As 2020 continues to find new ways to fuck with us, one bit of sunlight is still streaming into our lives every Sunday. And because it’s 2020, it’s from a very unlikely source: The remotely-produced version of a comedy talk show hosted by “Retired Filmmaker George Lucas.”
The George Lucas Talk Show, in its original form, ran for over six years as a live show at the Upright Citizens Brigade Theatre in New York, bringing in a high caliber array of guests to chat with “George Lucas” (played by The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel‘s Connor Ratliff) alongside his sidekick “Watto” (played by The Tick star Griffin Newman). The show was a cult favorite, but after the pandemic shut down, well, everything, Ratliff, Newman, and producer Patrick Cotnoir found a way to adapt the show’s very specific sense of humor to the new age of Zoom-produced comedy for charity.
“The charity impulse actually was just a way of justifying it, if the show ended up being terrible. It’s harder to find fault,” Ratliff told me via Zoom (of course) when I spoke with all three gentlemen this week as they prepared for the show’s newest adventure.
What’s gotten The George Lucas Talk Show the most attention this year is some epic watch-a-thons to raise funds for a variety of charities, which began with a 31-hour-long marathon of every Star Wars movie for May the Fourth (not just your Empire Strike Backs and Force Awakens, buddy; we’re talking Caravan of Courage: An Ewok Adventure). Fans didn’t just tune in to watch Ratliff, Newman, Cotnoir, and a number of special guests watch these films — they also donated money, raising funds for unemployed UCB staff.
This tradition has continued for various charities for the last several months with marathons of the HBO series Arli$$, short-lived Comedy Central series Big Lake, and the NBC comedy 1600 Penn. Between that and more traditional shows, GLTS has currently raised over $95,000 for charity, and they’re not done yet, as they’ll be spending Sunday, September 20 watching every episode of Aaron Sorkin‘s one-season NBC drama, Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip.
None of these selections were generated by the three men at the center of the show — all of them came from random asides by GLTS fans. This includes Studio 60, a glitzy but ultimately unsuccessful effort to make the behind-the-scenes drama of a late-night sketch show compelling, but one which attracted a wild collection of great talent during its short run. When I spoke with the team, Cotnoir said that “over 30” Studio 60 alumni had committed to signing up for an appearance during the live stream, though he’d reached out to many, many more people who’d had even some slight involvement with the series. (For example, during our conversation Cotnoir revealed that sadly, Academy Award-winning screenwriter Akiva Goldsman, who made a cameo in the pilot, had been asked but passed.)
“I feel like I’ve gotten pretty good at describing the show and I have enough links that I can send to people at this point,” Cotnoir says. “It’s like, if you really want to know what it is, here’s 150 hours worth of content that you can go watch. Which is kind of crazy.”
If you’re looking for intel on what’s going to happen during the Studio 60 marathon, I can tell you that there will be a pre-taped introduction to kick things off… and that’s about it. “All we really have planned out is which guests are appearing at which point in the day,” Newman said. “And I think that’s part of it — we want to make it clear that these things are developing organically.”
It’s not going to be a snarky hate-watch, as Ratliff said that “Retired Filmmaker George Lucas,” a character he knows very well, is there to be an enthusiastic fan of the series. And it’s going to be a lot more interactive than similar fundraisers, as Newman explained: “You have a lot of people who are more famous than us doing big fundraisers online with people who are more famous than us, based around things that are more well known than us. But they just kind of do something and have a link at the bottom telling people to donate.”
But with GLTS, viewer chats in the live-streamed comments can dictate the subject of the next watch-a-thon or make George Lucas and Watto complete any sort of wild stretch goals, from eating 10 Big Macs to making wild hair choices. Anything can happen, anyone can contribute — even this humble reporter was given the chance to suggest a stretch goal. The one thing you can count on is that while watching all 22 episodes of Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip, a good time will be had.
— Planet Scum (@planetscumlive) August 17, 2020
And money will be raised, something which Newman says is “one of the things that actually makes me feel relatively good on a day-to-day basis during all of this. Like, I feel like this is a time where we all feel so powerless, where things just keep on stacking up on top of each other, and the amount of different organizations and issues that need resources just keeps like growing. I’m someone of very limited ability in general, but especially when there are actually larger issues going on in the world […] The fact that we’re able to use our skillset to do something that A) people feel good once a week and B) has been able to like actually raise significant amounts of money to different organizations […] I can remind myself that this is actually making some sort of impact.”
The George Lucas Talk Show will begin its Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip watch-a-thon on PlanetScum.live at 9 a.m. ET on Sunday, September 20.