Thursday, January 04, 2007

Nothing Funny about Comedy: Crowdsourcing Comedy: The Alternative to Alternative Comedy

Note: Sometimes I write serious, opinionated pieces. Starting this year, I will call these editorials Nothing Funny about Comedy, to distinguish them from my lighter pieces.

Just as more people are turning to amateur bloggers and videographers for news, they are also going on YouTube and Flickr finding unintentional kitsch and amateur comedy. Amateur internet comedy is the new underground and, until we start crowdsourcing comedy to the lunar colonies on Titan, will probably remain the new place for edgy comedy.

Surely I am overreacting, right? Where's the evidence? Of course this is my opinion; I am not saying that more people are viewing Album Cover Wars than they are looking at the latest Variety Shac video (though this is probably true). What I am saying is that alternative comedy has lost its edge. By "edge," I mean its status as an alternative to mainstream comedy. I'm sorry, but I can't think of one decent "alternative" comedian that hasn't been snatched up by a corporation. Aziz Ansari and friends are on MTV. Paul F. Tompkins has a steady job at VH-1. Neil Hamburger is a favorite on Jimmy Kimmel. This was the case back then, of course, but with the web, many of these amateur comedians keep delivering their unique brand of comedy without leaving their bedrooms, let alone partnering with Comedy Central. This guy just wants to make funny faces, regardless of whether he gets a gig at Rififi or not. Love him or hate him (may your pagan god forgive me, I hate him), he is the true alternative to sitcoms and midtown comedy clubs.

Just like any crowdsourcing story, online amateur comedy is cost-free. The creator doesn't charge, the viewer doesn't pay. Both the David Crosses and the Dane Cooks of the world get deals with HBO. Inevitably the edgiest alt-comic will get snatched up by AOL. Not necessarily so for Ask a Ninja.

Of course alternative comedy isn't dead. It just needs to change. What change is necessary? Let's look at Demetri Martin. Anyone who's seen his five-minute sets on Conan knows that he tells great one-liners.

When I saw his one-man show (Dr. Earnest Parrot Presents Demetri Martin), he told one-liners as well. But he also recounted some very serious life lessons and gave very earnest metaphysical ruminations. Indeed, when I think about the legends of stand-up, I remember Pryor and Carlin. Both of these comedians delivered stirring monologues betwixt dick jokes and fake commercials. Listening to Pryor especially, you'll notice that he often gets applause as well as laughter. These monologues work better with an audience hooting and clapping whereas they would fall flat on a podcast.

But doesn't this go against the grain of alternative comedy? Aren't speeches so over? For an eight minute set, sure. But the greats like Martin and Pryor deftly mixed sincerity and irony. Since the web is where people go for GI Joe parodies and bad album covers, irony is more omnipresent and inexpensive than ever. But I have yet to see a homebrew Mario YouTube with a reflective, somber moment. As long as comics alternative and mainstream wake up and realize that anyone can do disaffected irony but not everyone can challenge the status quo like Lenny Bruce once did, stand-up will be OK. As long as comedians focus less on being edgy and hip and more on being funny and poignant, they will succeed. David Cross and Louis CK still sell out clubs, don't they? Moral of the story: Haha ain't enough. You got to put the "a-ha" in "ha-ha."


Nate said...

Hey Mo, the Blufr vid features two top UCB improv gurus, Billy Merritt and Chris Kula. I think Blufr is their site or something. I found the corporate comedian video by clicking on an intriguing Google text ad that happened to show up on the page.

Mo! said...

I sorry