Punchline Mag analysis: Late night stand-up comedy spots not the career changer they used to be

By | June 27, 2011 at 12:11 pm | 3 comments | Opinion | Tags: , , , , , , , , ,

Late night talk shows used to be the break every comedian wanted. Five minutes on the Tonight Show with Johnny Carson or the Late Show with David Letterman could catapult you from working comic to household name.

And though it’s nearly impossible to find a comedian who would turn down an opportunity to be on TV, performing on the late night stages just doesn’tt hold as much weight as they used to. There are plenty of comedians that make appearances on the Tonight Show with Jay Leno, Conan, Lopez Tonight, Late Night with Jimmy Fallon, the Late Late Show with Craig Ferguson and more who remain in relative (read: mainstream) obscurity outside of the comedy world, performing at bars and clubs across the country.

If anything, established names like Louis C.K. get more use out of an appearance on Leno plugging an critically acclaimed series than someone making their late night debut like James Adomian, who killed it on Lopez (see below).

Out of the last six months, Reggie Watts (see below) has performed more times than any other comedian on Conan. Yet, most people, whose extent of stand-up exposure is limited to knowing Patton Oswalt was in Ratatouille and is also a comedian still have little idea who Watts is or what he does.

Yet, despite having to be on late night TV repeatedly to have it a noticeable effect (see: Jo Koy, the Chelsea Lately panelist regular), following and watching comedians live and online is becoming the way to spot the forefront of comedy. Adomian and Watts represent the next wave in comedy that could arguably put to bed the sentiment “comedy, especially stand-up comedy is dead” that has been around over the last decade.

Both of them along with the likes of Kyle Kinane, who got a handshake from Tom Hanks after his set on Conan (see below), and others bring a new energy and sophistication to comedy that they have made huge names for themselves amongst the comedy world. Their comedy is followed so closely and written about so extensively about that there can be little doubt, even though they are only saviors to comedy nerds now on late night TV, they will very soon be legitimate household names.

About the Author

Jake Kroeger

Jake Kroeger has dedicated his life, for better or probably worse, to comedy. Starting and continually running the Comedy Bureau, a voice for LA comedy, by himself, he also writes and performs stand-up comedy in LA and watches more live comedy than is probably humanly tolerable. He's been a daily contributor to Punchline Magazine, now Laughspin.com because he loves and believes in comedy so much. Said of Kroeger, "...without his dangerously insane, unhealthy work ethic, certain comics would not have any press at all."

  • Travesty

    I’m sure a lot of people have noticed this, but from what I’ve found, is that comedians get MUCH more attention when they sit down and have a “one-on-one” with the interviewer. Louis CKs huge “everything is amazing” bit that went viral, and was a big hit. It was material that he’s been experimenting with, but he worked it into the conversation he was supposed to have with Conan. He didn’t do the traditional route, by doing his act, and instead, came out with more laughs. Both would have worked great, but the one where it feels “non-scripted”, even though it is, are the ones that get the bigger responses these days. Aziz Ansari does the same thing, and his interviews go viral, even though those are all jokes in his stand-up act.

    Now, I don’t think it hurts if comedians do the traditional stand-up act of grabbing the mic, and standing in front of the audience, but at the same time, it’s not gaining as much of a response like it used to.

  • Chloe

    Louis C.K. proving this thesis on Jimmy Kimmel Live:
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_oF8Js9v3ag

  • Josh Homer

    it also has to do with the level of comedy and how a late night set is crafted. How many old sets of CK, Rock, Tim Allen etc started off with “where my gays at?” Or “Give it up for yourselves!” Sets used to be crafted, that is rarely the case anymore (there are exceptions like Ted Alexandro’s Letterman set)

    it also has to with the proliferation of comedy on the internet and TV.