Hey, Punchline Magazine readers. Glad you’re here.
For the last few weeks, I’ve been enjoying answering some of your comedy-related questions on our Formspring page.
You may have noticed. You may not have. If you’re unsure as to what Formspring is, it’s basically a social networking site that allows friends and fans to ask you questions.
So I’ve happily been on the receiving end of questions; in fact there’s well over 100 questions and answers posted there.
So, why am I telling you this? Because I’d love for you to take a look at some of the past questions and start submitting your own. I feel we’ve really started a great dialogue about a great many topics related to comedy. I love hearing what’s on your mind and I love giving some thoughtful analysis to (most) of your questions. So, moving forward, I’ll be rolling out some of your questions and my responses here on the main site.
If you want to check out all of our past questions and answers, check out our Formspring page here: formspring.me/punchlinemag. For now, why not ask a question by using the box below. And, for the love of comedy, please leave your name. I’ll answer anonymous questions, for sure. But it’s so much better to make a connection with a real person with a real name. Ok. Go!
And after the jump, check out a recent Q&A.
Do you think stand-up will ever become more acknowledged by the entertainment world in the near future? Like what mainstream music has been for decades, do you see comedy becoming extremely popular? And anytime soon?
Stand-up comedy will never become as popular as television, movies or music. The art form is inherently devisive and even the most mainstream of comedians are not as accessible as the least mainstream of actors.
So why is that?
I think the main reason is the difference between stand-up comedy economics and movie/television economics and how those economies relate to the creative process. The easiest way I can explain it is like this: Regardless of how “fringe” an actor or actress is, his or her performance has gone through a number of filters: directors, producers, editors, etc… in an attempt to make even the most “underground” performance accessible to a large enough group of people that the end project will turn a profit.
There’s a lot of overhead that goes into a film or television show. There’s much less overhead, in general, for stand-up comedy and therefore more room for taking true risks. And true risks mean the status-quo will never embrace the art form the same way it has more “traditional” forms of live entertainment. Stand-up comedy is the punk rock of the entertainment world– moreso, these days, than punk rock is the “punk rock” of the music world.
Take a guy like Philip Seymour Hoffman. I think we could all agree that the man owns some edge, takes chances and doesn’t conform to what Hollywood looks like. And still, he’s one of the industry’s most respected members.
But he’s no Doug Stanhope. As unfiltered and unfettered as Hoffman is compared to the rest of his contemporaries, he’s not onstage telling a room full of strangers that he has herpes or that he once got a blowjob from a dude on accident or that a fan of his postponed committing suicide — and eventually followed through — because he had tickets to see him perform. But Stanhope does those things, because that’s who he is and he answers to no one. And, from an economic standpoint, he can afford to do that, since the cost of producing comedy shows is negligible compared to the cost of mainstream entertainment productions.
We’re talking one guy onstage with a mic. Stanhope can make enough money to live by playing dive bars and small music venues that sit 100-300 people. The need for him to draw more than that to be considered one of the greatest stand-ups of our time doesn’t exist. So, in the end, there’s no need for him to try to appeal to a larger group.
However, stand-up is clearly in an upswing and has been for the better part of a decade. And more and more, stand-up comedians are finding themselves noticed by regular folks and not just comedy nerds. Louis C.K. is a great example of this. His comedy isn’t too many steps away from Stanhope’s caustic, raw approach and yet, C.K. is hugely popular. Lisa Lampanelli, who’s made a career out of insulting people onstage, has blown up; the friggin’ New York Times negotiated for the exclusive story on her recent wedding!
Zach Galifianakis, Patton Oswalt, Demetri Martin are also great examples of performers with non-traditional appeal making huge waves in traditional culture.
So, in short, economics dictates that stand-up will never be as popular as the other art forms you mentioned. And it doesn’t need to be.
Long live stand-up.