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The man behind @Super70sSports landed a TV show with Jimmy Kimmel. Here’s how it happened

Ricky Cobb, at Prince Arcades on Feb. 9, 2023, in Bolingbrook, Illinois, is the man behind the Super 70s Sports Twitter account. Cobb, 51, has teamed with Jimmy Kimmel for "Super Maximum Retro Show," a new series on Vice TV.    (Terrence Antonio James/Chicago Tribune/TNS)
By Chris Boghossian Chicago Tribune

CHICAGO — Ricky Cobb has tweeted for nearly 3,000 consecutive days.

The man behind the hilarious Super 70s Sports Twitter account — which Cobb started in earnest on Jan. 1, 2015 — has posted at least 60,000 times since then. And that’s a conservative estimate considering he frequently tweets 30 or 40 times per day.

“I would be surprised if there were two or three days when I tweeted less than 15 times,” the Bolingbrook resident said. “There haven’t been any pinch-hitting appearances to keep the streak alive.”

His persistence has led to bigger things.

Cobb, 51, hooked up with Jimmy Kimmel for “Super Maximum Retro Show,” a new TV series based on the Super 70s account. The first of 10 weekly episodes aired Tuesday on Vice TV and is being distributed worldwide by Vice Distribution.

So how did Cobb — a native of Horse Cave, Kentucky, who moved to the Chicago area in 2003 and teaches sociology at a suburban community college — connect with one of the most successful late-night talk-show hosts in history to be a creative consultant and executive producer of a TV show?

Via Twitter, naturally.

Kimmel, who had followed the Super 70s account for a while, sent Cobb a message on Sept. 16, 2019, telling him he thought what he was doing was funny and he enjoyed it.

“I remember getting that and thinking to myself, ‘Wow, that’s pretty great,’” Cobb said. “Certainly when somebody is that successful at their craft and where he is in the entertainment industry, it’s pretty good feedback to receive. It certainly encourages you and makes you feel like you’re on the right track.”

About a month later, Scott Lonker, president of Kimmelot — Kimmel’s production company — reached out to Cobb, saying they had interest in a project based on the Twitter account and wanted to know if he would help develop it.

Cobb was on board.

“Certainly that got my attention,” he said. “The whole thing was, ‘You’ve got something here, you’ve tapped into something with this Twitter account.’ And the challenge was trying to figure out, OK, how can it be converted into a television program that retains the essence of what people like about the Twitter account — what is that format and how would that work? What is that show?”

First, about that account: Cobb spends hours a day scouring the internet to find nostalgic photos, mostly from but not limited to his youth, anything from kids playing Evel Knievel on their Big Wheels or BMX bikes to toys, TV shows and movies from yesteryear to sports memorabilia to arcade and video games to athletes, heroes and villains of generations past and present. With those photos runs a whimsical caption that more times than not resonates with his more than 727,000 followers.

“If you’re of a certain age, I guarantee you that we’ve got a lot in common,” Cobb told the Tribune in a February 2019 interview. “People enjoy taking a walk through the past. People like to laugh. And we have these shared experiences. … I love doing it.”

After the initial contact, Cobb met with Kimmel and Lonker via Zoom for a 30ish-minute get-to-know-you session. Before he would invest time and resources in a show, Kimmel needed to learn more about the man behind the Super 70s Sports curtain. After the meeting, Cobb thought they had hit it off.

“I was really impressed with Jimmy — he was such an unassuming, nice guy,” Cobb said. “I could see right away how he would disarm somebody in terms of conducting an interview because here you are talking to this guy and it’s such a familiar face and someone that you’d watched on television for a long time and here you are having a conversation with him.

“But he immediately put me at ease, and right in the first two or three minutes I realized that this is a guy that had a pretty good sense of what I was doing and had a good handle on nostalgia and on my comedic sensibilities from following the feed.”

Things progressed from there, and after a few hiccups, Lonker called Cobb one day saying it could be a good fit for Vice TV. Lonker reached out to Pete Gaffney, senior vice president of programming at Vice. Gaffney was a perfect match for the project, Cobb said.

So started the collaboration and intense creative discussions. Kimmel pegged Chris Distefano as the show host and a handful of other comedians as panelists, reacting to and commenting on the content that one would see on the Super 70s Sports timeline — interesting, funny and embarrassing photos and videos from the 1970s, ‘80s and ‘90s.

“You put up the same kind of stuff that you would see me captioning and commenting upon and using for comedic fodder and you just let the panel react,” Cobb said. “It’s very organic in that sense.

“On a good day you get the banner aspect of Super 70s comments. But the great thing about the show is you’re getting that interaction right there in real time between really funny people.”

The comedian panelists include Hasan Minhaj, Roy Wood Jr., Chris Redd, Matteo Lane, Judy Gold, Chris Gethard and Adam Pally, among others.

Filmed in Stamford, Connecticut, the set of “Super Maximum Retro Show” is a 1970s-themed basement, complete with a merlot-colored shag carpet and a 50-year-old oval rug. The panelists sit in recliners and watch a supersized screen that looks like an old console television with two circular controls — the on-off/volume switch and the channel switch that viewers from yesteryear can hear clicking just from looking at it.

The room includes an oversized cassette tape and arcade game as well as sports memorabilia and roller skates. Keen observers also will recognize the tricolor Super 70s design on the backdrop wall.

After Distefano introduces the panelists, the fun begins.

“A lot of the time the photo or the video itself is very compelling and gets the visceral reaction from the audience,” Cobb said. “And then basically Chris maybe comments on it and then he kicks it over to the panel. … The idea is that it’s like the best of … if you and your buddies were together, reacting to some crazy thing that you’ve seen … what is that like? You’re trying to capture funny people reacting and riffing with one another about things that are interesting.”

Distefano, 38, a New York native, is on a worldwide stand-up tour and hosts two podcasts, including one with Sal Vulcano of “Impractical Jokers” fame. While he’s on the latter edge of Super 70s’ prime demographic, Distefano still gets Cobb’s Twitter shtick.

“I was approached by Jimmy Kimmel and his team,” Distefano said. “They were like, ‘Do you want to host this show for Vice?’ They said it’s based off this Super 70s Sports Twitter account, which I follow and love, and I said, “Hell, yeah, 100% I’m in.’

“And what I was most surprised of with Ricky — because obviously you have to be such a smart, good, funny guy to be able to create the Twitter account and be so successful — but on the show, when the lights are on and the camera is on him, he shined maybe as good as any panelist on that show. He was really, really amazing.”

Said Cobb of Distefano: “For somebody that’s in the role that he’s in on this show, it’s equally valuable, if not more valuable, that in addition to being hilarious, he also has a razor-sharp wit and he’s really good at setting up the guys on the panel to score their points.”

Any Super 70s follower knows Cobb has a razor-sharp wit as well — not to mention uses a few profanities. OK, maybe more than a few.

Sure, he swears. But he swears that’s who he is: trying to entertain his friends and followers while turning a Twitter account into something bigger. Cobb already is the owner of Super 70s Sports Inc., with a redesigned website and reinvented podcast, regular radio, TV and podcast appearances and a T-shirt company. A few years ago he partnered with Topps for Super 70s Sports trading cards.

But teaming with Kimmel for a TV show based on his Twitter feed that will be broadcast on a well-known cable network and distributed worldwide is, well, next-level (expletive).

“These are things from the past that would have gone viral if the internet had existed back then,” said Gaffney, the Vice executive. “Once we hit that idea, then we developed it further. And our audience, we’ve done well with nostalgic shows, but … there’s something unique and different about what he does — both making fun of the past but having a deep love for it as well.

“The secret sauce to it is the combination of those two things. He gets across this love and passion for these things and speaks for a generation but also is entertaining.”

Kimmel recently had Distefano on to promote the show and called Cobb’s Super 70s account “I think my favorite Twitter page.” That’s high praise coming from someone who recently celebrated his 20-year “Jimmy Kimmel Live!” anniversary on ABC.

“What I love about hosting a show like this is it’s ‘70s, ‘80s, ‘90s, it’s one of those things where nostalgia is always awesome, and for me, I really vibed with the ‘80s and ‘90s but then I got to learn about the ‘70s,” Distefano said. “I love learning, I love history, and this is one of those shows where even if I was a little bit younger, I would be like, ‘But you learned so much cool stuff.’”

Kimmel, Gaffney and the other producers invited Cobb to be a panelist on the first show — quite a leap of faith considering his lack of TV experience — and he performed so well they asked him to return for two more episodes.

“The thing I said from the very beginning is I want this show to be as good as possible,” Cobb said. “If that means I’m on it, wonderful. If that means I’m not on it, wonderful. It really is about the success of the show — is the show good? I’m thrilled that I did get to be on some of the shows and I hope that I added some value to it.”

Viewers will decide how much value he added. Gaffney has cautiously high hopes for the show’s success.

“It is what we set out to do,” he said. “This is the first show on TV about nostalgia — about the love for the past and about our passion for all things pop culture and retro.”

Cobb, meanwhile, is eager for the show’s debut and subsequent reaction from his ever-growing number of followers.

“I like it to feel like I’m your friend, and I think that’s one of the reasons it’s popular is that I’ve always talked to my audience like they’re my buddies — and they are,” he said. “I’ve never had that barrier with my audience. I’ve always just tweeted very much like I would shoot a text to one of my friends.

“So we all wanted the TV show to have that same kind of energy that it just feels like you’re hanging out in the basement with your buddies … cracking each other up and commenting on what you’re seeing. I’m super excited for people to get to view it.”

Chances are he’ll tweet about it too.