executive’s Cheshire Cat grin.
Having grown up in my dad’s “Mad Men” world of advertising where clients are fickle and public trends change with each phase of the moon, I thought I knew what to expect when picking up Bell’s memoir.
The book was a surprise.
It read like one of the well-plotted mysteries I’ve been enjoying during the Covid crises that has kept me from reviewing shows in person.
A former cable television channel executive who had done everything from finance and marketing to creating and managing shows and channels, Bell takes readers behind the scenes of the tumultuous world he navigated while creating the 24-hour comedy network that became Comedy Central. (*He later joined and became President of Court TV.)
Each turn of his navigation that seemed promising in the beginning of a chapter turned so problematic that you wonder what will happen next. Will the hero find a new route?
Usually, reading a non-fiction book takes me at least a drawn-out week. And I’m a speed reader. Instead, Bell’s memoir was in my “can’t-put-this-down,” can’t-dinner-wait category.
Constant Comedy: A Memoir by Art Bell. Subtitle: How I started Comedy Central and Lost My Sense of Humor. (Ulysses Press Berkeley CA, September 2020.)