The Lucky Titan

Don't Give Up: 7 Ways To Stay In The Game With Art Bell

September 14, 2021 Josh Tapp
The Lucky Titan
Don't Give Up: 7 Ways To Stay In The Game With Art Bell
Show Notes Transcript

Josh Tapp and Art Bell discuss 7 ways to "stay in the game" with your business. Entrepreneurship isn't as hard as everyone believes. The truth is, with the right actions and habits you can guarantee yourself another month in business. The people who succeed in business only have one advantage over you...they've stuck it out longer!

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About Art:

Art Bell is a writer and former media executive known for creating, building, and managing successful cable television channels. His memoir, published by Ulysses Press, Constant Comedy: How I Started Comedy Central and Lost My Sense of Humor was recently honored as a finalist in the 2020 Best Book Awards for memoir.
While working at HBO, Art pitched the idea of a 24-hour comedy network and helped develop and launch HBO’s The Comedy Channel, which became Comedy Central. He went on to hold senior executive positions in both programming and marketing. After leaving Comedy Central, Art became President of Court TV, where he was a guiding force behind one of the most successful brand evolutions in cable television. In addition to writing, Art plays piano and drums, and co-hosts “The Constant Comedy Podcast with Art Bell and Vinnie Favale.” Sense/dp/1646040899/ref=sr_1_1crid=2C2C59IQMBE8K&dchild=1&keywords=constant+comedy&qid=1592253264&sprefix=constant+comedy%2Caps%2C146&sr=8-1

Josh: What is up everybody, Josh Tapp here again and welcome back to the lucky Titan and today we're here with Art Belle and this is an interview I've been looking forward to for many weeks now because unfortunately, I've had to reschedule on him a couple times as we've been moving offices as you all know, life's been chaotic and that's what life is all about here in the business world so I want to give a little bit of an intro here so all of you have a clear understanding of why we brought him on so art is the guy who started Comedy Central. Yeah, that little thing that we've probably all heard of that massive network has become very, very successful around comedy and I wanted to bring Art on because he's very, he's got a very unique take on how to leverage comedy in your marketing but on top of that, he just wrote a book that I want to have all of you go check out so we'll touch on that here in a minute so Art say what's up to everybody and we'll hop in. 

Art: What's up, everybody

Josh: super excited to have you here, man.

Art: It's great. Great to be here. Really. Thanks for having me, Josh.

Josh: Yeah, no problem. Well, I want to ask you a question. Just to kind of kick this off, because everybody kind of sits there thinking about being an author for years, usually, it's 10 20 years, I should probably write a book, I should probably write a book so what was that pivotal moment when when you decided you were ready to write your book,

Art: um, was actually after I had written a lot of the book because I didn't start out to write a book, I started out to tell some of the stories that about me about my childhood, about how I grew up and one day I wrote a story about something that happened at Comedy Central, and I was in a writing group at that point and the writing group kind of like came out of their stupor and said, Wow, that's interesting, I don't want to write more stuff about Comedy Central. We didn't know you did that so I said, Okay, so I started reading more stories about that and suddenly, I realized, I had a book it, you know, in this because it was, it was really one of my great adventures in business and so I continued writing, I realized that there was a beginning, middle, and end and I had to think about, you know, the flow of the story and the characters in the story and who was in and who was out was really quite challenging but I enjoyed the entire process and when I say that, I really mean it, I would read something I read the night before and say, oh, wow, that's good and I'm not that big of a fan of myself, usually but I just enjoyed my own writing and that helped.

Josh: It's always a good feeling, when you can read back over something or look at something you've created and you're like, wow, that's pro did a really good job, what I love about your story, aren't we were talking about this in the pre interview, I really love how you've kind of shifted your career from from the growth to contribution stage, right? You're shifting to the more of the legacy trying to give back and help the next generation and that was really indicative of a lot of the people who read your book, right, you know, you're saying a lot of students will actually be reading your book, which is so impactful, in my opinion, because getting a college kid open a book is always very difficult but I was I was thinking about your book and I want to let everyone know the title because it will make this next question make a lot more sense so the title of the book is constant comedy, how I started Comedy Central and lost my sense of humor so this is such a cool title first off, I love that art, but what how have you been using comedy in your marketing for the book in particular?

Art: Well, that's interesting marketing the book, I have not honestly used a lot of comedy in it, I did a video, which I thought was very funny and and this, this is, this is my first note to people who want to use comedy in any kind of marketing, you got to be careful, because if, if it falls flat, then you're really suck and comedy is hard, as everybody knows so I did a video, which was kind of like the origin of comedy from the caveman on and it was really my daughter asking me, Hey, Dad, where did comedy come from and I'd say, Well, you know, the caveman, they were, they were out on the hunt and somebody would, you know, try and get the mammoth. And a mammoth would get somebody and they go back, and they tell the story and in order to make people feel better about it, losing one of the members, they kind of throw some comedy, that funny stuff into the, into the story. So and then my daughter would say, Oh, that's interesting. And then she said, Hey, Dad, with Comedy Central come from, and then I'd say it's funny because I just wrote a book about that, and then I, you know, go into that whole thing, but I guess it wasn't really that funny but I you know, a lot of people thought it was funny, but it didn't really help sell the book so the other stuff I did, and you know, so much of marketing is digital marketing these days was a, and it's really just comes down to awareness marketing, was just getting the cover of the book with me, I had a picture of me, wide eyed reading the book, which people found funny but I didn't, I didn't make, you know, a commercial or any kind of really funny ad that I can think of other than a video to market the book, most of my marketing was either awareness marketing in in, in social media, or press, and let me tell you something about press. Press is the greatest thing in the world, because PR is free marketing and whenever I had a job at any of the companies I worked with, and I was in charge of marketing, I always made sure I was in charge of PR as well because making sure that those messages corresponded, you know, you can't have one message going out in PR, and another message going out and marketing, you really wanted to coordinate those messages and I found that very important, and I ended up loving PR, I didn't know anything about it when I first was in charge of it but I found out that that's a brilliant way to get your message out and of course, when you're doing an interview, it can be funny so that's a place that I put some comedy.

Josh: Well, and I love that I love to see that because it's, I was talking to a guy, his name's evading me, as Tom Antione, right. He's very, he's very into using comedy and in his marketing, but he also said the same thing he's like comedy is is kind of a two-edged sword, right? It can be very, very beneficial to you if it if it lands but if it doesn't land, it's going to ruin that piece of content, that was so interesting, because it's like you have to test your comedy before you put it into your marketing and you were telling me about a story art that you said you had somebody I can't remember his name off top my head again but he was he said is you got chewed out for running a marketing campaign for him? 

Art: Oh, yeah, that's in my book. It's a great story, it was the first marketing campaign I did as the head of marketing for Comedy Central. I had previously been head of programming but my boss, I mean, again, for a lot of reasons that are explained, said, Look, we need marketing, you got to take over marketing so I had to learn marketing my first campaign was for Bill Maher show don't want how to show on Comedy Central, called politically incorrect and I knew bill because he pitched me the show personally and I thought, Okay, he's a tough guy but, you know, I didn't know him a little bit. When I put the campaign together and it was funny, it was funny campaign, it was an outdoor campaign and it was about politically incorrect stuff and, for example, we had a bus side that said, it pointed to one of the windows and said, does this guy's head look pointy to you and, you know, just other stuff like that and so we put the campaign together, we thought it was very funny as a lot of different stuff, I showed it to the producers, I showed it to programmers, I showed it to everybody in the company, with the exception of Bill Maher, now, why didn't I show it to Bill Maher because I knew if I showed it to Bill Maher, Bill Maher would say, you can't run this, this is terrible because that's how Bill Maher was and I thought, okay, I can either make Bill Maher head of advertising and marketing and, you know, do this 50 times for him, and have it never work or I can just run the campaign and get things out there. Marketing is like anything else, you got to get out the door, I'll sit sitting on your desk so I ran the campaign. Next day, I get a call from Bill Maher, he says art, I saw that campaign, he said that is the worst marketing campaign I've ever seen for anything, it has nothing to do with my show or what I'm trying to do and you know, what if I did a bad job, or you would, you would have me? fired? Right? You you cancel my show and he said, and so since you did a bad job, I am going to have you fired and I've already made some calls and that was the start of an remarkable adventure with Bill Maher and let me just say without telling the entire story, the campaign was nominated for an award for Best outdoor campaign that year and we went to the award show and guess who was the host of the award show? 

Josh: Bill Maher 

Art: and you know, and you just look up and you say thank you, you know, just just and I figured if this hadn't actually happened in real life, and I wrote it into a story or a movie, he would say, what are the chances, but that's what happened and the rest of the evening was hysterical so anyway, it's on the book. 

Josh: Yeah, that's one of those great stories where you call the redemption stories, right? I mean, it reminds me of Iron Man right, if you've seen Iron Man2,

Art: I have seen it

Josh: where the politician ends up, the one who hated him ends up having to like pin a medal of honor on him hilarious big fan of Marvel, obviously so I want to ask you this art, because you really kind of hinted at this a few times throughout as well, you know, building multiple different marketing campaigns and, and as far as your, your PR exposure and everything, a lot of that came down to finding what you call allies and advocates so could you kind of walk me through what you mean by that, and then how you're doing that?

Art: Well, when I was first pitching the channel, and at first trying to get HBO to understand that, I thought this was a great idea, and that they should do it and here's why, I was doing it mostly by myself but then I realized, when I got my boss interested, and actually was my boss's boss, that made a huge difference because that open doors I couldn't necessarily open, specifically, he got me in to see the chairman of the company, now prior to that, I had pitched my idea to the head of programming, thinking, Okay, if I could sell her, then she would be an advocate and now you got to remember, I was at the very bottom of the org chart, just above the people, you know, who took care of the building and and so I did get an interview, I did get an appointment with Bridget, who was the head of programming for HBO and I said, Bridget, we should really start an all chump comedy channel and she said, that's the worst idea I've ever heard and let me tell you why and she spent 15 minutes telling me what a terrible idea was, and you wouldn't believe what she came up with no, comedians would be on the channel, because, you know, they don't have time for this, there's too much comedy out there already. Why would HBO risk their reputation now is an important one by the way, if you're ever trying to start a business inside another business, if the first thing they think about is, hey, if we fail, we're gonna look bad so that makes it hard right off the bat, anyway. Okay, so Bridget is not going to be my ally but my boss's boss found out what I was working on because I when I started working on it myself, figured I'd, you know, try and get it financed, or go to another company or something, I mean, I was young and stupid. I had no career at that point, I figured I could try something so he took me right into the chairman, and I pitched the chairman with no presentation, by the way, no preparation at all, he said, Come on, we're just gonna go see the chairman and that was Michael Fuchs and he said, sounds interesting. Let's, let's take a look and that's how I ultimately got this thing started. A lot of people did not want to be allies but when you find the right ally, you're in good shape.

Josh: Right. And that's, that's huge. I love, I love how you jumped rungs on the ladder because when most people don't do and especially in marketing, and if you're starting a new business, I think it's a lack of confidence to reach out to even the accessible people because we're worried of the failure that we're going to have by being involved with our podcasts and if I want to interview somebody super successful like you are, I can't just go to you know, the next business person, I've got to actually jump through and say, who are the people who directly know art who are way above me and they actually give you the time of day, especially as a podcast, just throwing that out there but I love that story and so, so you you go and you pitch Michael Fuchs and and he ends up accepting the offer and this is this is the offer to build Comedy Central, is that correct or to start Comedy Central?

Art: Yeah. Now, just let me make it clear in that first meeting, he said, sounds like a good idea. Let's explore it so that was a green light to do some more research, get the finances together to a demo tape, work with some of the people in programming and then do a presentation to top executives, he said, I want to present this, wherever you find out, I want that presented to me and the 20 top executives at HBO and we'll see where we go from there. I mean, it wasn't like, hey, yeah, let's just do this, I mean, he's not crazy. People are not crazy. You have to do the spade work. Now I had done a lot of the spade work, I thought, in that I had a financial plan and I had thought about how the programming would work and I had all this stuff together and one of the ways I worked on it was I went over in my head for years, before I ended up pitching it, and I ended up talking to people about it for years and the great thing about talking to everybody about it, and I mean everybody, your friends, your girlfriend, your you know, people in the business people out of the business, is they always start with ha, you know, that might be hard because dot, dot, dot that'll never work because dot, dot, dot  isn't it going to be expensive because and then what you do is you're kind of building up your repertoire of responses, to objections, because believe me, it is so much easier to do what Bridget said, which is okay, let me give you five reasons this will never work, you know so in order to get people excited about it, you have to have responses to those five reasons, now, in truth, I know what your viewers are saying, well, art, why don't you just say to Bridget, okay, here's the thing, Bridget did not give me a chance to say here's the thing, she just, she just read me the reasons and said, Okay, thanks for coming in and that was the end of it now, remember, she was very high on your chart, and I wasn't gonna sit down and argue with her but when you do get the chance to say, Okay, here's why this is going to work, here's why your objections, don't hold water in my, in my estimation, and here's how we're going to do it, that's very, very important so you have to think of all that stuff.

Josh: And I love that point and, and what came to mind was, you know, even though Bridget, you know, is at a higher point in your, in the org chart, as you said, she, the reason why she would give you those excuses, because she doesn't have confidence in pitching your opinion to her boss, right but she has to be, she has to be so sold on it, that she knows they're going to say yes, or she's not even gonna put her neck out for you.

Art: You know, it's so interesting to say that I'm going to tell you something that is in the book but I've thought about a lot since I've read the book, which is, if you're starting something inside a company, you need buy in from the company from everybody in the company, because if you don't have it, you got problems and that's one of the big obstacles to starting things in the company so let's go to that, that meeting where I had to present the whole thing with the finances and the demo tape and the whole plan to 30 20 or 30. top executives, Michael was sitting right in front of me, I did the presentation. Michael said, Okay, sounds good and then he turned to one of the other executives, and he said, Hey, Larry, what do you think of this idea and he looked him right in the eye. Larry said, Hey, sounds good to me, Mike, why me think it sounds great. And he went around the room and asked everyone in the room. What do you think of this idea? And everyone, including Bridget, who famously said, I thought, Michael, I think it's a fabulous idea and that made me laugh but the reason he did that is because he was not going to broke any, you know, after conversations about, Hey, I thought this thing was stupid from the get go. He wanted everybody on record to be saying I liked the idea and therefore I am going to support it because you need everybody in the companies help to get these things done inside a company.

Josh: One is proof that it was a good company, because so for my MBA program, we were reading a book by Jack Welch, right? And it was, what's the book, winning is his book winning, he talks about that, right? Getting all the brains in the game and leveraging everybody's brain but what was interesting is he's talking about as a mid-level manager, not as the CEO of the company and and that's, I mean, you're explaining exactly what he did, right? It's not just getting the people above you, it's getting the people below you and beside you and everything.

Art: And you know, what's interesting, Michael was a very powerful man. It's a matter of fact, two weeks before I went in to see him he had been called the most powerful man in Hollywood by the New York Times Magazine, that's pretty big so he needed to do what he did and I was kind of puzzled but because he could have just said, hey, look, you're going to do it, and you're going to like it but he realized he, you know, even at the top of the company, he had to make sure that he had that company behind him.

Josh: Yeah, really cool management strategy so I want to ask you this art, because we are coming up to the end of the interview here. First off, where can people get access to your book, where do we find it?

Art: Well, in the usual places, bookstores, but also Amazon is a good place to find it. And you can learn more, more about me and the book and also get links to where to buy the book at, that's my website and it's a good website. I mean, I think I got some other writing that I've done there, I do an interview with myself, which is very funny, I people seem to think it's very funny and 

Josh: it's okay, you can say

Art: it's just, it's hard to say yeah, I did this funny interview with myself but

Josh: if you and your mom think it's funny, it's funny. 

Art: So, um, so that's, that's a good place to go and of course, I'm on social media.

Josh: And on top of that, you you started a podcast with Vinnie, right?

Art: Yeah, that was interesting. Um, I'm doing a podcast with Vinnie Favale. It's called constant comedy with Arc Belen Venetia volley and we decided to do the podcast was actually Vinnie pushing for it. He called me up and he said art April is the 30th anniversary of Comedy Central. And I'm not hearing word one about it, we got to make some noise here. We got to celebrate this thing so we started the podcast and We brought in people to begin with, were there at the very beginning with us and talk to them about the brilliant careers they had, I mean, one guy went on to become, you know, head writer for Saturday Night Live, somebody went on to become head of paramount, somebody went on to become a head of Fox Television, I mean, these are people who had their first jobs, when we were all kids, they're in this explosion of creativity, and went on to be, you know, really big part of the industry,

Josh: which is so awesome. So everyone, make sure you go check that out so all of its really under the constant comedy name, but I wanted to just remind everybody the name of the book. So it's First off, it's Constant comedy, how I started Comedy Central and lost my sense of humor and then the podcast is also called Constant Comedy so make sure you go check out one or both of those things. Go support are in this go by the book, it's going to be an awesome book, it will be something that you will be able to apply directly into your business. 

Art: And I will mention also the Excuse me, 

Josh: please do 

Art: I am doing the audio book and I am reading it myself so that should be out in in a few weeks.

Josh: So by the time this episodes live, it's probably out so make sure you guys go get that audio book because we know that's like how you like to consume your content so Art and just one final question for you just wrap this interview up. If you could give us one final parting piece of guidance, what would that be?

Art: Well, I guess it's under the heading of be bold and take chances, I saw so many of us. Everybody I meet has great ideas in business about the company they're working for there their company they're trying to start but sometimes they hang back and they don't stop, they don't speak up and they're not bold look, failure is a part of what happens in business and in the world. You have to be prepared to fail, but you got to give yourself a chance and the only way to give yourself a chance is to speak up, be bold, take the chances and you know hope for big things.