Arrow-right Camera
The Spokesman-Review Newspaper

The Spokesman-Review Newspaper The Spokesman-Review

Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
Clear Night 54° Clear
News >  Features

For network exec, comedy takes work

Scott Collins Los Angeles Times

Kent Alterman’s job is to bring the funny.

Alterman, the 57-year-old president of content development and original production for Comedy Central, helps oversee such hits as “South Park,” “The Daily Show With Jon Stewart” and “The Colbert Report.”

He’s also leading the network through a major period of transition, as Colbert prepares to exit the network at the end of the year in a move that will shake up late-night TV yet again.

Q: At the end of this year you will lose Stephen Colbert, who’s leaving to replace David Letterman on CBS. Comedy Central made Colbert a star, so how’s it feel to watch him walk away?

A: On a personal level, it hurts a lot. I’ve known and worked with Stephen for years. I developed and executive- produced a show with him and Amy Sedaris and Paul Dinello called “Strangers With Candy.” We go way back.

Definitely it’s a loss for us, but at the same time we never expected him to really want to do that character forever.

Q: But Bill “Papa Bear” O’Reilly, Colbert’s inspiration, has been playing his own version of the character on Fox News for much longer.

A: I have a feeling Bill O’Reilly plays that character 24/7. That is my way of saying that Bill O’Reilly is most likely a more genuine person than Stephen is.

Q: How did you feel about the reports that NBC News was seriously considering “Daily Show” host Jon Stewart as the next host of that most sober Sunday morning politics show, “Meet the Press”?

A: Jon would never consider himself to be a journalist. He’s the court jester who’s poking fun at the idiocy and hypocrisy in the world. It’s about being funny – that’s what drives him.

Q: What about the idea that a news program would want to hire a professional comedian as host?

A: Maybe Gallagher might be available.

Q: A lot of comics, from Michael Richards to Gilbert Gottfried, have been called out on social media for telling what many have deemed inappropriate jokes. Is social media making comedy a more risky business?

A: One really unfortunate, negative effect that social media has had is it’s breached a really sacred trust of comedy clubs. A comic really needs to have a forum to work out their material. … For comedians to have to worry about who is recording what and where it’s going to go is a real travesty to the pure creativity that can happen in a comedy club.

Q: What’s been your biggest professional disappointment?

A: I was friendly with Steve Carell from the first time I was at Comedy Central. We got to know each other a little bit. Then when I moved to Los Angeles to work at New Line, we would get together to have lunch. … He told me about a character I really liked. But I had a project in development that was too similar to it. So I had to pass on it.

Lo and behold, sometime in the future he and Judd Apatow came to pitch what became “The 40-Year-Old Virgin.”

Q: So, you were the guy who passed on “40-Year-Old Virgin.”

A: Yes.

Q: Did you also turn down the Beatles?

A: Yeah. I knew they probably had one good record in there, but I just didn’t see the whole career.

The Spokesman-Review Newspaper

Local journalism is essential.

Give directly to The Spokesman-Review's Northwest Passages community forums series -- which helps to offset the costs of several reporter and editor positions at the newspaper -- by using the easy options below. Gifts processed in this system are not tax deductible, but are predominately used to help meet the local financial requirements needed to receive national matching-grant funds.

Active Person

Subscribe now to get breaking news alerts in your email inbox

Get breaking news delivered to your inbox as it happens.