Rob Huebel and Paul Scheer had an idea. They wanted to take their weekly live comedy show at the Upright Citizens Brigade Theatre in Los Angeles on the road. So they did something unusual: they found a giant tour bus that normally roams the streets of Manhattan, brought it to L.A., filled it with an audience and hit the town.
The result is the one-hour special Crash Test, which was released today on Vimeo. "I doubt if what we did was totally legal by street standards," said Scheer. "We had a microphone, we were yelling at people in the street."
"It was like a live-wire act." Huebel added. The bus was rigged with "like, 8 million" GoPros.
Releasing the special on direct-to-audience platform Vimeo, rather than on traditional TV, was part of the plan. The comedians wanted to ensure that anyone with $4 could watch it. "At least for our audience, that's just the way they consume content now," explains Huebel. "We weren't sure who has what channel anymore. There are a lot of people that are cutting the cable."
Another key to making Crash Test work was to mimic the improvisational nature of their UCB show, which launched in 2005 in New York before moving to Los Angeles in 2008. Performances have included everything from sending people out on dates to helping random people get jobs. "It's an experimental show for Rob and I to do whatever we want," said Scheer.
With some help from Ben Stiller's Red Hour Films—a partner on the project—Huebel and Scheer packed the bus with 50 to 60 people, drove around Los Angeles for six hours, and made stops at random locations. "We knew that we were going to get one shot at this," said Huebel.
Comedian Ian Karmel took part in the show with a stand-up performance at the corner of Hollywood Boulevard and Highland Avenue. Naturally, he got heckled. "A crack head comes up to him in the middle of his stand-up set and starts gyrating on him," said Scheer. "Ian is such a pro, he didn't even flinch, just kept on doing it and dancing with this woman."
Crash Test is the latest from Paramount Digital, which has been making a name for itself with viral comedy hits including Burning Love and The Hotwives of Orlando (the second season of The Hotwives franchise, which takes place in Las Vegas, also debuted today on Hulu). Earlier this summer, Paramount also partnered with Elizabeth Banks' Brownstone for the Hulu series Resident Advisors.
Getting into business with well-known comedic talent has been key for Paramount's strategy, explains Amy Powell, president, Paramount Television and Digital Entertainment. "We've been playing in this digital space for quite some time and have always tried to defer to big-name talent who we respect, admire or think is just funny."
Paramount has primarily chosen premium streamers like Hulu or Yahoo to distribute their digital series, but decided to release Crash Test on video-sharing website Vimeo. Greg Clayman, general manager, Audience Networks at Vimeo said that, not surprisingly, comedy plays very well on the platform, along with action sports, indie films and documentaries. "It serves as continued validation," he said. "We're seeing the business of direct distribution grow."