You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

How Comedy Dynamics’ High-Tech Editing Helps Fix Snafus With Stand-Up Specials

It was a stand-up comic’s worst nightmare: Taking the stage a while back for the first of four shows that would be recorded for a TV special, the comic cracked under the pressure, mispronouncing a word at a pivotal moment in the joke and screwing up the punchline. Gaffes like this are exactly why comics record several shows in succession, so mistakes can be corrected in post-production — except this well-known comic, on a stream of miserable luck, proceeded to flub the same line again three more times.

So Brian Volk-Weiss, founder of Comedy Dynamics, which produced and distributed the show, had to get creative. He asked the comedian to come to the Comedy Dynamics’ Burbank studio a few days after the gigs. There, he and his team filmed the comedian repeating the joke in front of a green screen. Then they digitally cut-and-pasted his head onto his body in the original footage with some crafty editing and a bit of CGI. The result? A great show, and a well-delivered line.

“Do I think we needed to do it? No,” says Volk-Weiss, looking back. “The audience never would have given a s–t. But the artist was a perfectionist, and we want our artists to feel good.” In any case, the work was seamless. “If I handed you the DVD, you would never be able to figure out the moment, not in a thousand years,” he says.

This is an extreme example of the behind-the-scenes wizardry that goes into the making of a stand-up comedy special, a genre that has swelled in popularity thanks to streaming services like Netflix, which commission them almost endlessly. Comedy Dynamics has produced hundreds of these specials, and has mastered the art of blending sets, matching footage and making comics look their best.

For Volk-Weiss, the decision-making process starts long before the comedian has stepped foot onstage. There are dozens of questions to be settled based on the preferences of the comic, from lighting to production design to sound, most of which the average stand-up has never
had occasion to consider.

“Do you have walk-on music? Are you being announced? Do you want a wired mic or a wireless mic?” Volk-Weiss says. “These are small things, but they’re so important. A comedian might be used to the same thing for 10 years, and suddenly, once the cameras are rolling, one thing’s wrong and they’re completely disjointed. 

“It’s really an art,” he says of the process. “Not a science.” 

Consider the stage. You might not think it matters much what the comedian is standing on during his or her act. “We did a special where the comedian wanted there to be carpet. They had a horrible show,” he says. “They’d done 10,000 shows on solid surfaces! It messed everything up. We had to tear the carpet out between shows.”

The saving grace for most performances is repetition — running through the same act two or three times on camera in one night gives Volk-Weiss’ team options in the editing room. It’s there that Comedy Dynamics can radically improve the caliber of a show. “We can’t turn a D performance into an A,” he says. “But we can turn a C minus into an A minus easily.” 

This is thanks in no small part to Brenda Carlson, an editor with Comedy Dynamics who has cut more than 200 specials. Volk-Weiss says Carlson is “the Mozart of stand-up-special editing,” and credits her with helping to perfect every show. 

Carlson prefers that her work go unnoticed. “You want people to enjoy the comedian, and not pay attention to the editing at all,” she says. “The editing should not work against the jokes.” 

It’s Carlson’s job to take the raw material of the gig — seven or eight cameras shooting two or three sets back-to-back — and sculpt it into something coherent, blending the best bits from each set into one punchy, hilarious whole. “I might go through and take out the ‘uhs’ and the ‘ums,’ or put two lines together if they flubbed the first part of a joke in one show and the second part of the same joke in the second show.”

Of course, the nitty-gritty of the edit can be complex, and requires the delicate touch of an editor with experience. Some comics leave it entirely in Comedy Dynamics’ hands; others prefer to be involved. “There are comedians that, as soon as the show wraps, shake our hands and never come into the editing bay, and to the best of my knowledge have never watched the special,” Volk-Weiss says. “Then there are comedians who spend, conservatively, 150 hours in the editing bay, going over every single frame.”

Comedy Dynamics can accommodate either approach. What’s important is that the comic is happy. “There’s a great saying the Air Force has,” Volk-Weiss says. “Make your pilots feel safe so they can be brave. That’s our outlook here.” 

Popular on Variety

More TV

  • Shane Gillis SNL Controversy

    Shane Gillis Makes First Stand-Up Appearance Since 'SNL' Firing

    Comedian Shane Gillis made his first public appearance Wednesday night since he was hired by “Saturday Night Live,” then fired from the show days later amid controversy over his use of racist slurs. Appearing on stage at comedy club the Stand in New York City, Gillis performed an 11-minute set that pulled no punches when [...]

  • AMERICAN HORROR STORY: 1984 -- Pictured:

    'American Horror Story' Recap: Welcome to 'Camp Redwood'

    SPOILER ALERT: Do not read if you have not yet watched the season premiere of “American Horror Story: 1984” entitled “Camp Redwood.” Welcome back to “American Horror Story,” which in its ninth season travels back in time to the 1970s and 1980s to play in the slasher genre. Related TV News Roundup: Netflix Releases 'Raising Dion' [...]

  • Connie Britton BlogHer Summit

    Connie Britton on ‘Friday Night Lights’ Remake: ‘You Need to Let it Go’

    Connie Britton opened up at a fireside chat Wednesday at the #BlogHer19 Creators Summit in Brooklyn by talking about one of her most beloved roles — Tami Taylor in the fan favorite series “Friday Night Lights.” When asked if a remake of the sports cult film and Emmy-winning TV show is in the works she [...]

  • Bob IgerSimon Weisenthal Gala honoring Bob

    Bob Iger Would Have Combined Disney With Apple if Steve Jobs Were Still Alive

    Disney and Apple are both launching their own streaming services come November, but Disney CEO Bob Iger says the two companies weren’t always on competing paths. In an excerpt from his autobiography published Wednesday in “Vanity Fair,” Iger revealed that Disney and Apple likely would have merged if Steve Jobs hadn’t died in 2011. “I [...]

  • The Mentalist

    #NotWorthLess: 'I Was Great and Deserve to Be Paid the Same'

    Women writers, producers and assistants across Twitter turned the hashtag #NotWorthLess into a trend Wednesday, shining a light on issues of pay inequality in the entertainment business. Sparked by screenwriter Adele Lim’s recent decision to walk away from the “Crazy Rich Asians” sequel in protest of being paid less than her male co-writer, dozens of [...]

  • does self-described "family brands" business Hasbro

    With Hasbro Acquisition, Is eOne Planning to Offload Family-Unfriendly Properties?

    Hasbro’s $4 billion acquisition of eOne in August instantly put the Canadian toy giant in the league of major entertainment and content companies thanks to eOne’s arsenal of IP assets in music, television and film. But does the self-described “family brands” business that’s home to The Game of Life and My Little Pony align with [...]

  • Mariah Carey Tracee Ellis Ross

    Mariah Carey, Tracee Ellis Ross Celebrate Biracial Heritage at “Mixed-ish” Premiere

    Mariah Carey and Tracee Ellis Ross embraced their “ish” at Tuesday night’s series premiere event for ABC’s “Mixed-ish” by reflecting on how their biracial identity makes working on the new show even more personal. “I’m just so thankful that this show exists,” Carey told the assembled crowd during a Q&A with series creator Kenya Barris. [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content