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television: Comedy: The Next Generation

Two new comic options, creative and derivative, take your pick.

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Essany wanted to do a talk show. So he hung a blue curtain in the archway between the dining room and the living room, knocked together a desk, moved the couch into position next to the desk and created a phony window with a fake skyline as a backdrop. His friend Mike Randazzo signed on in the Ed McMahon role, Mom runs the home-video camera and handles the cue cards, and Dad chauffeurs the guests and shops for snacks to be served in the "green room," actually the Essany kitchen.

Clearly, the Essanys are incredibly indulgent parents. Or they see something in Michael that isn't there yet.

To his credit, Michael is persistent. He labors intently on his monologue, and he works the phones like a pro, persuading celebrities passing through Indiana to stop by. Kevin Bacon fell for his pitch. So did Kelly Rowland. Now E! has bought into the act, featuring snippets from Essany's show and behind-the-scenes glimpses of how he does it Sunday nights at 10:30. "The Michael Essany Show" is interesting viewing, if only to see how a 20-year-old's fantasies work and the extent to which his parents will go to indulge them. Other than that, the show and its host are ... well ... derivative.

That's not the case with comic Dave Chappelle's show on Comedy Central, Wednesday nights at 10:30. "Chappelle's Show" has its derivative elements, especially when he serves up "SNL"-style skits. But to his credit, they're inventive and funny, especially one recent sendup of MTV's "Real World," in which a geeky white boy found himself rooming with a handful of tough homeboys. Chappelle has the wit that characterized the original "SNL" gang, but with a sharper edge than you'll find on today's mainstream television. What that means in plain language is that Chappelle's humor is laced with barnyard humor. But he's edgy, talented and creative, all of which bodes well for his future.

So, thumbs down for Essany and thumbs up for Chappelle. But that doesn't mean that the creative will always trump the derivative. TV doesn't work that way.

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