Chance Meeting Propels Renewed Interest in American Humor
By Cindy Landrum
Sometimes the best opportunities come when you least expect them. That’s the case for Greenville musician Charles Hedgepath and his involvement with National Lampoon, the legendary comedy franchise that helped launch the careers of comedians John Belushi, Gilda Radner, Bill Murray, Chevy Chase and Billy Crystal.
“Who would have guessed that I would go into Covid as a guitar player and come out in comedy?” Hedgepath said. “If you told me a year ago that I’d be working with National Lampoon, I would have thought you’d be crazy.”
But that’s precisely what happened, thanks to a chance meeting on a television set about two years ago.
That’s when Hedgepath met Michael Bloom on the set of “Your Carolina with Jack & Megan.” Hedgepath, a singer-songwriter who has been an integral part of the Upstate music scene for decades, was doing his podcast, “The Downtown Jam.” Bloom was there to accompany on guitar country singer Morgan Riley, a country singer Hedgepath knew.
“If it hadn’t been for her doing that television show, we probably never would have met,” Hedgepath said.
Instead, it was the start of a series of events that led to the pair becoming partners in Solaris Entertainment and striking a deal to bring National Lampoon’s comedy to a new generation of listeners. Their company, Solaris Entertainment, secured worldwide distribution rights to National Lampoon’s content catalog.
Hedgepath and Bloom brokered a deal with Sirius XM to broadcast five “The Best of National Lampoon Radio Hour” and 10 studio albums exclusively on its eight comedy stations for six weeks this summer. Beginning Oct. 1, the catalog will be available for streaming and download on all outlets.
The material was produced in the 1970s and 1980s.
“We’re creating current versions of everything they’d already done so that a new generation can enjoy it,” Bloom said. “Granted, some of this comedy is dated, but it almost is timeless, very much like their movie franchises.”
Six years before its time
While the fateful meeting was just two years ago, the story begins in 1989, before the reality TV craze hit.
Bloom, who has been creating content for television for almost 41 years and has worked on such projects as the 1981 documentary “This Is Elvis” and Marie Osmond’s first solo Christmas special, wrote a television show specifically with National Lampoon in mind. Using the NCAA football conferences, the “National Collegiate Comedy Pop-Up” pitted champions from each conference school against each other in a stand-up comedy competition.
“The show was about six years ahead of its time and didn’t get picked up,” said Bloom, who said he used the same basic idea to create “Last Comic Standing,” which ran on NBC for nine seasons.
Bloom pitched the show again after recently reconnecting with National Lampoon President Evan Shapiro on LinkedIn. Shapiro, who produced the television show “Portlandia,” was hired in 2019 to bring the brand back to prominence.
Shapiro said yes.
“Brackets” is now in the pre-production phase, mainly because the coronavirus pandemic locked everything down.
This month, they’ll send out invitations to college campuses to find their best campus comedian. Bloom expects to receive about 400 submissions. They’ll pick 64, who will compete in a bracket-like tournament. Some comedy superstars who grew up on “Saturday Night Live” will appear to mentor the contestants and give them lessons on stand-up, Bloom said.
Bloom hopes to start studio shooting in March, Covid-19 permitting.
National Lampoon wants to do three additional television shows with Solaris, Bloom said.
“We’re on cloud nine,” he said.
Catalog of content
After Shapiro agreed to the first television show, he and Bloom talked about National Lampoon’s content.
“And they weren’t doing anything with it,” Bloom said.
They struck an exclusive distribution deal for the “National Lampoon Radio Show” and the National Lampoon magazine, and Solaris started remastering the material during the Covid-19 shutdown.
Unfortunately, the content wasn’t stored properly, Bloom said. Of the 60 hours of radio show recordings, Bloom could only salvage 46. The magazines were locked, and they couldn’t find the codes. Bloom said they figured out a way around that, and all 280 issues will be available in iTunes, iBooks and the Kindle store.
Music is Common Thread
Comedy has always played a role in Bloom’s career, ever since he was involved in “Hollywood: The Gift of Laughter,” a 1982 documentary that showcased comedy history and featured clips from the 1920s to the 1970s.
“That molded my career goals, just to work with comedians throughout my life because of what they do for our communities, how they are built to lift everyone up. I fell in love with the genre and dedicated myself to it,” he said.
But then Apple launched iTunes and gave Bloom, who is a songwriter, the opportunity to get into the music business.
“Music has always been my first love,” he said.
After the two met, Hedgepath started releasing his music on Solaris Entertainment. Because the two hit it off so well, Bloom made him a partner in the company.
“Years ago, somebody did the same thing for me, and he told me that one day I’d meet somebody and I’d want to do the same thing for them as he was doing for me, mentoring and involving me in this business,” Bloom said. “And when I met Charles, I knew he was the one. I’m 62, and I have complete confidence I can walk away without him running this into the ground.”
The relationship is helping Hedgepath’s music career, too. He’s releasing a new album Sept. 15.
“Things I do now are going to get more attention than they would have two years ago,” Hedgepath said.
The National Lampoon opportunity proves opportunities are out there, he said.
“There’s a lot of angst out there, but this shows if you keep your eyes open and are willing to work, there are opportunities,” he said. “People are trying to create things despite what’s going on with this pandemic.”
And he gets to talk to Chevy Chase.
“That’s an amazing byproduct of all this,” he said. “I grew up watching the old “Saturday Night Live” stuff on Nick at Nite, so to be involved in something like this, it’s something I never imagined.”