Chapter 16
A Community of Tennessee Writers, Readers & Passersby

A Comedy Show in Music City?

If pedal taverns could make it here, surely a live talk show was a lock

The idea was conceived at the time when most good ideas are born: one in the morning after an onslaught of domestic beers.

“I like talking to people,” Ben said. “Like David Letterman. Maybe we could just do what he does.”

And thus was born The Ben & Morey Show, Nashville’s Late-Night Talk Show, or so we call it.

The idea was simple: we’d host a live comedy talk show in a theater every Thursday night and interview people from around town. Just like Letterman if Letterman was broadcast from a tiny theater in Nashville—or, really, just like Letterman if Letterman wasn’t actually broadcast. “Think of it as playing Wiffle ball in Fenway Park,” Ben said, which somehow resonated with me at the time.

So we got a couch and a chair and what’s left of a rug and found the perfect venue: Centennial Performing Arts Studios. You know the one—the understated brick building on the west side of Centennial Park where your sister took ballet lessons. It’s just like the Ed Sullivan Theater.

Our friend Davis Hunt got on board as producer. I remember thinking, “This is perfect. I’ll tell people ‘Oh, we have to meet with our producer tonight,’ and it’ll make the whole thing seem so real.”

Then we needed a house band. Our Paul Schaffer. A band can’t be hard to find in Nashville, right? Right. In just two days we found the perfect one: an old white guy who could sing like Al Green. Over a cheeseburger and fries at Brown’s Diner he told us that he loved the blues and that he’s addicted to sex. Dealbreaker? Nah. We shook hands, and two hours later he called to back out.

Ben and Morey try their hands at cheerleading with the Tennessee Titans

We finally reached out to an old high-school acquaintance, Hicks Woolwine. After just one Facebook message, Hicks was interested, and after a beer at 12 South Taproom, he was on board. The guy was smart, an excellent bass player, and he didn’t once mention any sort of sexual perversion. It was a perfect fit.

Everything was coming together. Davis successfully talked the Metro Parks Board into letting us serve beer at the show. Hicks was writing a theme song. Ben and I came up with a slew of jokes for the opening monologue—OK, dialogue—and we settled on a date for our debut. Now all we needed was a couple of guests for the interview part of the show.

I had a dream lineup. The first guest would be a young guy who was running for mayor at the time and who had garnered my interest: Charles Robert Bone. The second guest would be a much hairier Nashvillian and the owner a local bar that had garnered my patronage: Santa from Santa’s Pub.

I sent out two emails followed by two very memorable cold-calls, and they were both in. A total shot in the dark had just panned out, and The Ben & Morey Show was looking like it could be a real thing.

Ben and Morey Show talk with bestselling novelist Ann Patchett

Forty-two shows later, we’ve talked to some of Nashville’s most colorful characters. From Ann Patchett to Eddie George to Tye Dye Mary, from a sex therapist to a psychic to a trauma surgeon, from Karl Dean to Bob Mueller, we’ve sat on a dusty red couch and interviewed people from all corners of town and all walks of life. Along the way, Ben and I have gotten on-stage lessons in yoga, karate, weightlifting, and burlesque dancing, to name a few. Every interview is different, but one thing remains constant: every guest is up for trying something new.

Come be a guest on a late-night talk show that’s not actually on TV? Sure, they said.

Hang out in a Metro Parks building until 9:30 on a Thursday night? Sign me up, they said.

People always ask if we pay our guests. “Bill Purcell is on your show this week?” they’ll say. “How much did you have to pay him?” But no one has ever asked about payment (especially not Bill Purcell). What they normally say is, “Sounds fun. I’ll check my calendar.”

I think there are two main takeaways from this phenomenon: 1) people in Nashville are open to new things, and 2) people will do anything for free beer.

Ben and Morey with Mary Laura Philpott, author of Penguins with People Problems

Let’s focus on the former. Yes, there are open-minded people in any town, but trying new things might be fundamentally endemic in a city that’s chock-full of cranes and new restaurants and twenty-eight-year-old men who don’t own razors. Oftentimes in a booming city the populous is an even split between hip young transplants who deface the old ways and cynical old natives who loathe the new transplants. But I think Nashville’s found a great balance between old and new. We all know the importance of maintaining character and tradition, but it’s equally important to welcome new things. New ideas. New comedy shows. From our experience, that’s the line Nashvillians are straddling so well.

Our audience, which started off as mostly friends and co-workers (and my parents), has grown to include adults of all ages and from all sides of town. And my parents. To this day, I don’t know how people learn about the show, but I would imagine they simply hear there’s a new show in town and respond, “Why not?”

Among all the new traffic lanes and all the new apartment complexes, it turns out, Nashville offers a pretty firm foothold for someone who wants to try something different. Just ask the guy who invented Pedal Taverns. (And then maybe slug the guy who invented Pedal Taverns.) If you’re looking to try something new and different that does involve beer but doesn’t (usually) involve sweating, come out to our show one night. Our fourth season starts March 30 and runs every week until July. My parents would love to meet you.