An oral history of A Special Thing, the comedy message board that begat a record label and more
You're likely familiar with the comedians who've released stand-up albums in recent years on AST Records: Jimmy Pardo, Karen Kilgariff, Max Silvestri, Sean O'Connor, Liam McEneaney and Dan St. Germain among them.
But before comedy nerds took over the mainstream entertainment scene, a few hundred of them were touting their favorite stand-ups and even interacting with them on the message boards of A Special Thing. In fact, there were 148 users online on the AST Forums as I type this now -- that's likely spiked thanks to a new oral history of A Special Thing published over the weekend on Daily Dot's The Kernel.
I was a regular reader and comment provider on AST forums in the early days of The Comic's Comic from 2007-2010.
The AST oral history provided by Rick Paulas goes back to June 2001 when Matt Belknap (screen name: Sasquatch) wanted to create a safe space for fans of Tenacious D to congregate and share their fandom on a message board.
That board grew to explore Mr. Show and many more shows, and became popular especially among comedians and comedy fans in Los Angeles, and even attracted regular contributions and Q&As with the likes of Louis CK, Patton Oswalt and Doug Benson. Belknap would, with Jimmy Pardo, launch the Never Not Funny podcast in 2006 -- now at episode 1722 and counting! -- well before podcasting became as popular and as widespread as it is today. And now there's AST Records and a podcast network, to boot.
But if you weren't around to follow comedy (or "alt-comedy," even) before this current digital comedy boom, then go back and revisit the early days of Y2K comedy.
Jimmy Pardo: Matt Belknap deserves a lot of credit for making this, and Jouster and itslikeimsayin for keeping it alive, and making the alt comedy scene into basically just what’s comedy now.
Jesse Thorn: Without the opportunity to find the audience I had with A Special Thing, I don’t know if I could’ve ever gotten the podcast of The Sound of Young America to take off.
Jonah Ray: If it wasn’t for that site, and the M Bar show, those two things, the landscape would be completely different from how it is now.
Scott Aukerman: AST legitimized this comedy for a lot of people. Without it, I don’t know that Death-Ray would’ve lasted 10 years. Without the encouragement early on of someone writing about the show… you feel like you’re doing it for nothing. That’s what AST did for alternative comedy, especially in L.A. It gave everyone a reason to keep going.
Sean Ingram: In the largest sense, we won. Alternative comedy won. AST won. Because all those guys we were seeing at Comedy Death-Ray are pretty much all big stars now.
Matt Belknap: I don’t look at it as this sad thing. “Boo hoo, AST isn’t active anymore.” It had a great run, it was a great time in my life, and I think everybody who was a part of it feels that way. You know what? It was a special thing! It lived up to its name, didn’t it?
Michelle Biloon: I met somebody when I was in L.A. the last time, a friend-of-a-friend, and she was like, “Oh, I was on AST,” and I was like, “What was your handle?” and I knew who they were! I’m very wistful about AST. And now it’s really nothing, right?
Marcia Neumeier: I’m a little determined to get AST going again, but it’s hard. If you look, you’ll see me and a couple other posters on there, but it’s mostly just to make fun because nobody posts. I’m still a moderator. I still go and clean up spam, keep it tidy.
Matt Belknap: I always say AST will never really die, because there’s always going to be two nerds who want to be the person to make the last post.