Last Comic Standing: Where have all the Great Ones Gone?
Wednesday, June 28, 2006
LAST COMIC STANDING has good intentions, that's for sure. Past judging controversies aside (remember Season 2), LAST COMIC STANDING genuinely strives to bring great comics to us, in a forum that allows them to shine.
Too bad there aren't any great comics out there.
This is no indictment of LAST COMIC STANDING or it's past contestants. Many of the previous comics have been good, but none great. None transcendent. I don't believe it's a question of NBC not finding the right people to come on the show and become stars; I'm sure they did their best. It's simply the fact that great comics don't often exist in this day and, when they do, they don't remain comics for long.
Back in the 70's, 80's, and early to mid 90's, being a stand-up comic was a noble profession. If you were good, your following would be huge, you'd play sold-out arenas, people would buy your comedy albums and you would become famous. In some cases (Eddie Murphy, for one), you could be a rock star.
After watching the first few episodes of LAST COMIC STANDING, I had to ask myself, "Can I envision any of these comedians playing a sold out arena?"
The answer was no. Again, there are a few good ones on the show; I like Ty Barnett all right and think that Gabriel Iglesias (the silly Hawaiian) and Rebecca Corry (the short girl) both have potential. But there certainly isn't an Eddie Murphy or a George Carlin in the group. There's not even a Sinbad or a Gallagher. If I enjoy a mulleted man from the eighties smashing watermelons with a mallet more than any of the contestants on LAST COMIC STANDING, what does that say about the state of stand-up comedy today?
Why, then, has this happened? How can the well have run dry? Have we, as people, grown less funny over the past ten years?
I blame Jerry Seinfeld.
Before "Seinfeld" caught on and (justifiably) became a national phenomenon, comics weren't always seen as viable entertainment options for mainstream audiences. Sure, there were TV shows starring comedians well before "Seinfeld" ever aired. "The Cosby Show" is an obvious example, although Cosby's material had always been suitable for family consumption. Steve Allen and Johnny Carson parleyed careers as comics into variety show hosting gigs, but those programs were for the late-night crowd, which was the same audience that lapped up edgy comedy. People like Andy Kaufman became mild successes in bit parts on network shows, but never became stars.
Seinfeld represented something altogether different. Here was a comic who perfectly and exactly transferred the material that made his stand-up great into a successful TV program. The first few seasons literally took bits from Jerry's act and made them into the focus of the given episode. Though Cosby's material was loosely turned into what became the "Cosby Show", his act was already full of comedic tales with poignant little life lessons, which was the basis of TV sitcoms at that time. "Seinfeld" reinvented the wheel and made it okay for comics transitioning into mainstream culture not to bastardize the integrity of their material.
Now, with cable and pay channels like HBO and Showtime, there are an infinite number of places where comics can put their gifts to use in a forum more digestible than stand-up. Bill Maher and Jon Stewart, both well-renowned comics in their day, found their success on politically-themed talk shows. Chris Rock doesn't do what he does best full-time (being a stand-up), instead opting for the paydays that television and film bring. The point is, as soon as a comedian proves his marketability, they are snatched up by the media conglomerates and given the keys to whatever venue will perfectly utilizes their specific talents.
This is why the comics on LAST COMIC STANDING don't have star power. The good ones are already doing other things. Had their been a show like LAST COMIC STANDING fifteen years ago, a number of the contestants would be burgeoning stars who had just yet to be given a sitcom or talk show.
Last season, during LAST COMIC STANDING, I was confused and a little bitter about the lack of talent. However, once I realized why that was I became content. The number of funny people hasn't decreased; the number of opportunities for talented comics has just increased.
There is hope, however, that LAST COMIC STANDING will find it's star. They'll have to catch a rising talent on their ascension, right as they come into their own. Until then, I'm going to keep tuning in to LAST COMIC STANDING, chuckling along, awaiting the next great to walk through the doors of the Queen Mary.