Nate Chappell’s house on Madison’s east side may not look very funny on the outside.
But on the inside, his living room is the “set” for a long-running comedy show that’s approaching its 80th episode.
At 7:30 p.m. Wednesday nights, writer-director Chappell and his team broadcast episodes of “The Last Show on Earth” (as in “I wouldn’t watch this if it was . . .”). It’s a fictional late-night talk show in the vein of “SCTV” or “Comedy Bang Bang,” although Chappell has another show in mind when asked about his inspiration: “The Muppet Show.”
“I’m Kermit,” he said.
Much like “The Muppet Show,” the show mixes fictional characters played by Chappell and others with real-life musical guests. The duo Seasaw made an appearance on the show a few weeks ago.
Unlike the Muppets, puppets are only used sparingly.
“Like on ‘The Muppet Show,’ the musical guests get to showcase their talent,” Chappell said. “But we never leave the comedy behind. And the comedy can never be at their expense.
“The tricky part is, because we’re kind of a fictional talk show, it’s tricky to convey that to a musical act,” he said. “Seasaw — they have a great sense of humor and they’re really good. They were totally game to do what we wanted to do.”
Every episode of “The Last Show on Earth,” including this Wednesday's season premiere, is broadcast via YouTube Live, with some pre-recorded elements, and then archived online. The show began life as a talk show shot on an iPhone and streamed using the Periscope app.
“We’ve come a long ways from one iPhone,” Chappell said. “At the time, Periscope was basically people just looking at themselves and talking. We wanted to hijack that format for our own ends.”
Chappell said he found the constraints of working on Periscope to be fun and fueled his creative energy. But as the show evolved, it moved to YouTube Live and got bigger production values, including a green screen backdrop for visual effects, on-screen graphics, even recorded music. This week's episode will include another first — a live studio audience.
Chappell and his team, including his camera operator (and wife) Viv Chappell and technical director Johnny Fisher, have now made a whopping 78 episodes of “The Last Show on Earth.” Performers from Atlas Improv Company have come on to play recurring guest characters, and Chappell said the show has a full and expanding fictional universe of characters to draw from.
“Thank God for Google Docs because I can easily search my scripts,” he said. “Often we have to go back and check past episodes and see where this character was left off. We killed off a character and then had to bring them back.”
One would think doing a live television show would be a little nerve-wracking. But Chappell said his nerves have calmed over the course of the episodes, as they’ve learned how to make the show and he can trust those behind the camera.
“It depends on the episode, how many moving parts there are,” he said. “I think I’ve become much less nervous as I’ve gone along, because my team and I, we’ve all gotten better together. It definitely shows in my performance. I seem a lot calmer.”
Chappell said his goal right now is to keep making the show better and grow the audience.
“We always like to be in the position where we’re doing something that’s just a bit out of our reach,” Chappell said. "We’re going to keep making the show because we love making the show.”