"Kill Them With Comedy" is not so much a cable community access show as humor anarchy, a tribute to the "Saturday Night Live" generation gone out of control.
During a recent taping in the Cox Cable studio in El Cajon, resume writer and part-time comedy writer Jeff Brown stood before the cameras trying to get his hair to stand straight up for a skit titled "Time Share Condos on the Moon," while producer Mark Spieller was asking studio supervisor Stephen New if it was OK to turn one of his cameras upside-down.
Other members of the volunteer crew were preparing for a sketch called "How to Get Rich by Killing Your Wife," about Bostonian Charles Stuart, who recently committed suicide when it became public knowledge that he was suspected of slaying his pregnant wife.
A few feet away, Jim Kerby, proudly wearing a "Larry Mendte used my 'how come' " T-shirt (a reference to a weekly gag segment by the Channel 8 weatherman), was working on a monologue about "Telescam," a phone line that allows callers to chat with Charles Manson.
"I can't say that's sick," Spieller said. "I just wrote one called 'Adolf Hitler, the Stand-Up Years.' "
The half-hour "Kill Them With Comedy" has aired regularly on the community access channels of most San Diego County cable systems for the past year and a half (Saturdays at 9 p.m. on the Cox and Southwestern community access channels). There are other comedy shows on the community access channels, but nothing quite like the skit- and parody-oriented fare of "Kill Them With Comedy."
Part-time comedians, writers, actors and wanna-bes from throughout the area gather to put together monthly packages of skits, parodies and gags that can be described as everything from off-the-wall to demented.
"I like bizarre and vicious comedy," said executive producer Mark Shapiro. "It's the kind of comedy nobody's doing anymore. We don't do a lot of one-liners."
The 36-year-old Shapiro, who modestly hopes to be "the Mel Brooks of the next generation," works for a resume-writing service in Mission Valley. But he's been on the fringes of show business ever since graduating from San Diego State University in 1978. He has worked with a wide variety of comedy and improvisation groups, including a stint ghostwriting scripts for the Playboy Channel. (Playboy optioned three of his scripts, he said, but didn't use any of them.)
He started "Kill Them With Comedy"--with the help of two SDSU classmates, David Sogliuzzo and Spieller, utilizing the free equipment and air time provided by Cox Cable--as a "giant audition piece," a chance for comedians, actors and writers to develop their skills in a format that might actually be seen by people.
"I get to use talents that I want to make a living with," said Spieller, who works as a teacher's aide for San Diego city schools.
Once a month, the comedians and actors gather for tapings at the Cox studio. In addition, they usually do one "location" shoot a month, usually at Shapiro's house.
"We're trying to expand our visual appeal," he said. "People are tired of seeing my kitchen."
Although he performs and does some writing, Shapiro's main role is as a producer, prodding things along and making sure everybody is in the right place at the right time.
Tom Van Oerkerk, a photographer and producer with KFMB-TV (Channel 8), helps out with engineering and production, in addition to occasionally performing in skits.
Shapiro invests about $300 to $400 per show for tape and other expenses.
"He's a top-of-the-line producer," said John Ochoa, senior production coordinator and former public access coordinator for Southwestern Cable. "He knows what he wants and how to get it. I think he's going to make it big time.
"If the show had backing, it would be perfect," Ochoa said.
All of the program's ideas are generated by the writers and actors who work on the show, with Shapiro acting as something of an overseer.
"If you have an idea, he says, 'Great, do it,' " said writer and actress Debra Resenbeck, part of a comedy team with husband Doug.
Subjects of skits run the gamut, from a commercial for a torch that cures jock itch to a sketch about a son who announces to his father that he's the anti-Christ and therefore will not attend college.
Those interested in joining the show's crew are advised in regular commercials during the show to sleep with the producer. There are a lot of snot jokes, and many of the skits are far too long, but there is one common denominator: Every segment is as off-the-wall as possible, a direct relative of the type of anti-Establishment humor popularized on "Saturday Night Live."
Only ideas that are overtly racist or cruel are rejected, Shapiro said.
"We had a tough time refraining from doing stuff about the San Francisco earthquake, but only because not enough time had elapsed," said "Kill Them With Comedy" regular Bob Murphy, a general contractor who uses the show to supplement acting and writing classes.