Catching Up With Ben Hoffman of The Ben Show
Ben Hoffman is just another nice little Jewish boy from rural Kentucky with a Comedy Central show. After some stints as a writer (notably on Comedy Central’s Sports Show with Norm McDonald), he scored his own show The Ben Show, which premiered last weekend on the network. He sat down with us this week to talk about both shows, as well as Swamp People, The Big Lebowski, and why he’s a big fan of documentary film. You can catch The Ben Show Thursdays at 10:00 PM on Comedy Central.
PASTE: So big, a big weekend for you. Tell me what it was like to see all of this come to fruition! The 28th was your premiere, right?
Ben Hoffman: Yeah, I did Kimmel last night. I’m still receiving texts from that, and calls. I don’t know, is it a bad sign that I’m getting more calls about Kimmel than my own show? But.. uh… good! The response has been overwhelming positive, and the kind of show I make is one that I’m expecting lots of negativity for. It’s new and different and a little bit controversial. Am I allowed to curse?
PASTE: Sure! Absolutely! It’s preferred, actually.
Hoffman: I say shit, fuck and titties and stuff like that a lot, and there are people who don’t like to hear that, so you’re expecting negative stuff but you’re- I’ve got to be honest, I’m pretty shocked by these positive reactions that I’ve been receiving and I’m hoping for more negativity very soon.
PASTE: Is that something that you’re more comfortable with? In your life?
Hoffman:It’s kind of what I know, kind of what I’m good at. I don’t want this to go to my head.
PASTE: Do you have the Jewish guilt thing? Do you feel like that’s what you deserve?
Hoffman: Oh, yeah, totally, yeah. I believe that I deserve to be killed in the ratings by Swamp People and that has come true. By the way, print this, fuck Swamp People!
PASTE: Who needs them?
Hoffman: I spent my whole life trying to get my own show, then I make the funniest show I could make, and this happens. I should have just made a show about a bunch of inbreds hanging out in a swamp.
PASTE: It’s not too late!
Hoffman: Yeah. I know. That’s what Jimmy told me.
PASTE: Well, speaking about getting to this point, tell me about the long and winding road to getting your own show on Comedy Central. That’s gotta be every comedian’s dream, right?
Hoffman: I moved out here to be a writer; that was my first kind of gig. I was a writer/performer for this show called Infomania on Current TV that nobody watched for good reasons. But it was a good opportunity for me and it was a lot of fun and I made a lot of friends there. And Comedy Central people saw the show, and this new show came around over there called Sports Show with Norm Macdonald and I’m like the biggest Norm fan in the world so I said, I can write on this show, I am going for it. So I kind of pushed and prodded my way in, and Norm saw my stuff and he became a fan. So I got a writing gig on that show, which led to other writing gigs. And Norm actually put me on the show, and I think Comedy Central was happy with my on camera stuff so you know, I’m one of those guys who tends to be a writer but always ends up on TV pretending that it’s an accident, but in actuality that’s what I wanted because all I care about is myself and seeing myself on TV. So, that led to a lot of other writing gigs and then I pitched this show to them, and they made a mistake and picked it up.
PASTE: How did you pitch it to them? What did that look like?
Hoffman: You know, it’s a long process, the pitching and the getting the pilot made. They were big fans of all my Man On The Street stuff back in the my old Current TV days, and I wanted to do a sketch show, so we kind of combined the two in what I think is a new and interesting way to do a sketch comedy show. Some of the reviewers disagree. I wanted to make a type of show that’s hard to turn off. The whole show breathes together. The challenge was to make a sketch show that A) the stuff between the sketches was as funny as the sketches themselves and B) it told a story, so you’d have to watch the whole show.
Hoffman: And I achieved both my goals. Because I am an achiever.
PASTE: Oh. Got it. Are you a Little Lebowski Urban Achiever?
Hoffman: Yeah, I’m a-is that what they’re called?
PASTE: Yeah. Remember, Philip Seymour Hoffman is showing Jeff Bridges the pictures on the wall? “These are our Little Lebowski Urban Achievers.”
Hoffman: So, racially, he’s pretty cool?
PASTE: Yeah. That’s right. Different Mothers. Hoffman is an underrated comedic genius. He’s such a good dramatic actor that people forget-
Hoffman: I really appreciate it. Oh! You’re taking about my cousin Philip again.
PASTE: That’s right! Well, you are too. Your cousin Philip. Your cousin Dustin.
Hoffman: Exactly. All of a sudden I thought you were throwing a compliment my way. Then I came to my senses.
PASTE: The wet kiss is coming in the write up, not the interview. Sorry.
Hoffman: All right, cool.
PASTE: So speaking of sort of tying this together, and it being a little bit different, I also like how you skirt the edge of reality and fiction, bringing in your dad and bringing in your therapist. Documentary films like The Imposter are really starting to do that.
Hoffman: If I just wanted to sit down and enjoy something, all I watch is documentaries. That’s all I watch. I love comedy films obviously but it’s impossible to make a funny comedy. I’m not saying there aren’t any out there, but to be funny for a hundred minutes is nearly impossible. And I realize I’m no Albert Brooks, I’m no Judd Apatow, I’m no Woody Allen. But happened pretty organically, I was like, how do I weave real stuff, because that’s what I like doing. But I also love the sketch comedy. So then I’m like, how do I go from the real people to these fictional sketches. I could give them lines, or feed them lines, but it’s going to come off as actor-y. I want them to be themselves. So I said, fuck it, I’ll just hand them a piece of paper and have them read it. You know, the audience knows they’re not actors. And I know they’re not an actor. If they try to act they’re going to make an ass of themselves. so I just hand them a piece of paper, they’ll read it… it’s like the whole world is my Ed McMahon. Whoever I see on the street is my co host for that moment. So, it just seemed like the easiest way to do it at the time. It seemed to work in the show. And it was an extra way to get an extra joke in there. So, it seemed to work and again, I like being funny with real people. But I also like doing comedy sketches. And I think if I were stuck in one or the other, It would get old to me. So there’s enough of each that it keep me interested. And weaving it all together is a challenge I enjoy. Me and the staff. Of course I don’t do it all myself.
PASTE: What can we expect in the future of the show? What crazy places are you going to next? Can you preview a little bit?
Hoffman: Last week was ‘Ben Buys A Gun,’ this week is ‘Ben Forms A Band.’ The band has a blind date episode, which is episode four, which is actually the pilot, which is actually the craziest episode of all because it’s so dirty.
A lot of people are liking episode six, ‘Ben Takes Ambien.’ I decided I’m going to tape the entire show on Ambien. And by the end I’m barely with it. It’s really funny-because in my head, I’m like, I can take an Ambien and shoot the show in an hour and it’ll be fine. But you forget about the lights and the camera and shit and all of a sudden it’s four hours in and I’m nodding out. Which is funny for the audience but not so funny for me. I had to get a driver to take me home. But it’s funny to watch me try and stay awake through the Ambien.
There’s one called ‘Ben Chills The Fuck Out,’ so I try to deal with my anxiety. So yeah, it gets crazy. I mean, the goal was to make eight episodes that were all equally good. We failed miserably at that, but I do think that, all jokes aside, you can watch Episode Eight as Episode One. They all fit together, to tell the story of me.. AKA, a fucking idiot. I got a weird review that I really liked, saying that it gets so filthy but has a lot of heart, with my dad, showing real people… it’s such an odd mixture of the two. I don’t know if they were being positive or negative, but I like it. That’s what I’m trying to do. Let me bash you over the head with the most insanely, filthy sketch you’ve ever seen and then show you just me, talking to my dad back home in Kentucky.