Variety recently published a column by Brian Lowry about stand-up being in decline. It’s painfully obvious from the column that Lowry has no understanding of the current stand-up renaissance and boy, have my fellow bloggers been letting him have it: here, here and here. (WhipItOut has a slightly different tact here.) They all make great points, so I fear my post might possibly be just that final kick or stomp to something that’s beaten and left for dead anyway. But it looks like too much damn fun not to talk about it.
Lowry’s column states that stand-up is in decline because its no longer a career hop for sitcom stardom. At best, a comic can hope to host a game show. He concludes with this:
Given the potential payoff, there remains a strong incentive to get standup back on its feet as a feeding tube to TV.
And this is the key sentence, because, if anything, this generation of comedians looks at stand-up and television the other way around. Having a TV show is a feeding tube for your stand-up, allowing you to widen your audience and attract bigger crowds. Most emblematic of it is Mitch Hedberg, who, naturally, put this manifesto as a joke:
I got into comedy to do comedy. But when you’re in Hollywood and you’re a comedian, everybody wants you to do other things. They say, “Alright, you’re a stand-up comedian, can you act?” That’s not fair. It’s as though if I was a cook and I worked my ass to become a good cook. And they said, “Alright, you’re a cook. Can you farm?”
Mitch may be gone but that attitude is still going strong. Stand-ups are sticking with the person that brought them to the ball. Many comics who are in stand-up generally aren’t doing it because they want to be famous for doing something else. Those people are gone, now auditioning for reality TV. Stand-up is its own art form again, not one in service to another.
Lowry is measuring on a ruler and seeing failure. Stand-ups are using the same ruler, they’re just at the other end.