It’s Saturday night. You’re up for a movie, but don’t have a DVD player, a Netflix account, a video store membership, cable TV, any money or a friend to share it with.
But you do have a regular TV receiving local signals, including KAUT- TV 43. Lucky for you, 7 p.m. Saturday on the newly re-branded Freedom 43 is movie night. What makes that so special isn’t the film selection (unless you really like Jason Biggs), but the two men hosting it.
Dubbed the 2 Movie Guys, Ryan Bellgardt and Lucas Ross soften the cinematic blow every week with their comedic consolation as hosts, appearing in wraparound segments. You might also recognize them from Freedom 43’s morning show, “Rise & Shine,” providing welcome high jinks and film discourse.
How did these savvy cut-ups come together in the first place? Their story starts, naturally, with puppets.
“My wife and I were going around to libraries doing puppet shows during the summers,” said Bellgardt. “I was asked to do a kids’ television show pilot and I had come up with an idea for a puppet show. Three separate people told me to go check out Lucas Ross.”
Said Ross, “I grew up loving Jim Henson’s Muppets. I would do puppetry on the side, teaching Sunday school at our church.”
“I went and saw him perform Kermit,” said Bellgardt. “He was great.”
Although the kiddie show fell through, a creative alliance was formed. Bellgardt, a broadcast producer and writer (the brain-burrowing Edmond Hyundai jingle is his gift to your ears), collaborated with Ross on a variety of advertising projects. Eventually, they both wound up at channel 43; Bellgardt as the station announcer, and Ross as a producer.
One day, they were invited to a network meeting with executives hungry for a younger demographic. Bellgardt had an idea.
“Ryan said, ‘Put us on TV,’” said Ross. “We thought we could piggyback onto the Saturday-night movie, which was already established, and do interstitials between commercials. So we got that program time, called it ‘2 Movie Guys,’ made a demo, and they loved it.”
Three years later, this local TV hit is an efficient, two-man operation with creative carte blanche.
“No one has one time ever said what we can and can’t do,” said Bellgardt. “Ever.”
For each episode, they write, shoot, perform, produce, direct and edit five minutes’ worth of sketch material.
The result then is split into 30-second chunks that manage to capture both their winning sense of humor and remarkable production efficiency.
At a recent taping, sketches were being formed for that weekend’s accidentally relevant feature, 1990’s “Navy Seals,” starring Charlie Sheen. Although it aired one day prior to the real-life SEALs’ takedown of Osama bin Laden, the action flick certainly coincided with its star’s ongoing public meltdown.
That comedy-rich vein inspired the 2 Movie Guys to craft an original song, “Addicted to Winning,” from Sheen’s more ridiculous quotes. While the song had been previously recorded, the video was shot quickly, and the slick, finished piece was on YouTube later that night.
Their quick wit and likability has served them well. Over the years, they’ve managed to charm celebrities into their sketches, from local treasures like Linda Cavanaugh and B.J. Wexler, to national names like Spike Jonze and Conan O’Brien.
Meanwhile, the 2 Movie Guys’ own celebrity seems to be on the rise, as does that ever-coveted demo.
“Young kids love us. Middle-aged, single ladies love us,” Ross said. “They put us out at the home and garden shows to sign autographs whenever they can’t get real stars."
Despite thousands of viewers, full network support, and the interest and encouragement of heavy hitters like Disney and Cartoon Network’s Adult Swim, a mature perspective is keeping success from going to their heads ... or out of state.
“I really like where I am now. I have a job that I love, and we get to do this little thing on the side,” Bellgardt said. “We’re not famous, we’re not rich. But we still get some cool recognition for what we do.”