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Opinion: ‘Mystery Hour’ no longer a mystery

Truth Be Told

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Community is magic.

Springfield’s resident comic and favorite (to be fair, only) late-night TV show host Jeff Houghton penned those words on a Facebook post the night before his talk show’s first sold-out taping last month.

“The Mystery Hour” films three episodes at a monthly taping, September through May, at the Gillioz Theatre. Its Feb. 16 taping brought in a record 900-plus attendees. The primary draw was Leslie David Baker, better known as Stanley from NBC’s hit “The Office.”

In eight seasons, Baker is the biggest star yet on Houghton’s show.

“It’s always weird because we have to try to get someone to come to Missouri and come talk on a late-night talk show. No one has a template for what that means,” Houghton said, joking he normally has to follow-up his request with, “I swear it’s legitimate.”

The late-night show started at The Skinny Improv and took a hiatus when Houghton moved to Los Angeles. When he made it back to Springfield, he got the show on a non-network channel, KOZL, and taped episodes at Randy Bacon’s studio in 2012.

Houghton said attendees would max out at 75, and by the end of the episodes, the crowd dwindled and Houghton instructed his crew to sit in the audience and clap twice as fast. (Showbiz trickery.)

By season three, the show began taping at the 1,000-seat Gillioz Theatre and moved onto the local Fox affiliate.

It took eight seasons, but Houghton and his now 30-person team finally packed out the theater.

I was behind-the-scenes at the taping with the show’s first all-access media pass. Houghton was noticeably excited, and reasonably anxious, as he prepared for each episode. But like a true star, he came alive when he took the stage.

Over the years, the show has become more refined and the set is nicer. But one thing remains true over these eight seasons: Houghton and his team have always been funny; it’s just that more of us are paying attention now.

I’d love to see “The Mystery Hour” sell out every show. Sure, Stanley won’t be there every time, but the two other guests at the Feb. 16 taping were equally entertaining. (It was the world’s fastest woman and Missouri State University track coach Carmelita Jeter and board game creators Spencer Harris and Caleb Stokes.)

Each month Houghton and the crew at “The Mystery Hour” are putting together an amazing show. And no one is getting rich doing it.

“Let me put it this way,” Houghton said, “everybody has a real job and they do this on the side.”

He said “The Mystery Hour” invested heavily into last month’s taping, which brought in roughly $11,000 from ticket sales, and he feels it was well worth it.

Houghton wouldn’t disclose Baker’s appearance fee but said the show paid for travel, as well as a speaking fee. According to AllAmericanSpeakers.com, Baker’s booking fee range is $10,000-$20,000.

“I see all the Facebook shares and I do think it really helped us with people finding out about us for the first time,” he said.

The next show is March 15, and the guests are Efren Ramirez, aka Pedro from “Napoleon Dynamite,” Springfield chocolatier Shawn Askinosie and Joy and Nick Weiss, who compete internationally in canicross, the sport of running with a dog.

Beyond the guests, who are incredible, and the content, which is no doubt clever (Instagram Husband, look it up!), the show also is magical because it’s building community.

And community is magic.

I was recently invited to Sunshine Rotary, where Commerce Bank President Doug Neff spoke on his time as chairman of the Springfield chamber. He said in this community, you shouldn’t wait for someone else to take the lead in making Springfield a better place. He also said we could all use more city pride.

Houghton has done that with excellence.

Sitting in the theater and shooting photos backstage at last month’s show, I could feel the electricity. Our community needs what “The Mystery Hour” provides: the sense of togetherness that sharing a laugh can bring.

And the show is helping put Springfield on the map.

“This is a fact I can’t quite verify,” Houghton said. “I think we have the biggest crowd for a late-night talk show taping.”

He said the second biggest late-night crowd is “The Late Show with Stephen Colbert,” whose theater seats 370 for nightly tapings. Houghton said his attendance is at least 400-500 people for his three-show tapings. Sure, one is a national talk show airing each weekday. But “The Mystery Hour” is now airing on 10 stations as far as North Carolina and Minnesota.

I asked Houghton if he had his sights set on a space bigger than Gillioz. He quickly said JQH Arena, followed by a chuckle.

He may have been joking, but I could see it one day.

Springfield Business Journal Features Editor Christine Temple can be reached at ctemple@sbj.net.

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