Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.
Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.

Read This: How A Special Thing played a crucial role in alt-comedy history

Illustration for article titled Read This: How A Special Thing played a crucial role in alt-comedy history

It may be difficult to believe in 2016, but back in the primitive days of 2001, there really wasn’t a good place to discuss comedy, particularly alternative comedy, on the internet. That year, Matt Belknap, currently best known as the producer and co-host of the Never Not Funny podcast, helped change that by creating an online forum called A Special Thing (or AST), originally to discuss Tenacious D and Mr. Show With Bob And David. AST soon became the online hub of the comedy world, with future stars such as Louis CK, Patton Oswalt, and Aziz Ansari participating in the threads and Q&As. Over at The Kernel, writer Rick Paulas has put together a definitive oral history of A Special Thing, documenting its rise to prominence and eventual decline, including testimony from such luminaries as Scott Aukerman, Jimmy Pardo, Todd Glass, and more. When summarizing the importance of this message board, Jimmy Pardo puts it succinctly: “Facebook wasn’t around. MySpace wasn’t big. Twitter certainly wasn’t around. If you wanted to read about comedy, you had to go to AST.”


A key early development in the history of AST occurred when Belknap, under the online pseudonym Sasquatch, began reviewing a weekly live comedy showcase called Comedy Death-Ray. While a few comics resented having their material quoted out of context, many were simply thrilled that there was someone who was even interested enough in the alt-comedy scene to write about it over the internet. The scope and influence of AST expanded throughout the 2000s, and the site became an incubator for future talent. Of course, there were controversies and hurt feelings along the way as well, and Paulas does not shy away from recording these. But for the most part, the AST regulars are proud of the forum and what it did for the Los Angeles comedy scene in the early years of this millennium. As for why it eventually drifted into obsolescence, there is no clear answer, but two main suspects in the case are Twitter and podcasting. It is important to note that A Special Thing hasn’t quite vanished into the ether yet. As Belknap puts it: “AST will never really die, because there’s always going to be two nerds who want to be the person to make the last post.”