Ari Shaffir’s Renamed Storyteller Show: An Oral History
(Lessons in how to take a bar gig into one of the best nationally touring shows in comedy.)
Part Ten: Season Four
Two weeks before filming Ari Shaffir left This is Not Happening over tension with the network.
Eric Abrams: It happened two weeks before we started taping the fourth season and it was completely unexpected.
Steve Simeone: Eric and I went out for Chinese food and he asked if I’d spoken to Ari yet, and I hadn’t. But at that time, I started getting boxes of wardrobe sent to my apartment, because when he’s in town he stays with me. And when he got to town he told me his side of the story.
Steve Rannazzisi: I knew that Ari was 100% in his mind right, so you were not going to be able to talk him out of it. And he told me he’d weighed the pros and cons and he said “this is what has to happen.” And I don’t know anyone that disagreed with his decision. And I think Comedy Central was short sighted in their decision because they could have had a great show curated by one of the great comics working right now. And they let that go because he wanted to do a special on another network. Half their talents doing the same thing. Once Ari explained his reasoning, I knew that unless they buckled, there was no way Ari would change his mind. I felt bad for Eric and Sam because everyone was still attached to the show, but I knew Ari wouldn’t be going back.
Bert Kreischer: Comedy Central was very unwise in the way they handled that. What they were getting from Ari were guys who wanted to do the show because of the experience Ari created on that set and because they were doing it for Ari. Ari gave each comic who did the second season a gram of mushrooms. He gave me two grams saying, “here’s some for LeeAnn.” I was gearing up for a Netflix special and would have taken one of the stories and used it on This is Not Happening. For Ari. Without him, Tom Segura and I just pulled our stories and said we aren’t going to do the show. Tom and I called each other and decided, we don’t have an interest in giving Comedy Central our material. We’d do it for Ari, we’d go on his show and tell a story because we care about him and want his show to succeed. But both Tom and I said, we’re not willing to do this for Comedy Central. And this is nothing against Roy Wood Jr., he’s a great guy and he had to do it. But it isn’t Roy’s show and the heart of the show is kind of lost. If you had any questions about the story you were planning to do, you could always call Ari. And Ari sat through the editing and gave comics rough cuts. If he took out something he’d call and explain why. He’d send the first cut and second cut and say, “I think it flows better this way.” That show was Ari’s heart, and the heart had been taken out of the show.
Greg Fitzsimmons: I was shocked when the TV show continued without Ari because there’s never been a show that’s more organically like an extension of a person.
Ari Shaffir: Eric directed the fourth season. He managed to salvage the show and played peace keeper between me and Comedy Central.
Bert Kreischer: He never told anyone not to do the show, he told everyone to do the show. I just said, “fI don’t care what you say, I’m not doing the show.”
Steve Rannazzisi: Had Ari booked me before what happened happened, I would have done a story out a commitment I’d made. Had they come to me after everything happened, I would have declined out of my allegiance to Ari.
Joey Diaz: When I found out what was going on I called Ari and asked, “what do you want me to do.” He said “I’m out, but I want you to do the show.” I’d still be working with Eric and I’d be working with Roy Wood Jr., who is a sweetheart. So I did it. But if Ari had told me not to do it, I wouldn’t have done it. My loyalties with Ari.
Big Jay Oakerson: I know Roy and Ari talked, and he told Roy to take the job. Ari told me he liked when people said “if Ari’s not doing, I’m not doing it.” But he also told me he knows the TV credit has value and wants the show to be good. People will always associate the show with him.
Steve Simeone: At Ari’s request I stayed on. He told me, your job’s even more important now because I won’t be there. Remember when I gave you your shot. Remember that this is their shot. Make sure they look good. Because there’s nothing more heartbreaking then to know you killed on stage, and thinking the product America will see has been butchered.
Ryan O’Neill: I’d booked the show almost a year before off my performance at one of the live story telling shows I did at the Belly Room. Ari was this great resource for me while I worked on the story, because I’m more of a joke guy. One of the best pieces of advice he gave me was “don’t worry about the silence, they’ll be on board.” Two weeks before we started filming Ari called me and said “I’m sorry, but I don’t think I’m going to be the host anymore.” He called to tell me that I should still do the show. He’s not someone who would burn it all down because he got screwed over. That show was his baby. He’d spent two years getting me on the show, so I knew I was going to do it. But he felt bad that he wasn’t going to be there and be the one to bring me onstage. I talked to him literally right before I recorded the show. Roy’s a great guy but I know Ari wanted to be there for me.
Dave Landau: I wouldn’t have booked the show if it weren’t for Ari, he worked with me on that story and when he left it was kind of bizarre. But when he was on my show he said he wanted the comics to do the next season. He wanted them to get the air time and tell their stories. Had he not done that, I don’t think I would have done it. It was really hard for Roy Wood Jr. to come into that show, even though Ari told him to take the job. Ari was so fully involved in the show from booking to editing, he wasn’t just hosting it. Ari created that show and he was that show.
Steve Simeone: So many comedians pulled out from the show that Eric was scrambling to find comics. But I didn’t have any time to work on a story. Eric reached out, asking if I could get a story ready. I said I’d try. And the only advice Ari gave me was, “don’t put anything out there that isn’t perfect to you. It isn’t fair to you as a performer to put something you’ve worked on for two weeks out there on television when other comics have spent two years working on their stories.” Out of my allegiance to Eric I tried, but I told him, I just can’t make this work in time we have. I got a call from Sam who said “I know it’s not ready, you aren’t ready to retire it, it doesn’t meet your standards. But tomorrow night I need you to perform it live, take the tape for your archives, it won’t be used by Comedy Central. But we need your energy in the room for the other comics so it will be easier for them. And I agreed to do that.
Big Jay Oakerson: I didn’t say anything about what I was going to do. But when I got off stage everyone were nodding their heads. Ari wouldn’t want anyone to shit on the production, it’s still his people, his crew. It meant something for him that it would still be a good product.
Steve Simeone: I don’t even think we had a conversation about not keeping those references in the cut. Eric and I certainly wanted to keep them in the show. I felt bad because I have all of Ari’s tour shirts. But for whatever reason the one Dan Soder wanted to wear I couldn’t find in my collection when Ari asked if I had it. I felt so bad, I found it three months ago and sent him a picture so he knew I still had it.
Eric Abrams: Roy has only hosted the show in June of 2017 when we taped it and at Clusterfest when we did a live version of the show. And his deal closed 4 or 5 days before we started production. And everything was already set up when he became the host. It was hard on me emotionally when this happened, fortunately Roy’s great and so easy to work with and made that transition as smooth as it could have been. We shot 20 episodes in 2017, they released 10 in 2018 and 10 in 2019. And we haven’t done more This is Not Happening shows since then. I love Roy as a comic and a host and a person, but it feels more natural for me to do these shows with Ari.
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Lesley Coffin is a feature editor for FF2media and has also written the books Lew Ayres: Hollywood Conscientious Objector (2012) and Hitchcock's Stars (2014), and currently writing a third book. Follow on twitter @filmbiographer for thoughts on movies and cat pictures.