Reader question: Has the HBO hour comedy special lost its prestige?

By | December 13, 2010 at 4:59 pm | 3 comments | News, Opinion | Tags: , , , , , , ,

The HBO hour comedy special is still a goal for most comedians, but its no doubt lost some of its prestige over the years.

The HBO hour comedy special is still a goal for most comedians, but its no doubt lost some of its prestige over the years.

You may have noticed the “Ask us your comedy questions” graphic on our pages. It links up to our page on Formspring, wherein you can ask a question and I’ll answer it! You can also ask us a question through our Tumblr page. Some of those sessions will end up here on our daily blog. Today, I’m answering the following question, which comes from our Formspring page:

Is it justified that I think the “prestigious” feel of the HBO comedy special is kind of no longer relevant? I get the feeling that most comics would much rather just do their hour for Comedy Central.

I think you are absolutely justified in thinking that the concept of the HBO hour comedy special has lost some of its prestige.

I interviewed Dave Attell in 2007 about his HBO special Captain Miserable and we got to talking exactly about this.

Since it seems relevant to your question, I’m just going to paste in some of the back and forth we had; and, I’ll make a few more comments after.


Where does landing a one-hour HBO special rank on your list of career achievements?
When I first started comedy, the ultimate thing you could do is the HBO one-hour special. You’d watch George Carlin, Richard Kline, Richard Jeni, Eddie Murphy, Martin Lawrence– they had these hour specials and they were raw and dangerous. That was what you wanted to do.

Now, people ask you, ‘What have you been up to lately?’ And you say, ‘I just shot an HBO special.’ And they say, ‘What else have you been doing?’ I guess you have to be a comic to appreciate it. People would rather hear me say that I just did a Dell computer ad. People are really more interested in TV and having a sitcom than someone doing a special.

So do people’s attitudes dilute the way you feel about the your HBO special?
No, I wish I had gotten it a year earlier. I’ve done a lot of stuff for Comedy Central but HBO is the place where you could really let it all hang out. You don’t have to edit or clear stuff with them. Comedy Central is really good too. But they have these things about endorsements and mentioning products too.

I think now more than ever, the HBO special is still prestigious, but more for a certain type of comic. For comedians whose act would be completely handicapped due to the censors and editing that dictates the final cut of a Comedy Central special, the HBO hour is huge. So, folks like Jim Norton, Jim Jeffries and Attell still need HBO.

Or Showtime. Or EPIX.

So that brings us to the other reason the importance of the HBO special has been diluted– there are other networks (like the ones mentioned above) that now air completely uncensored stand-up comedy specials.

Personally, I think it’s better to have more outlets for comedy specials. It’s swell and all to have a “holy grail” of comedy goals, but that only really benefits the comedian, giving them bragging rights. It doesn’t benefit the consumer or comedy fan at all. Today, we have a lot of options. And that’s a great thing.

About the Author

Dylan P. Gadino

Dylan is the founder and editor in chief of Laughspin. He launched Punchline Magazine in 2005 (which became Laughspin in the summer of 2011) with childhood friend Bill Bergmann. Dylan lives in northern New Jersey with his wife and two sons. He hopes the Shire is real.

  • Mike D

    I still think the HBO special is huge. Call me a traditionalist but as a new comedian aspiring to be a pro, the HBO special is still that dream that keeps you up at night when you decide to write at 3AM because, well fuck sleep, this is more important.


    I love Jim Jefferies and if it wasn’t for HBO I could stil be loving Dan cook or Carlos Mencila – Thank god for HBO!!


  • Lawson

    I still think having an HBO special is very prestigious. I prefer HBO specials to Comedy Central Specials any day. However, yes, Showtime and EPIX also showing uncensored standup means that HBO isn’t the only game in town. Good. The more paths you can take, the better, as Louis CK has done all 3.

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