Cable Access Comedy

Jesse Nelson, 29, is the mastermind behind Scazz-Rik-Tobin, a monthly show airing on Access Tucson (Cox Cable Channel 72) Saturdays at 1 p.m. and Tuesdays at 10 p.m. To say the least, the surreal comedy show is strange; plots so far have centered around a talking cactus and a hostage situation at a clown office, for example. Seven regular cast members, two recurring cast members and about eight others participate in the show, which is slated for 15 episodes (not counting five condensed episodes that are done every three months). Nelson--a writer who has published two novels--writes and edits the show, and hopes to use the experience as a springboard to make an independent film. He's lived in Tucson since January 2002 with his wife, Shirleen.

What in the heck does Scazz-Rik-Tobin mean?

At the very end of the series, it's going to mean something. The narrator keeps hearing it in his dreams.

The dreams with the evil clown?

Yeah. That's why we have the opener the way we do. He's supposed to be dreaming this clown face. By the end--say, the last three episodes--he'll remember it, and that will be the solution.

Any hints?

Well, in Episode Four, the one airing now, we introduce two supporting characters. The one is looking for a place that has to do with Scazz-Rik-Tobin; it's basically a lost city he's hunting down. Scazz-Rik-Tobin might be the name of the city or a clue how to get there. That character and the one having the dream will eventually meet.

OK then. Were you on drugs when you wrote this?

Um, no. I usually have about three drinks--booze. That's about it.

What's in these drinks?

Well, in the show, the writer character who I play always has different kinds of drinks. I am kind of like that writer character.

Tell me about the film you hope to make.

It won't have anything to do with the show or its characters. It's pretty much a whole new ballgame. The kind of comedy that's in the show--like a talking cactus--won't be there. We want to take the surreal aspects of the show, but not the comedy.

How did you find the people to do the show?

For each monthly show, we basically have one weekend a month to do it. The episodes are 35-42 minutes long, and we have one weekend a month to coordinate. Half the people are from Trail Dust (Town). For the others, we actually put an ad in The Weekly volunteer section and had it put in the listings.

How much does each episode cost to make?

How Access Tucson works is when you become a member, you get 8,500 fictional dollars. Every time you take something out, they charge your fictional account. Essentially, it's free, but you have to be trained to use the equipment. For tapes, props and to feed everyone, it's probably about $60-$80 an episode, which isn't that much. We're trying to be very resourceful.

Any clue how many people watch the show?

That's what I would love to find out. I don't know if Cox Cable has a way to track that. I'd love to find out.

What kind of feedback have you gotten on the show?

What attracts people to the show is the odd ideas, like having four Reservoir Dogs-style women as characters in one episode. Or the talking cactus. It's been positive feedback. On the other hand, I am trying to learn the transition to writing scripts to make (the dialogue) less wordy and use more shot angles.

What's coming up on the show?

A couple of quick premises: One show was done in a sepia tone, kind of a black-and-white, with characters in 1940s- and 1950s-style clothing. In the June episode, the main character starts hearing a laugh track when he wakes up, and nobody hears it but him. It's kind of a take-off on sitcoms, a parody or satire on the sitcom genre.

Are you sure you're not on drugs when you write these things?

Yes. Just booze.