Writer/comedian Mark Malkoff made news when he set out to live in an IKEA in Paramus, New York while his apartment was being fumigated. But his adventures in the Swedish furniture Goliath have become a footnote in this former Colbert Report staffer’s challenge-centric life:
He visited 171 Starbucks franchises in Manhattan in one day. He lived on an airplane for a month to conquer his fear of flying. He launched 101 Other Things to Do in Holland, besides smoking weed. And he watched 252 movies on Netflix in a single month. There were Skype challenges, Huffington Post articles, and pleas to Bill Murray along the way. Well, he recently launched another high-concept stunt in the service of comedy.
He’s helping to preserve the legacy of an industry giant and taste maker with a new show called The Carson Podcast.
And he’s culled some some big names to talk, rather candidly, about the OG of late night, including Steven Wright (pictured), Mel Brooks, Carl Reiner, and Kevin Nealon.
Mark answered a few questions for me last week about his show.
You’re a challenge guy. Tell me about your history with tackling the seemingly insurmountable.
I often follow my curiosity and set out to see if I can pull off things that, on paper, often seem very challenging. In some cases even impossible. For me to go forward with the challenges, the possibility of strong video content must be there. Also it has to make my laugh. It’s led me to some very interesting experiences.
Ninety-nine percent of the time there’s a point to what I’m trying to achieve. Can I get over my fear of flying by forcing myself to fly? Can I prove that a child’s big wheel is faster than a New York City bus? Can I illustrate that New Yorkers are nice by having them physically carry me around the city?
Tell me about your personal history with Carson and the Tonight Show.
I got into Carson and the Tonight Show when my Dad would let me stay up late. I’d be able to catch it more in the summer. When VCR’s became popular, I’d often tape the show and watch it in the morning before school. I especially loved the anniversary clips shows which were my introduction to comedians such as Don Rickles.
Carson not only made the show funny but also elegant and glamorous. I remember watching him say goodbye in May 1992 and, even as a kid, understanding the impact of him leaving TV. A year of so later for Christmas all I asked my parents for was the Johnny Carson box set on VHS. In my office today, I have a Johnny Carson mug. I love watching Carson clips on YouTube.
How does podcasting fall in line with a challenge-centric life?
I’ve always been one to follow my curiosity. That’s where the vast majority of my challenge videos came from. For the Carson Podcast I have lots of questions to ask guests that appeared with Carson that stem from being curious. Doing a podcast is definitely a departure from the challenge videos. I guess the only challenge initially was getting guests to come on the show. Fortunately individuals have being very generous.
Brands take center stage in your stunts–IKEA, Starbucks, the Ford Fusion Hybrid–but never seem to overshadow the thrust of the bit. With the show launching on the heels of a new era in Tonight Shows, how much has sponsorship played a role in the Carson Podcast?
Not at all. I undertook the Carson Podcast as a passion project. I’m not looking to make money on it. If it happened to pay my expenses that would be wonderful. But I’m not actively looking or expecting a sponsor.
Are you starting to see a theme with how the guests look back on their experiences with Carson?
Guests want to talk about Carson. Going on the show was an extremely exciting time in their lives. When I talk to them, they get to relive it. I see it on their faces. Several guests have cried when telling their stories.
The guests were all in awe of Carson as a performer and host. They are always appreciative to Carson for what it did for their careers. The day before making his stand-up debut on Carson, Tom Dreesen was on unemployment with a wife and three kids. The day after going on the Tonight Show, Dreesen had a deal with CBS and hasn’t stopped working since. Steven Wright has a similar story about his life changing by going on the show. That doesn’t exist today.
A lot of what we’ve seen from Mark Malkoff has been finite–a week in IKEA, the Starbucks endeavor, 101 things to do in Holland besides smoking pot–there’s a number, an end point. Is that the plan with the podcast, or do you want it to endure?
I have no time table on how long the podcast will go. Doing the podcast has been some of the most satisfying work I’ve done in years. I simply love sitting down with guess that appeared on Carson or worked on the Tonight Show and hearing their stories. Never in a million years did I ever think I’d get to sit down with Carl Reiner and talk about Carson. It’s been a thrill. I’m hoping the podcast goes for a long time.