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American Comedy Lagging & Stew Lee's critical comments.

Started by tribalfusion, January 06, 2022, 11:19:47 PM

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tribalfusion

Quote from: notjosh on January 07, 2022, 01:35:09 PMI can't find a link to it but I assume you mean the routine where he claims that every American stand-up is just trying to pitch their own 'my crazy family' sitcom:

"My mum's Jewish and my dad's Italian... so when I see a bagel, I don't know whether to eat it, or shove it up my ass!"

Which is sort of the thing that bothers me about most stand-up I see now, British included. So much of it seems to be built around cliched identity labels. "I'm sort of nerdy looking so here are some jokes about how unsuccessful I am on Tinder". "My parents are Muslims so here are some jokes about not having Christmas". "I come from the North and now I'm in London so here are some jokes about not talking to people on the bus."

Most of the time I couldn't give a shit about what a comedian's life is like, unless they happen to be genuinely fascinating and weird (eg Maria Bamford). What I want to know is if they've figured out a new and interesting way of looking at the world that will spark a couple of synapses in my head and give me something to take away with me.

Fundamentally I think there is a dearth of actual ideas in the stand up scene at the moment. Britain has some good purveyors of offbeat observational comedy (Acaster, Bailey, Kitson when he's in full stand-up mode) which I get a lot out of, but I can't think of any recent British acts who have impressed me with political or social commentary. The US is probably still better on this front, with the likes of CK, Burr and Stanhope, but their output has been tailing off for a few years now.


That Lee routine you referenced involved his impressions of the Montreal Just for Laughs Festival and I laughed my ass off about that as it captured the heart of mainstream US stand-up in a nutshell.

I couldn't agree more about the dearth of ideas and identity just not cutting it. Bamford's identity is far more intriguing AND she also has given thought to things in the world at large though I wish she focused on that side more than she does. Still, you can tell she is interested.

As for recent British acts focusing on that side of things more, it's true that there hasn't been that much in comparison to people in Lee's age cohort and a bit older. Without speaking to the quality of the work per se, I'd cite Josie Long and Chris Coltrane (who has disappeared), Joe Wells, Tom Mayhew, Chris Tavner and Matthew Alford who is also an academic but I don't think any of them has much notoriety beyond Long.

tribalfusion

Quote from: Mister Six on January 07, 2022, 01:53:32 PMOh! I forgot to say, I'm from the UK but have been in the US for six or seven years now. And I was living abroad before that, so I've not blundered into random live UK stand-up acts for aces. So take everything I say with a pinch of salt.

There are more interesting US comedians, but they're all middle-aged now. Or older. Or dead. Or cancelled. Maria Bamford, Louis CK, Norm MacDonald (sometimes, although I watched half of his Netflix special and it was just gag-gag-gag)... Bill Hicks occasionally had a theatricality that went beyond "standing at a stage telling jokes" and worked in themes and something of a structure.

Again, I've not approached this scientifically or in massive depth so I might be talking out of my arse - and I've not been to see any live comedy since maybe a year before Covid sprang up - but even when people have a bit of a "character" like Anthony Jeselnik it's more of a stance for telling a particular kind of joke. I watched a couple of his Netflix shows and aside from the "edgy" material just being a bit bland and obvious, I kept thinking, "Imagine if this audience sat down to watch Jerry Sadowitz at work..."

I dunno, maybe it's different in LA. Didn't Adam Buxton do Bug out there? I can't imagine their being an audience for that in New York.


Thanks for the follow-up. I don't think LA is different from NY substantially and it may actually be worse in that there are far fewer people there interested in the arts broadly speaking. Whatever I may think of Louis CK, it's clear that he actually has an interest in the broader world of the arts, cinema and theater which is far more specific to NY and Boston and while it hasn't impacted his stand-up as much as I might like, it certainly did impact his world view and work in TV.

Lewis Black is someone with a more developed engagement with the world of theater and politics and who is no idiot but his act to me seems tailored to what he thought he could get away with doing in the US without a very different type of audience.

I'll post a list of comics from the US whom I think are somewhat different from prevailing trends in various ways (though not all work primarily in stand-up at any given point in time):

Ted Alexandro
Dave Anthony
Lee Camp
David Cross
Nato Green
Judah Friedlander
Maria Bamford
David Feldman
Hari Kondabolu
Eddie Pepitone
Wyatt Cenac
Tim Heidecker
Eric Andre

tribalfusion

Quote from: Pimhole on January 07, 2022, 03:02:07 PMI think this does have a large part in it. Why slog away in your local comedy fleapit in Dipshit, Ohio when you can have a much bigger audience on YouTube or TikTok? There also doesn't seem to be the same progression from comedy clubs to late night talk shows any more. Do any of the talk shows have regular "here's a new stand up" slots any more? Or do they just lock them all up in their writers' room so the host can continue to look brilliantly funny?

I think the sheer size of the US is another factor. It's possible to live in, say, Swindon or Lancaster but still work the whole UK stand-up circuit. In the US and particularly if you want industry attention, you'd have to be in New York or LA... possibly Chicago.

Finally, I think the Edinburgh Festival makes a big difference to the UK scene. Sure it has it's problems (A LOT of problems) but it is a place where being creative, different or mould-breaking is positively encouraged AND gets a lot of industry attention if that's your aim. Edinburgh shows are reviewed in national newspapers, showcased on national TV and can lead to a solo national tour. There's nothing like that in the US and if there were, it would be totally bland, corporate and commercialised and would not have the batshit creative energy of Edinburgh.


I think it's a good point that arguably the most significant 'industry showcase' for those in the UK, is the Edinburgh Festival which again takes us back to the idea that comedy has a relationship with theater and the arts more generally.

I can't imagine anything like that ever taking place in North America.

tribalfusion

Quote from: Peabo Bryson Is Not Dead on January 07, 2022, 06:53:07 PMAs a Brit that's lived in LA and now in NYC, comedy is a strange beast here compared to back home.

An American comic is either huge, massive, all over every platform or a struggling writer for late night or a new (terrible) cartoon. There is no in-between, no Rob Beckett. The bigger names have streaming specials, awful podcasts and a guest spot on the plethora of network TV talent shows.

For me, I've gone off The Comedy Store, Comedy Cellar and their ilk because all the acts spew out tired tropes on race, twisted realities on nationalities (did you know the Irish like a drink?) or anal sex. That's it. There are very few fresh opinions and even less good jokes on it. There is an incredible mulch of landfill comedy here that all merge in to one.

There is still hope in the smaller clubs, the backrooms, the bizarre improvs but then a lot fall in to the same old boxes to get their big break; Black gangster, neurotic Jew, naive Midwestern brought up in a religious home, nerdy Asian. Exist outside of these definitions and you don't have a chance. Unless your parents have already worked on SNL, a place which is seemingly the filter and fork in the road for most US comedy.

It's similar to the UK system, as it were. The Alternative become the Establishment, Oxbridge, podcast buddies and sketch cliques, professional Northerners, professional homosexuals, professional Northern homosexuals... I do miss UK clubs though, whether it be pub back rooms, a City Varieties or a Glee. The talent mix is better and the diversity of gender, race, class and sexuality decades ahead of the US.

Like others have already stated, UK stand-ups have an appreciation of the live audience while US stand-ups are desperate for Lorne Michaels to be in the room or Bill Burr turning up for a guest spot so they in turn can be discovered.

There isn't going to be another Billion Dollar Jerry but there's a good build up of personalities, storytellers and acts (as opposed to a weak 6 minute spot of shite gags) coming up via TikTok because there are too many barriers everywhere else.

So, yeah. The StewartNotIain Lee is sort of correct.

Thanks for posting and I largely agree with you. Have you discussed your views with many people in the US and what are their reactions?

Peabo Bryson Is Not Dead

Quote from: tribalfusion on January 07, 2022, 07:26:06 PMThanks for posting and I largely agree with you. Have you discussed your views with many people in the US and what are their reactions?


COVID has made such things difficult, not impossible, but definitely depressing... But the silver lining is the burst of short form, approaching avant garde, video weirdness. It's creating new tribes of comedy that I don't think the Stand-up community is aware of, or barely respects.

Caroline's, for example, has been quite up front in showcasing TikTokkers and I poo-pooed it at first but it creates a lovely club atmosphere, less combative than a usual night out. You're there to back the process and build the act up. Contrast that with the Mecca of the Cellar. I've seen some dreck there over Lockdowns and such; Michael Che mumbling shite in to a mic, and also upstairs in the Olive Tree, with various white Irish-American schlubs performing in a dry gunge tank lacking the wit of one filled with Noel Edmond's signature neon green spunk.

In my limited opinion, the US is about to flip comedy-wise and that's a good thing. Talent like Daniel Sloss (who is totally right about the 10% best/75% worst split) is getting a look in, storytellers and shows on a theme (like Edinburgh) are becoming more common place. Someone like Conan has shifted from a late night host, has gotten out at the right time, and is quite a taste maker now. He respects the art and craft, the rare place where great writing and amazing performance can occur. He's backing some good horses. And in a good move, the UCBs, Second Cities, and such that soliticited cash from wannabes to appear in thinly veiled lazy agent showcases are on the wain. Your sexual predator class of comic is still getting gigs on roasts and implausibly large podcasts but this is shrinking too.

US comedy is entering a new Age of Aquarius and some Brits, like Matt Berry, James Acaster, even Jimmy Carr (with his helpful Irish passport) are rightfully taking advantage of that. Maria Bamford going to the UK in a cultural exchange too is helpful to both sides. More need to make the leap and people I've talked with know this change is happening... Mainstream network TV though is, and will always be, behind in this. Not a lot of this has been focus group'd yet.

I'd love to see Ross Noble here in NYC for example. I saw him in LA, with about 20 others (I think most on freebies and Brit/Aussie mix) on a Tuesday before COVID and there's a place for him here. John Robins' sheer awkwardness could find a platform here.

I suggest we do a hostage swap at The Azores. I'll return Gina Yashare and I'd take Rob Deering who could blow James Corden out of the water with 3 layered gags darn quickly, failing that beat him silly with a Stratocaster.

Mister Six

Quote from: tribalfusion on January 07, 2022, 07:20:31 PMTed Alexandro
Dave Anthony
Lee Camp
David Cross
Nato Green
Judah Friedlander
Maria Bamford
David Feldman
Hari Kondabolu
Eddie Pepitone
Wyatt Cenac
Tim Heidecker
Eric Andre

I was going to identify Friedlander as one of the few comedians I've seen in the Comedy Cellar who had some kind of theme/remit, but it seemed a bit anal to mention him. Cross and Bamford were in my mind in terms of older comedians who push the envelope, but Heidecker and Andre are both good shouts. Don't actually know Anthony outside of the Dollop podcast, but you have me intrigued!

Famous Mortimer

Boring answer, but I assume a lot of people who'd have gone on the standup circuit are doing online things and don't need to fuck about with that standup club environment? Lots of professional podcasters.

There are lots of people who do funny / weird / interesting things, though - the Chris Gethard / Brett Davis axis has given a platform to some funny people who you'd broadly class as standup, like Nick Naney, Kelsey Caine, Carmen Christopher, Jo Firestone, Joe Rumrill, Marissa Goldman, Martin Urbano, and Mary Houlihan.


Gurke and Hare

For all the apparent uniformity of the US stand-scene it's interesting to see in this thread a couple of mentions of sketch comedy club shows in the US - a quick search suggests that there isn't any equivalent of this this in the UK, just a bit of improv.

shlug

Even a lot of the improv in the UK has quite a significant number of US performers and is heavily indebted to the export of improv from the US

WhoMe

Quote from: Scrapey Fish on January 07, 2022, 09:10:58 AMI'd also argue that the departure of Louie CK as a credible figure and the death of Norm are leaving a big hole at the higher end of the US scene.

And Chapelle seppuku'ing himself.

Petey Pate

What irritated me about Stewart Lee's comment was the assumption that comedians from other English speaking countries are superior to American comedians, even if I may well agree with him that majority of US comics are bland, hacks or outright awful (and the same could equally be said about British comics) and that Stanhope and Bamford are clearly well above the average.

tribalfusion

Quote from: Petey Pate on January 08, 2022, 03:23:41 PMWhat irritated me about Stewart Lee's comment was the assumption that comedians from other English speaking countries are superior to American comedians, even if I may well agree with him that majority of US comics are bland, hacks or outright awful (and the same could equally be said about British comics) and that Stanhope and Bamford are clearly well above the average.

Like I said in the initial post, I don't think it's entirely accurate from Lee regarding simply 'other English-speaking countries' but I do think it's a reasonable statement where the UK is concerned.

As mentioned previously, I'm not from the UK myself but I think the material and scope of UK stand-up in general is more ambitious while I think that typically US comics produce hackier material and show little interest in exploring the form though US comics tend to develop significantly more basic stand-up stagecraft on average.

There are exceptions in both directions but that's my take.

tribalfusion

Quote from: WhoMe on January 08, 2022, 02:36:42 PMAnd Chapelle seppuku'ing himself.

Chappelle is a good example of some of the strengths and weaknesses of most US comics.

His material, if simply discussed in terms of ideas and form, has never been much more than bar conversation.

His presentation and delivery however are very accomplished in terms of stand-up stagecraft. He is getting a lot out of nothing basically.

Ferris

I'm struggling to come up with off-beat American comics. Gregg Turkington/Neil Hamburger, Mitch Hedberg, Emo Philips, Steven Wright and most of those have a similar style (a style I like, which is the reason I've sought them out and know them). Even Demetri Martin has changed his act from a self aware weirdo when I saw him in Edinburgh to a gurning joker doing drab material on a Netflix special.

The expectation (Seinfeld to blame I think) in the US is you work as a comic in order to become an actor or write sitcoms. If you're Canadian, you move LA, then start working as a comic to try and break into telly. I have a friend who works as a standup and her career plan is exactly this - she writes scripts in her downtime and the standup is (primarily) for connections and exposure.

Why be a professional comic? You can make loads more money churning out 50 seasons of how I met your Big Bang theory for NBC or doing cameos on SNL in an amusing wig.

Hedberg on precisely this subject: https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=6BGLF1AaFi4

tribalfusion

Quote from: Ferris on January 08, 2022, 07:37:19 PMWhy be a professional comic? You can make loads more money churning out 50 seasons of how I met your Big Bang theory for NBC or doing cameos on SNL in an amusing wig.



Well, you'd be a professional comic if you basically have no other choice, temperamentally, intellectually, ideologically etc.

It's a calling like being a jazz musician as opposed to saying, 'well I'll do this jazz thing for a bit and then see if I can't transition into pop music for teens'

I definitely hear what you're saying though.


Scrapey Fish

January 08, 2022, 11:11:50 PM #45 Last Edit: January 08, 2022, 11:30:33 PM by Scrapey Fish
Quote from: Ferris on January 08, 2022, 07:37:19 PMI'm struggling to come up with off-beat American comics. Gregg Turkington/Neil Hamburger, Mitch Hedberg, Emo Philips, Steven Wright and most of those have a similar style (a style I like, which is the reason I've sought them out and know them). Even Demetri Martin has changed his act from a self aware weirdo when I saw him in Edinburgh to a gurning joker doing drab material on a Netflix special.

The expectation (Seinfeld to blame I think) in the US is you work as a comic in order to become an actor or write sitcoms. If you're Canadian, you move LA, then start working as a comic to try and break into telly. I have a friend who works as a standup and her career plan is exactly this - she writes scripts in her downtime and the standup is (primarily) for connections and exposure.

Why be a professional comic? You can make loads more money churning out 50 seasons of how I met your Big Bang theory for NBC or doing cameos on SNL in an amusing wig.

Hedberg on precisely this subject: https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=6BGLF1AaFi4

Perhaps the proportions are different, but aren't there plenty of UK standups who see it is a means to get into television? Jack Whitehall and Aisling Bea are a couple that spring to mind

Ferris

Yeah absolutely at the top, and there's a similar level of clique on the UK scene from what little I know of it, but the geography and population density of the UK means you can have acts that are smaller and have access to a Ford Ka (or rail pass) and can be quirky and still financially viable, but that doesn't work in the US.

I live in a city of 450k people, which supports a couple of comedy clubs. There are no larger cities east until you get to the other side of the Atlantic, and to get to a larger city west means a 12.5hr drive, so now you have to get planes and hotels involved (and that city is Montréal but your act is in English, so actually you have to make it to Kingston which is several hours further away) so you have to charge punters more... etc. It's not feasible in the same way.

PlanktonSideburns

Don't know whether to insulate my loft with it or SHOVE IT UP MY ASS

princeps

all the classic mediums for comics are breaking down (internet and covid decimating live performance), the economies the west that fostered artistic growth from the 50s-early 2000s are gone and no one can even afford to 'do comedy' anymore, you go to NYC/LA/London to do *multiple gigs per night*, the differences in touring schedules is not really an issue

daniel sloss comes over to america because he breached the internet based audience, has been taken in by american comics and given spots on podcasts, netflix, comedy central deals, etc (ari shaffir)

everything is about how/where you hone the craft (in a city or on the internet), repetition and dedication to that practice, and then building an audience.

anyway, it's absolutely crazy to compare a comic who worked before 2012/internet 2.0 to one who started to work after. the world is irreparably different. looking through this thread hurts my head.