On the first day Ron and Fez arrived in New York to go on air at WNEW in February 2000, Earl Douglas was there. He later would become executive producer for the show, January of 2009 when he resigned on air. He spent nine years producing for the show and would become a giant part of the Ron and Fez story. Now with the Ron and Fez story coming to a close, Earl shares his thoughts.
Like many people, when I went on The IBang and saw the headline that Fez Whatley was retiring, I thought it was an April Fool’s joke. I was thinking to myself that I just saw the guys a few days ago, shaved Fezzie’s head to close out a bet, and it couldn’t possibly be true. But the story didn’t go away, and in fact became more detailed in the how and why, yet I still couldn’t believe it. Ron and Fez never did anything half-assed and….then it hit me. It is happening. They picked the one day that would stand out, the one day that would kept everyone guessing whether or not if was on the up and up. It was unique, it was different and it certainly got everyone’s attention.
In other words, classic Ron & Fez.
I didn’t know much about Ron & Fez when they came to New York other than knowing they had killed doing morning drive in Florida, (we didn’t Google yet kids). It made me wonder why a highly successful team would leave a really good situation in the Sunshine State to do a late show on a fledgling New York talk station that everyone was predicting to fail. The answer to that question led me into the wonderful mind of Ron Bennington.
Ronnie, as he always does, saw the bigger picture and realized that whether it was late, overnight or on a weekend, you were still on the air in the number 1 market and that was all that mattered. He jumped on the dot com boom early and branded the show, ‘Ron & Fez Dot Com’, knowing it would be the hook to draw you into their super quick style of comedy.
The first thing that impressed me about the show right out of the box was that they didn’t fall into the trap that hurts a lot of shows new to the New York market.
In other words, like real, down to Earth people. And it was funny. Really funny.
You didn’t want to miss a show – you felt as though you really missed something if you did. Ron would say these things that were so cerebral, thought-provoking and multi-layered, I would find myself still musing on it for days. Then Fez would say these lines that would slice and dice you so hard, you didn’t even realize how many times he just comically cut you up. Put those two things together, it was comedy gold – especially when you add all of the characters that makes up the New York late night audience.
How Ron managed to centerfield all of the nuttiness with a straight face is a testament to his genius.
When the 9/11 attacks crushed New Yorkers and the nation, Ron & Fez nursed us through our anger, fears and, in time, make it ok to laugh again. Ron was able to ask hard questions about ‘where do you go as a country’ without sounding judgmental or condescending; he offered comfort
Every single person that I met in the business – New York, Florida, D.C., Philly, L.A., you name it – had nothing but kind words about Ron & Fez. That is REALLY rare and a strong testament to them as professionals and as people.
The move to XM (later SiriusXM) became a perfect fit. The language was saltier, more open, honest and more street, playing to the show’s strengths. There were little to no time restrictions on segments: if it was hot, it could stretch into an hour and, in some cases, dominate an entire show. It also became a great platform for Ron’s exceptional interview skills, which, again, sounded more like in-depth conversations rather than your standard Q&A. This was creative people talking about the creative process that was not only interesting, it was riveting. Ron’s interviews became so popular by fans and guests, that it was spun off into two shows: Unmasked and Ron Bennington Interviews.
Fez’s struggles have been well-documented and I won’t replay them here. But I have always admired his candor, honesty and bravery in how he’s managed to confront these issues, and continue to do the show, even when he was struggling. I’ve said it in private conversation and I’ll say it publicly: Fez Whatley is the bravest man I know. This particular part of your life is ending, but I have doubt that you will be just as successful, happy and fulfilled in the next one. Love you Fezzie!
I wish everyone had someone like Ron Bennington in their lives. If you want to know what a best friend is, look at his relationship with Fez. Ron stuck by Fez through all of the personal and professional challenges, gave zero quarter to those who tried to steer him of course, and always saw the grand vision on air and off. This marks a new life chapter for him as well, but I have no doubt at all that he would build.
I could go on and on, but instead I will just say thank you Ron & Fez. Thank you for the Spy Reports, Fezzatorials, and Comedy Pyramids. Thank you for helping me look outside myself and seeing things in a much broader context. Thank you for making me laugh so hard at times that I couldn’t breathe. You are family to the end.
The Ron & Fez may be coming to an end, but it will always be the best thing going…..TODAY! WOOOOOOO!
Here’s the legendary Black Earl song, a fan favorite, written and performed by Brother Joe.