All this week, Uproxx’s Late Night Week will take a look at late-night past, present, and future, from talk shows to late-night comedy, and beyond. Here’s our long chat with comedian and actor Allan Havey who, prior to his eye-catching roles in Mad Men and Hail, Caesar!, hosted a late night talk show on Comedy Central’s predecessor unlike anything before, during, or after its time.
Before its rebranding as Comedy Central in 1991, HBO’s Comedy Channel offered American television viewers an array of funny programming. Films, stand-up specials and segment shows like Short Attention Span Theater — which was hosted by Jon Stewart and Marc Maron on separate occasions — dominated most of the new channel’s daily block of airtime. However, instead of shutting things down completely after hours like most other cable channels, this particular network decided to offer its viewers a totally new take on the late night talk show.
As former host Allan Havey tells us, the New York-based cult hit Night After Night “wasn’t even on in New York” during its first year. The 62-year-old stand-up from St. Louis isn’t entirely sure why his program wasn’t pushed on its own locale at the time, but considering the loyal fanbase it quickly developed during the late ’80s and early ’90s, he doesn’t really care. Nor does he care that his program was largely forgotten by mainstream audiences who praise Late Night‘s Seth Meyers for performing his monologue from behind his desk, or The Late Late Show‘s James Corden for doing away with the desk altogether.
How did you land the Night After Night hosting gig?
I think they auditioned every comedian in New York and Los Angeles for hosts. They had about five or six slots. I think they originally thought of it has “comedy MTV” — showing clips of movies and comedians. That wasn’t really going anywhere, because once you’ve seen a movie clip for the 15th time, or the same comedian… Comedy’s not like music. You’ll hear a bit a few times if it’s great, but you want to hear fresh stuff.
So I auditioned. It was an open audition. I went in and it wasn’t really something wanted. I didn’t want to host a talk show, since at the time my stand-up was going well and I’d done a few movies. I was more into acting. So when I went in, I’d prepared some stuff but was mostly apathetic and didn’t give a crap. Michael Fuchs, who was head of HBO then, said “There’s our late night guy right there.” I was hesitant, but figured I could do this for the next three months and make a little money. No big deal. It went on for just over three years. We made somewhere around 480 episodes. Now it’s buried on VHS tapes in a nuclear dump.
Sure, but at least it’s a New York City dump.
It wasn’t even on in New York the first year. I had to fly out and do junkets at pie-eating contests and golf matches. Anything to get the word out there about this new comedy channel. They had me working hard, but looking back, the only regret I have is that it was canceled due to politics. If the ratings had been bad, we’d burned out, or I just hadn’t done a good job and it wasn’t being received well, I could’ve accepted that. That’s part of the business. We went out at the top of our game and I think that says a lot.
Losing the show probably didn’t feel so great.
It was tough the lose the show. Once I got into it, it was nice, but I knew then as I know now that it was the best time for it. I even told some of the younger people — because I’d been in the business maybe eight or nine years then — that this was very rare. Just about everybody looks back on those days fondly. We were having a good time, for the most part, and it was fun because we got to do anything we wanted. HBO gave us complete, total creative control. I think once in three years they asked me not to say just one little thing.