Ben Acker, Ben Blacker, John Hodgman talk Thrilling Adventure Hour ahead of Town Hall show

Paul F. Tompkins and Paget Brewster in Thrilling Adventure HourThe Thrilling Adventure Hour is a glorious amalgam of old-school and contemporary art, a throwback to a simpler time and yet highly evolved, sophisticated and simultaneously goofy as hell. The Thrilling Adventure Hour is super fucking cool. And it’s about to invade New York for its biggest event yet; tomorrow, Saturday, May 10 at 8 pm (buy tickets here!), the madness descends on Town Hall’s 1,500 seats. For the dedicated cult following The Thrilling Adventure has amassed over the last nine years, this likely isn’t news. But to those who might be unfamiliar with this multi-platform comedy creation, allow us to educate.

Created and written by Hollywood scribes Ben Acker and Ben Blacker, The Thrilling Adventure Hour is a live show performed in the style of an old-time radio broadcast featuring some of the most mind-boggingly talented and respected performers of our time. What makes The Thrilling Adventure Hour so addictive, in part, is that Acker and Blacker have created original serial programs within their show. Performed monthly at Largo at the Coronet in Los Angeles – and the occasional out-of-town presentations – audience members are graced with episodes of shows like “Beyond Belief” and “The Adventures of Captain Laserbeam” and characters like Sparks Nevada, Croach the Tracker and Frank and Sadie Doyle (played by Paul F. Tompkins and Paget Brewster, photo by Matt Harbicht). But it’s not just the live sold-out shows in Los Angeles; the shows are recorded and presented as The Thrilling Adventure Hour podcast through Nerdist Industries, giving the show comedy cred throughout the world.

And while this won’t be the first time The Thrilling Adventure Hour has traveled to New York, it’ll be the first time at such a large venue, thanks to Westbeth Entertainment, who’s producing the event. “We did the show in Brooklyn a couple years ago,” Ben Blacker tells Laughspin. “We didn’t know what to expect even though the show was sold out. John Hodgman and Paul F. Tompkins were on the show and it was a venue they played a lot so I thought maybe that’s why it sold out. But when Hal Lublin got up there as the folksy narrator for Sparks Nevada and said, ‘Kids, Shine your astro spurs,’ the audience went crazy. And I remember standing backstage with Marc Evan Jackson who was about to go on and he tells me, ‘They get it, they get it.’”

Reasonable observers would conclude that both Acker and Blacker are old-time radio nerds. Surprisingly that’s not the case at all— at least, it wasn’t when they started The Thrilling Adventure Hour nine years ago. “So despite the lack of comprehensive knowledge, there’s still an affection there,” Ben Acker tells Laughspin. “I think The Thrilling Adventure Hour is more about what we feel like old time radio probably was.”

Though The Thrilling Adventure Hour was launched in 2005, Acker and Blacker have been writing together since 1998, having met at the University of Syracuse four years earlier. “Ben [Blacker] finished his college career at Emerson College where they taught him how to write for television and I moved to LA and got jobs in TV. And when the opportunity came up for me to write for television, I didn’t know how. So I asked Blacker and we collaborated on a script. We realized we were better as writing partners than we were at writing alone.”

And on May 10, those writing skills will be on display at Town Hall and only elevated more by the talent performing Acker and Blacker’s words. Recurring actors Paget Brewster, Craig Cackowski, Mark Gagliardi, John Hodgman, the aforementioned Marc Evan Jackson and Hal Lublin, Busy Philipps and Paul F. Tompkins will there. Joining them are guest stars Scott Adsit, Scott Aukerman, Dick Cavett, Jonathan Coulton, Ira Glass, Terry Kinney and Zachary Levi!

“They’re a bunch of manipulators and con men I hear,” John Hodgman tells Laughspin about Acker, Blacker and the rest of The Thrilling Adventure posse, aka The Workjuice Players. “They’re a traveling medicine show that is going from town to town spreading the snake oil of entertainment to unsuspecting comedy fans. And I don’t know where I fit into all of it.”

But of course Hodgman knows where he fits in, having been part of The Workjuice Players for the last three years. “I was first in the audience of one of the shows and like all the things in my career that I love – This American Life, The Daily Show, Apple computers, Battlestar Galactica, Parks and Recreation – I insinuate myself into them. So I very happily insinuated myself into The Workjuice Players.”

Ben Acker and Ben BlackerDespite the enormous amount of work it takes to write and stage these live productions Acker and Blacker (pictured to the right) are constantly working on other major projects. They’ve taken over writing duties for Marvel’s comic book series Thunderbolts, with their first issue premiering next month. The writing duo are also staffers on Dreamworks’ animated series Puss in Boots, which will debut on Netflix later this year. They also put out a The Thrilling Adventure graphic anthology. “It’s 10 stories from the world of The Thrilling Adventure Hour, illustrated by 10 different artists,” Blacker tells Laughspin. “It’s just a beautiful book. We’re so proud of it.”

The idea of the The Thrilling Adventure Hour has always been multi-faceted; it’s a successful entity as a live show and a comedy incubator of sorts at the same time. To that end, the Bens are currently working on television versions of their work, with Blacker hinting that there’s been a little movement on a “Beyond Belief” adaptation with the segment’s stars Paget Brewster and Paul F. Tompkins and a possible animated series of “Sparks Nevada.”

Until that time, however, comedy fans will happily enjoy The Thrilling Adventure live shows and podcasts— especially those in the New York City metro area this weekend. “They put on a hell of a show, Hodgman says about Acker and Blacker. “But there’s also another show going on backstage throughout the performance. It’s a bunch of friends who really love what they’re doing having a good time together. And it’s the reason we keep coming back and doing the show— because it’s truly a fun evening for everyone involved.”

Lead photo by Mindy Tucker.

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Dylan P. Gadino

Dylan is the founder and editor emeritus of Laughspin.

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