If you’ve ever let your DVR run long while recording Saturday Night Live, there’s a good chance you’ve accidentally let Matt Tompkins into your home. His show, Omaha Live, piggybacks SNL on WOWT 6 every week, announcing itself with a bold warning that its views and opinions do not necessarily reflect those of NBC or the local affiliate.
Omaha Live takes no prisoners: what follows is an irreverent 30 minutes of sketch comedy where anything and everything Omaha is skewered, from “West Omaha Problems” to “Mayor Stothert’s Greatest Hits” to “Husker Emotional Support Hotlines.” Tompkins and his crew have got your number—and he’s certain the mayor hates it.
It’s local, guerrilla filmmaking at its most raw. Now in its third season, Omaha Live has always been a small operation with a commitment to quality, taking inspiration from productions like Flight of the Concords and Funny or Die. Tompkins’ broadcasting history involves a decade in radio, but Omaha Live is his first foray into television. He started the show with his younger brother, Ben, often filming in front of a green screen in their father’s church basement or on location.
“Sometimes I feel like we’re in an Ocean’s Eleven plot,” Tompkins says, elucidating the hazards in occasionally filming against the will of proprietors—or law enforcement. From modest roots, however, the show has grown exponentially, with ratings quadrupling since inception.
“We soon realized we couldn’t just B.S. every week,” he says. “After the first season wrapped, we knew it had potential.” Tompkins is proud the show has come to reflect the talent in Omaha, but he’s also pleased with the achievement it has represented for his broadcasting career. “It’s been a lot of long nights of editing, writing, and filming, but I’m most proud that we’ve been able to put together a show every week for 18 months straight. You’re gonna have haters, but the more haters you have, the more you’re doing something right.”
The show has had its growing pains, though Omaha Live’s success also coincided with Tompkins’ battle with painkiller addiction, which he hopes to open up about with his audience.
“I had a bunch of major surgeries in a row,” he explains, “so I was on heavy pain meds for years. I was a professional, functional addict, but it was an invisible pain. You don’t see that on TV.”
Tompkins hopes that by addressing his personal battles on the airwaves, he can one day help others with recovery, too. “When I was on the medicine, I felt like I was operating at only 20 percent. After recovery, I feel like I’m at 100 percent, and there’s no limit to what I can do.”
He credits much of his, and the show’s, success to the support of his wife, Wendy Townley, director of the Omaha Public Library Foundation.
“She helped keep us afloat, putting up with the long hours and the insanity that goes with them—even if it frequently meant a home overrun with weirdos in costumes.”
Tompkins also made a return to radio in January as host of the Late Morning show on 1290 KOIL, where he exports Omaha Live’s “no holds barred” humor to the AM dial.
“We’re going up against Rush Limbaugh now,” he jokes, “so I can tell our listeners the two of us have something in common.”
Search Omaha Live! on YouTube to watch episodes.