Paul Brownfield is an AwardsLine contributor. This story appeared in the June 12 issue of AwardsLine.
In his job, Mark Sweet prefers to work hungry, skipping dinner. He doesn’t drink coffee. If he needs to use the bathroom, that’s around Page 20.
On workdays, Sweet leaves his Bel Air home by 2:30, hours before he really starts work. But he is a man who likes to know what the future holds, including traffic.
Tuesday night he’s at The Big Bang Theory, Wednesday at Mike & Molly, Friday night at Two and a Half Men. These are all Chuck Lorre sitcom tentpoles for CBS, and Sweet is the warmup comic at each. He has occupied this particular pocket of the comedy industry for almost 30 years. It takes a certain kind of person, a certain kind of comic, to do it. Most performers don’t like to be interrupted during their routines by a director.
“The art of this thing is being able to stop on a dime,” Sweet says. “So when they go, ‘Here we go,’ and then they’re ready to go, I need to stop.”
But it’s not always about keeping the house amped. Early on, Sweet noticed people were coming to tapings of The Big Bang Theory dressed in homemade T-shirts and lab coats. So he started bringing people up to talk about what the show means to them.
“It seems to give these people hope, and a second chance and optimism,” Sweet says of Big Bang Theory. “I’m telling you, it makes them happy.”
Sweet initially got pulled into doing audience warmup by friends in the entertainment business. His first two shows were Coach and It’s Garry Shandling’s Show—one a broad network sitcom, the other an idiosyncratic cable experiment. The Coach audience members were plucked from the Universal Studios tour. Barry Kemp, the show’s creator, whipped through two different tapings of the same episode, an early and late show.
Shandling taped at Sunset and Gower. The first four rows were industry. The rows behind them might have been filled by people from a nearby drug rehab. While Sweet burned through material, Shandling and his cocreator, Alan Zweibel, huddled. It taught Sweet how to ration his bits and keep an audience in the game.
Sweet boasts of having warmed up audiences for more than 4,000 episodes of situation comedies. He did the last episode of Cheers, the last Roseanne, and the first Everybody Loves Raymond taping after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.
They know him well in the Chuck Lorre family. This is why, when they’re ready to roll again, the director will give Sweet an extra 15 or 30 seconds to finish whatever gag he’s doing. “It just keeps that laugh rolling into their material,” Sweet says.