On YouTube channels, comedians shift the punchline

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Wilson realizes it can be jarring for audiences to see someone who many simply regard as Dwight Schrute discussing such subjects, but SoulPancake has helped Wilson unite his professional life and his spiritual life and mix the profound with the silly. The channel has more than 25,000 subscribers.

“You can ask someone about their toenail polish and then you can also ask them about what they think happens to you when you die,” he says. “It just doesn’t really happen on television, but that’s doesn’t mean it’s not possible.”

As the creator and producer of the popular and lucrative “Original Kings of Comedy” tour, Latham has been a trailblazer before, founding the black comedy franchise that featured Steve Harvey, Bernie Mac, Cedric “The Entertainer” and D. L. Hughley. As a promoter of comedians and a TV and film producer, Latham likes to call himself “the King of Comedy.”

“It’s the future, man,” Latham says of the YouTube channels. “Especially for my career as long I’ve been in stand-up, always looking for the next Bernie Mac or the next Steve Harvey. They don’t have shows anymore like they used to on television to find talent. So YouTube is a really good platform for me to introduce new comedians to a new audience. And the audience will tell me if they like them.”

Walter Latham Comedy, which has nearly 9,000 subscribers, draws a considerable chunk of its audience from archived video of some of those comedians, particularly Bernie Mac, who died in 2008. The lineup of original programming includes shows hosted by comedians Hughley, Miss P and Michael Blackson. But its signature show, “Comedy After Dark,” includes a variety of scantily-clad women including Jenna Jameson.

Latham has found that length of videos has a direct effect on their popularity, having watched classic, nine-minute-long material from Bernie Mac get less response than a lesser joke of two-minutes. “Just get to the joke,” is the lesson, Latham says, and it doesn’t hurt if the thumbnail representing the video is of one of the attractive female hosts.

The producer realizes the strategy opens him up to criticism.

“I know that in order to grow and not become a dinosaur, you have to do and try different things,” he says. “That may not be the only new thing that I try, but I had to try something.”

The new additions add to the growing comedy presence on YouTube’s digital dial, including My Damn Channel, the comedy series website that streams a live show daily; the Onion, a video offshoot of the satirical news site; Above Average Network, a Web series outlet from Lorne Michaels’ production company; and Official Comedy, which features series from Bedrocket Media Ventures.

All of the new channels receive coaching from YouTube on optimizing programming schedules and attracting subscribers.

“We really strive to share best practice and at the same time, stay out of the way of the creative process,” says Alex Carloss, global head of original programming for YouTube. Carloss says YouTube is pleased at the progress so far, noting that almost 20 channels are past 100,000 subscribers.

Latham told his Internet-savvy 14-year-old son that he wants to be the first black channel to get a billion views. His son was doubtful: “Dad, the only way you’ll get a billion views is if a spaceship landed on Earth with a billion black people in it.”

Said Latham: “Well, I disagree.”

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Contact AP Entertainment Writer Jake Coyle on Twitter at: http://twitter.com/jake_coyle

Copyright 2014 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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