Interview with VEVO’s The Comment Show creator, Thomas Bannister

the comment show

VEVO has a new show called The Comment Show where host David So makes fun of ridiculous comments found on popular VEVO music videos. We chat with show creator, Thomas Bannister, about the show.

Nerd Reactor: You’ve got a lot of projects under your belt. How did you get into all of this?

Thomas Bannister: I started at a digital studio, and, really what we’re trying to do is develop the next generation of programming for the Internet. That’s our ultimate aim. Rather than necessarily break into other media, like television or film. We want to really be on that wave, creating new programming for the web. We started in 2008 with the first season of Easy to Assemble. Since then – it’s just five years, but it seems like a long time – things have just been continually producing. Everything from commercials, documentary series, comedy to action. I’ve worked with a whole host of different companies, from the likes of Disney and NBC, to brands like Sunstone and IKEA, to now working a lot with these exciting new media channels like Vevo. Great media.

Nerd Reactor: How did the idea for the Comment Show come about?

Thomas Bannister: I’m a huge music fan. I love music, and for me, one of the best entertainment inventions of the last decade has been YouTube. The reason is, for me, because it gives me instant access to music. Not just the random things, but music – any kind of song you want, from classical to modern to disco, to ’60s and then all kinds of remixes and that kind of thing. So I use YouTube all day every day for music, and obviously Vevo is a big part of that. I’m constantly on Vevo, and I think really, the idea for the show just stemmed out of me, at home, on a Saturday night.

Rather than going out, maybe I sat there listening to a song on YouTube, drinking a glass of wine and scrolling down, continually leafing through the comments underneath the music videos – specifically on some of my favorite songs. I always find it very interesting to see what people are writing about. Increasingly, on all kinds of videos, now it’s gotten to the point with the show, where I think of music, in part, through the types of comments that people put underneath the videos from having worked on these episodes.

The ideas for the show really stem from that, just being interested in the things people write under music videos and then having this idea that they could be used as information to inform comedy. That’s what we’re trying to do with the show.

Nerd Reactor: Any particular reason why you chose David So as a host?

Thomas Bannister: I’ve always loved David’s comedy, and I know the guys at Vevo loved his comedy too. We approached him, I think, in August of 2012 to do it. We ultimately shot the pilot in late October, early November.

Nerd Reactor: Just for the comments, do you have a part in picking out the comments?

Thomas Bannister: Yeah, I certainly have for the first five episodes. We have some comment researchers, we have writers who do it too. But I’ve definitely been very much involved in picking out most comments. It’s amazing how long you have to spend to find appropriate comments. It’s like an hour, on each video to filter through and find a decent comment.

It’s not necessarily because there aren’t a lot of good comments, it’s to find a comment that fits the show. It also has to be short enough. We’ve found that the comments have to be on the shorter side, because it’s difficult to keep continually reading out very long comments. There’s criteria for comments that fit our show better. So I’ve certainly spent a lot of hours over the last three months or so, digging through a wealth and wealth of YouTube comments.

Nerd Reactor: What’s the writing process like?

Thomas Bannister: It starts off really with Vevo. They send this selection of what they’re promoting on a certain week, what videos they’re promoting, what videos are new. So we really work on that, and then we’ll go on and see what’s happening in the music world. From that, we’ll develop a hit list of about 10 to 15 videos which we haven’t done before, which are new. I’ll assign comment researchers to some of those videos, and I’ll take some myself. We’ll delve into them and spend about a day or two digging out any comments for each of the artists.

We’ll put them all into a main reservoir of comments, in a Google Doc. Once they’re all in, Dan and I, who has directed the first four episodes, will then go through the comments and discuss which ones we like best. We’ll hone those comments down to about ten, which are our favorites. Then we’ll suggest gags and bits and reasons why we like them. We then take that and give it to the writer that we’re working with that week. The writer can then knock them up into a script which follows the format we developed. It starts off quite quickly with shorter comments, then gradually gets longer and into some longer sections. Then hopefully they’ll move into an interactive bit with the show – comments and Skyping with people. Then once we’ve got that script, Vevo will come back to us with notes. David, our host, will come back to us with notes. We’ll adapt it, we’ll do a table read. David will re-shoot to knock it up, and then as we shoot it, we try and do a lot of improv on the set. Then it goes into editing.

Nerd Reactor: On YouTube, everyone is about the “dislikes” and “likes.” This one has a considerable amount of people disliking it, and I was wondering if you want to talk about that.

Thomas Bannister: Yeah. Firstly, I don’t, 100% know why. I think there’s a number of different answers to it. But I think there are two ways to answer that question. On the one hand, we’re very aware of how people are commenting and responding to our show. We are adapting the show as we go along to fit those responses. That, for me, is a very new thing. Normally I produce all the shows, then they get parceled out over weeks. Whereas with this show, since we’re doing it week in, week out, and each week we’re doing it in the flesh, we can really adapt what we’re doing to the responses about what’s working and what’s not from the previous episode.

So the episodes are definitely being informed by feedback and by the responses to different videos. That, to me, is a really unique and interesting process. That being said, I think that having a lot of “Likes” on a specific episode – and certainly there are always more likes than dislikes – in episode four, there were a lot of dislikes. To me, and I don’t know if Vevo feel the same way, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing. You can never please everyone, especially with comedy, you can never please everybody. I think our audience is a certain kind of person. And there will always be people who really hate that kind of comedy, and hate the kind of comedy in this show. Just like any show, any comedy show. Trying to create a show which is loved by all would be a mistake.

I think that we have a sense of what works and what doesn’t. We’re going to keep doing that to a degree without being too afraid of dislikes. I think dislikes also stem from being a little bit provocative. I think, certainly episodes three and four are perhaps a little more provocative than one and two. In that sense, you’re always going to get people who dislike what you do. It doesn’t bother me too much, although we’re definitely taking stats and feedback into perspective and trying to make it as interactive as possible without being afraid in terms of dislikes necessarily.

Nerd Reactor: The show is based on talking crap on other people’s comments, I think some YouTubers go, “What? How dare they!” Their idea is to dislike it automatically.

Thomas Bannister: One thing I’ve learned from reading comments under music videos is that there’s a tremendous amount of people who hate everything. Especially on hip hop videos specifically there’s a lot of hate. I think that in some ways, it’s just something that comes with the territory of YouTube. You’re always going to get nasty comments, you’re always going to get people saying negative stuff, and I don’t think that’s necessarily a bad thing. I think it’s worth it no one watches the show. I don’t want to incite a tsunami of hatred, but I’m certainly not afraid of people saying that the show sucks.

Nerd Reactor: Yeah, especially if you’re in the realm of YouTube. It comes with the territory.

Thomas Bannister: Yeah, I think it’s part of this new world we live in, and in the 21st century, people have a voice, and it may be a small voice. It may be a Twitter account with a hundred followers, or it may be posting comments on YouTube, but even in that way it’s a voice. And if people didn’t have that ten years ago, fifteen years ago when everybody was watching every day, and even in a small way, that voice does have an effect. It influences other people who are watching the videos to change their opinion of it, or even the person who has created the video or article. They might read those, then rethink their approach. Even in the smallest way it does have effect, and I think that just goes with the new media territory.

The viewer has more of a stake in the content that they’re watching and consuming online than they perhaps do in other media. It’s more of an interactive forum. They have more of a stake and more of a say. I think, as a producer and creator of shows, to me, that’s not something to be afraid of necessarily. It’s something to try and embrace. In embracing it, you also have to be willing to accept the negative as well as the positive.

New episodes of the Comment Show premiere Thursdays.

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John Nguyen
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