I Threw Spaghetti at the Wall – and it Stuck

A farmhouse in Ireland, a park bench in Manhattan, living rooms in Denmark and Australia and Texas and Nebraska and Kansas. These are some of the locations people watched the pilot of “The Silent Comedy Watch Party” yesterday afternoon, a show I broadcast live from my living room.

This was yet another adventure for me in sharing silent comedy films with fans who want to see them. And it appears to have been a success.

Sending out emails to a list and seeing Mailchimp reports of the number of “opens”, receiving royalty reports for sales of my DVDs , these are all verifications that something I’ve put out into the world is being received. But it’s in the abstract, as it’s in the form of numbers. Most of the in-person feedback I get is in the NYC area where a majority of shows I do take place.

Ernie Kovacs hosted what was probably television’s first wake-up show. “Three To Get Ready” aired from 7:00-9:00am on weekdays on WPTZ’s Channel 3, the Philadelphia affiliate of NBC. This was in 1950-51. There were no TV ratings just yet, and no real way to know if anyone — anyone who even owned a TV set in those nascent years of the medium — was even watching.

Kovacs asked viewers to send in a postcard, and…did they ever.

This continued into Kovacs’ years on TV on CBS and Dumont when Ernie asked people to take “snep-shots” off their tee-bee screen and mail them in. He’d show the best of these “pikskers“ on air, and send out gifts to contest winners.

Edie Adams saved a lot of these, and they are the only record of Kovacs’ lost TV shows.

But…I digress.

Everything somehow relates to something I learned from Ernie Kovacs.

The Silent Comedy Watch Party streamed from my living room
Accompanying the Hank Mann comedy An Eye For Figures (1920) during the pilot of The Silent Comedy Watch Party (airdate March 15, 2020, 3:00-3:45 EDT). The film was digitized by the Library of Congress from the only surviving print, a 16mm print I won on eBay a few years ago for around $20.

The pilot of a show I whipped together for live-streaming yesterday, The Silent Comedy Watch Party, elicited more emails and social media comments and messages than anything I’ve done. Not just messages received, but interactions with people who are fans of silent film (or of mine or of Steve Massa), and from around the world. 

The show was a bright spot in the midst of what’s going on right now for everyone I heard from. For everyone from a couple of people in Australia (for whom it was early morning), to a couple in Denmark who’d attended the “Silent Film Days” festival in Tromsø, and from people around the US and Canada and England.

Here’s what I learned from everyone’s helpful comments.

  • An external mic for an iPhone only works when you remember to plug it in.
  • VLC probably has a setting that ensures that your cursor disappears after X number of seconds, and I need to find it…or turn off screen mirroring.
  • the live-monitored image on an iPhone screen is a slight overscan of what appears on YouTube
  • image quality and resolution as well as buffering or freezing worked fine from my end; there were some people who had a couple buffering hiccups or image quality issues but for the most part the stream-cast looked great on everything from iPads up to 70” TVs streamed from Roku or Chromecast or Firestick.
  • commenting on a YouTube live doesn’t work until YouTube finishes uploading and processing the stream after it ends
  • people really like Hank Mann

I’m thrilled that this crazy concept I’ve been playing with for a few years actually worked, and that it brought a few much-needed laughs into the lives of some people around the world. I expect to do this show again, and with more advance notice next time.

Thanks again to Steve Massa for joining in the fun and introducing the films, to my daughter Molly for helping operate the iPhone/camera, and to my wife Mana for all the support and enthusiasm. And thank you to everyone who tuned in (if you still call it that) and wrote me.

I’ll do my best to get the word out about the next — and first official — episode of The Silent Comedy Watch Party on social media, but I do encourage you to sign up for my emails or to subscribe to this blog so you don’t miss out.

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