More than a decade ago, Rob Blatt (Col ‘96) and Sam Riegel (Col ‘99) were two undergraduate jokesters singing in the all-male a cappella group Academical Village People, hoping to get a few phone numbers or maybe even a date. These days, they’re rubbing elbows with pop star Nick Lachey as writers on the a cappella competition show The Sing-Off, which Lachey hosts. Blatt and Riegel call what they’re doing their “dream job.” “We are the perfect writers for this show,” Riegel says. “The other writers [on the show’s writing team] come to it with other backgrounds, but we come to it with a cappella experience.”
The Sing-Off is a talent competition show in the vein of American Idol. Groups from around the country compete for the top prize of a Sony Music recording contract and $200,000 and are judged by celebrity singers. Week to week, Blatt and Riegel not only write a pun-filled script for Lachey but also shape the drama of the competition.
“Our job is to juice up the intensity,” Blatt says of their roles during the live-audience taping. “There are lots of moments of writing under pressure. Before the final act of each show, we are furiously writing ‘tension paragraphs’ [for Lachey and the judges], describing each group’s journey or what the judges said about them in the past, to make it more suspenseful.”
Blatt and Riegel translate their experiences writing screenplays and teleplays for outlets like Comedy Central, Spike TV and the HBO show Curb Your Enthusiasm for their current gig. Riegel says it is a similar experience to writing a screenplay because they “consider the groups that are performing characters in a drama.” However, Riegel admits, “It’s a very strange kind of writing because we’re not just writing a script based on imagination, we’re tailoring our characters to real people. Our real goal is to make it so that no one notices what we do, so that when you tune in, it seems like no one wrote that.”
Now in its third season on NBC, The Sing-Off keeps Riegel and Blatt busy during the weeks of taping, but in their off-season they do a different kind of writing. In addition to developing television shows, they maintain a website for their short humor music videos and frequently perform at comedy clubs in Los Angeles.
While they are involved in a variety of entertainment projects, Blatt says, “Music has always been a part of our careers. In Academical Village People, a lot of our a cappella performances had sketch scenes, so we’re always finding ways to do comedy and music, weaving them together.”
And they both even got those dates they were hoping for. Both now married—Riegel to a former member of the all-female a cappella group the Virginia Sil’Hooettes—they acknowledge the peculiarly close friendship they’ve had over the past 10 years, never having lived more than a mile apart.
Blatt says, “It’s an interesting dynamic, kind of like a sitcom. Our wives have had to accept that there’s a third person in our marriages.”
The two say the dynamic of their relationship is necessary for the success of their writing. “We end up having a brain and a half together,” Blatt says. “A cappella is a team sport, and so is the comedy writing we do.”
“Comedy isn’t really funny until someone else laughs,” Riegel says, “so to write with a partner, especially one whom you trust and respect so much, is a big bonus. We just still try to keep making each other laugh.”