I could see where this joke was going.
Seattle comedians John Keister and Pat Cashman faced the cameras in Fremont Studios and ticked off the latest accomplishments of some of their former fellow cast members on “Almost Live!” the Seattle sketch comedy show that preceded “Saturday Night Live” for much of its 15 year run before it was canceled in 1999.
Bill Nye is defending science on national TV. Joel McHale, star of the NBC show “Community,” is hosting the White House Correspondents’ dinner. Bob Nelson’s first screenplay, for Alexander Payne’s “Nebraska,” is up for an Oscar at Sunday’s Academy Awards.
“So,” Keister said, turning to Cashman: “What have you been up to?”
The audience laughed and the comics moved on. But what Cashman and Keister have been up to is no punchline. They’re building Season 2 of a successful local comedy show that shouldn’t exist. Local TV is struggling, but there they are, following “Saturday Night Live,” and it’s largely thanks to the youngest, freshest face in front of those cameras at Fremont Studios — Pat’s son, Chris Cashman.
The show is “The 206.” It’s not “Almost Live!” but its scrappy, labor-of-love evolution. Headliners John Keister, Pat Cashman and Chris Cashman have no idea where it’s taking them.
They’re just grateful it’s come this far.
I watched Tuesday night’s Fremont Studios taping with a crowd of 450 people who were treated to Tutta Bella appetizers and two free pours of beer and wine before assembling around the headliners to start the show — now the most-watched non-news local show in America, producer Jim McKenna reminded the crowd, with 100,000 area viewers.
“Emergency exits are over here if … if the jokes are that bad,” Pat Cashman told us before the taping began.
They weren’t. He and Chris reprised their roles as hard-on-their-luck Walter White and Jesse in a segment of “Breaking Ballard”; Keister mocked Boeing, the Mariners and that Tacoma teacher charged with having sex with her students in his newsy “411”; Pat Cashman read from Richard Sherman’s Book of Nursery Rhymes; and, later, to kick off next week’s episode, he headlined a funny bit about Bertha’s recent troubles digging our new Highway 99.
“If you want to see a real deep bore,” droned Cashman in character, “stay tuned.”
Some segments were live and others prerecorded, played on large overhead screens to record the laughter.
After former Mariners outfielder Jay Buhner taped a guest bit involving his new line of something I won’t spoil, Pat Cashman followed him off camera and shook his hand.
“You heading home?” Cashman said.
“I’m gonna stick around,” Buhner said. “You guys are too damned fun.”
You might think KING 5 is backing the show, as it did “Almost Live!” or that Keister and the Cashmans make the kind of money being on TV that you tend to make being on TV.
KING gives them a time slot. That’s it. Everything else — production, postproduction, getting money and advertisers, managing the 1,000-person studio audience wait list and coming up with the jokes — falls to the three guys, their producers, and a bunch of friends who pitch in to help.
Former “Almost Live!” cast member Steve Wilson directed KING’s “New Day Northwest” Tuesday before running the Fremont Studios taping. Behind the makeshift bar in Studio B, Lisa DuFour, a family trial attorney, poured the drinks. A former floor director at KING who worked on “Almost Live!” she missed one taping of “The 206” when she was sick. Otherwise, she’s always here.
Chris Cashman, 36, edits most of the prerecorded pieces himself after he puts his two girls, ages 4 and 6, to bed. Before the taping he zipped from studio to studio, consulting his smartphone every few minutes. “I posted to Facebook!” he announced.
“He lights a fire under everyone’s ass,” producer Erren Gottlieb told me between takes. “It’s amazing, the creativity that falls out of his head.”
“The 206” lives on TV, but it’s thanks to the Internet that it even got there, and it’s thanks to Chris that they even thought to try. Chris was sitting with his dad, Keister and producers McKenna and Gottlieb after a taping two years ago of the show “Biz Kid$” show when he pitched the idea: We want to do a local comedy show, but we know no local station will fund it. So why don’t we produce some clips, put them online, see if there’s interest, and maybe build it ourselves?
John Keister and Pat Cashman were skeptical, but not for long. The team produced teaser trailers to run during the 2012 local Emmys — which Chris hosted — then posted them on YouTube and Facebook. Views and comments climbed, local media started calling — is “Almost Live!” coming back? — and Chris suggested they test whether people would put their money where their clicks were with a live show at the Triple Door. It sold out in 48 hours.
Days before curtain, KING called. Whatever “The 206” was, they might be interested in putting it on the air.
Chris felt the pressure. He’d done guest spots on “Almost Live!” as a kid, and it had been his dream to join the cast until KING canceled the show while he was still in college. But with all these raised hopes, it wasn’t his dream he was worried about.
“I wasn’t nervous for me; I was nervous about yolk on my dad’s face and embarrassing John,” Chris told me.
It didn’t happen. The live show was a hit, KING made room for two pilot episodes in January 2013, then a first season, then a second. The five cobbled together a team, a venue and enough funding from local advertisers to cover most of their costs. They want to air in Portland, get more money and boost their online presence to reach the younger, cable-cutting audience that doesn’t really watch TV anymore, like me.
After this weekend’s episode, six are left in the season. Then, who knows?
If we keep laughing, the jokes could keep coming.
“The 206” airs Saturday night after “Saturday Night Live” and Sunday night after the 11 p.m. news. Many episodes are also available online at www.youtube.com/user/the206tv.
Update: This article has changed to correct when “Almost Live” aired while it was in production. It preceded “Saturday Night Live”; it did not follow it.
Mónica Guzmán’s column appears in Sunday’s Seattle Times. Got a story about living with technology in the Northwest — or know someone she should meet? Send her an email, follow her on Twitter @moniguzman or send her a message on Facebook.