Joseph Llanes for AOL When last we spoke with Ben Lee, the Aussie…
- Posted on Feb 2nd 2011 2:00PM by Jason MacNeil
Fredric Reshew for Spinner
Lee and 'The Greatest Band in the World Wide Web' are currently providing music for the '3 Minute Talk Show With Barry Sobel.' Sobel, a New York-based comedy writer and comedian who coached Tom Hanks for his stand-up film 'Punchline,' hosts the Hanks-produced program that debuted last week with actor Fred Willard as his sidekick.
"I didn't actually believe it was happening until the day he showed up," Lee tells Spinner. "God bless Barry, but he's got your classic creative and chaotic imagination. So I was thinking how he was going to pull this off, and lo and behold he did. I was in total shock that we were doing this thing."
The connection between Lee and Sobel dates back over a decade when Sobel appeared at a Virgin Records in-store performance Lee was doing on Los Angeles' Sunset Boulevard. The two kept in touch through Facebook over the years before Sobel approached Lee -- who previously worked with comedian Margaret Cho -- about the project.
"[Sobel] was looking for someone who could be a bit of a comedic foil to him," Lee says. "To me, comedy and music are just partners, so they go well hand in hand. He got the idea that I could be someone he could use for that.
"He said, 'I want you to be my Paul Shaffer.' I was like, 'I don't really play keyboard so how about I play guitar.' He said, 'No, guitar doesn't look right, it has to be on the keyboard or piano.' So it was one of those things that I jumped into and said, 'Why not?' It's a comedy thing, so no matter how badly I mess it up, at least it will still be funny."
'3 Minute Talk Show' debuted Jan. 26 and had, of course, Tom Hanks as the first guest. Canadian band Tokyo Police Club were a scheduled musical guest but didn't perform due to time constraints, something Lee sees as a running joke with the series.
"There were a handful of up-and-coming bands but you can't really fit a whole song into it," Lee says. "The funnier thing is having the musical guest get bumped, they would start their song and then Barry would go, 'Thank you so much.'"
Lee says 15 episodes were shot over a three-day period with a rather eclectic array of celebrities, such as Weird Al Yankovic, Joe Jonas, Lance Bass, Johnny Knoxville, Nia Vardalos and Jimmy Fallon via satellite. But each guest posed a challenge for Lee, namely having to come up with a quick, humorous musical intro on the fly.
"All the guests were changing up until the eleventh hour, and, actually, on the spot," he says. "There were people I hadn't even written songs for -- the little introductions -- so we were literally making stuff up on the spot that had a joke in it and summed up the character of the person. It was the equivalent of being a busboy; it was really hard work but really fun."
There's no word on whether additional episodes will be shot but Lee says everyone involved is willing to continue if the response or demand is there. He definitely feels, though, that the Internet has opened up new avenues for his music.
"I don't know how it's helped the music industry, but I know the phone rings more often now to do more interesting and diverse offers with my music. Before it was predictable how the music industry would work. Now if you've got a little bit of chutzpah and imagination there are all kinds of bizarre ways of getting things across to people."
As far the musical directors or house bands currently seen on late night network television, Lee has a great deal of respect for them.
"I feel like you can see that we're struggling the whole time which is funny," he says. "It's like we definitely don't even approach the effortlessness that Paul Shaffer or the Roots have. We didn't have the preparation or the professionalism to make it look effortless, so hopefully that becomes part of the entertainment."