Not Exactly Jimmy Fallon

But Maryland Public Television's live comedy show Crabs had its charms
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This article is the seventh in a series featuring clips from the American Archive of Public Broadcasting, which is working to digitize television and radio pieces so that they may be preserved for years to come. For more about the project, see our introduction to the series, where you'll also find a handy list of all the series' pieces so far.


When it comes to comedy, television viewers today can have their pick. There's The Daily ShowThe Colbert ReportThe Tonight Show (now starring Jimmy Fallon), and plenty of other options.

What there isn't, is Crabs. Yes, that's right: Crabs. Doesn't sound familiar? Crabs was a live comedy show, filmed in front of a studio audience in Owings Mills, Maryland, that aired on Maryland Public Television from 1984 to 1991. The show poked fun of all the usual subjects—politicians, celebrities, and so on—but it also had a particular "Maryland" flavor and was full of references specific to the state. According to Fran Minakowski, special assistant to the CEO of MPT, that was part of its charm. "The humor of local references with which the audience was familiar made the program especially popular," she wrote to me.

Here's a little taste of the programming:

Minakowski says that the show helped to build a relationship between MPT and its audience. "Because the program was made with a live studio audience," she writes, "it brought many citizens here—often for the first time—to our Owings Mills studios so they could get a firsthand experience with public television." She also notes that the show was a "good training ground for local actors," many of whom continue to act regionally today.

Maybe Crabs is not to your taste; it's not much to mine. But before I saw it, I had never even considered the possibility of a local comedy show. Local news? Sure. But local comedy? Unheard of. And yet, humor varies regionally. So why not?

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Rebecca J. Rosen is a senior editor at The Atlantic, where she oversees the Business Channel. She was previously an associate editor at The Wilson Quarterly.

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