I have cynically parodied Comedy Central in my tweets, Facebook statuses and blogs over the last couple of years as a network that almost exclusively caters to fraternity date rapists and people who wish Duck Dynasty and ZZ Top had more facial hair. Of course this was just exaggerated criticism. After all, not all comedy aimed at a certain demographic is bad – Workaholics and Tosh.0 make me laugh a lot, to name a couple of/the only two things aimed at the demographic that make me laugh. But as a network built on stand up comedy, clearly it has to respect the art form and not pander exclusively to 18-24 year old men who have less disposable income anyway, due to poor employment figures among young people, right?
“Our demographic is bros. So do more jokes on weed and hooking up and getting drunk.”
This was the explicit advice (I double checked to make sure “bros” was actually used – it was) given to a friend of mine whose look is youthful, but whose material was more family-oriented (as in about family, not G-rated cheese) by Comedy Central folks putting together a stand up showcase. But at least now the secret is out. Congratulations bros! You are now the biggest driving force of the biggest platform in comedy! As Comedy Central, or as I will now call it, Bro-medy Central, continues to consolidate power (more influence at Sirius XM comedy radio, selling content for $5 – following Louis CK’s lead) comedians will suffer.
QUICK SIDEBAR HERE – Louis CK selling his content for $5 has been great for fans, great for Louis CK and shi*ty for lesser known comedians seeking to market their own quality merchandise. What CK did was the equivalent of what Amazon.com did by selling their Kindles at a loss – they give a great deal to customers and set the market rate too cheap for Book publishers and sellers to compete with, ensuring their eventual downfall. However, these are huge businesses that need to adapt and have resources, built in revenue sources and reputations among consumer bases. In the case of the $5 special from CK – he has set the bar that the “best” can sell material for $5 so why should an up and comer or an unknown veteran be able to sell their album for an unconscionable $9.99 on iTunes or $8.99 on Amazon?! CK (and Bro-medy Central, following his lead with their treasure trove of specials) have the clout and leverage to cut out middle men (or in Bro-medy’s case they are their own middle man) and still make a ton of money. But lesser known artists need those middle men to raise their profile and as a result, their income.
This is the same problem I see with a flat tax often supported by wealthy people (or people who think they will one day be wealthy) – Ten percent tax on $1 billion may be $100 million and that is a ton of tax revenue, but that billionaire will have little problem living on $900 million. However, for the man making $20,000, a $2,000 hit is tough because there are minimum amounts of money needed to be a self-sufficient member of society. Now it seems egalitarian and fair, but in practice it is going to be a much more devastating punch in the gut to the lower end.
Similarly, the expectations that content should be even cheaper or free, is not helped by people like CK selling their stuff for wholesale. He is welcome to do what he wants obviously, and his fans are right to appreciate it, but it should not make him a hero to comedians. In a few weeks my new album will be downloadable for free, as a cross-promotion with my 9 episode comedy web series (free). This is all in an effort to hit the comedy lottery. That is the problem. Making a marginally decent living at comedy is more and more difficult so now it is an all or nothing gamble for more and more artists. So I will put out high quality web videos and an excellent album for free, in the hope/wish that people with connections will hear and appreciate what I do and then elevate me right past “struggling feature” to “known headliner.” In other words, as I have said, the middle class in America is dying and the middle class in comedy is dead. You are either a hobbyist/local, at the bottom of the food chain, but not really caring because it is not your main source of income; or you are someone who is making good to great money at comedy. And then in the middle are people who face the economic and artistic decisions to either fade back into the bottom category or to go for it all and try to be in the upper level category.
OK maybe that was not such a short sidebar. The point is, as the members of the elite continue to make their comedy products cheaper (Louis is not losing much of his end of the money by the way – just the producers and distributors who are losing their share – iTunes pays out $6.37 for an album at $9.99 so they are losing $3.62, but CK is only losing $1.37 per unit by selling directly from his website and cutting out sellers like iTunes) and the Bro-medy Central/Viacom giant following suit, all while coalescing around a narrow brand of bro-focused comedy, the opportunities for quality comedians to make a living are tougher and tougher and fewer and fewer. YouTube and Facebook used to represent democratized opportunities that evened the playing field a little bit, but now enhanced algorithms designed to generate revenue for those sites favor the moneyed interests in entertainment (though of course some things can go viral that are not part of those, without that lottery shot, many people might not find uploading to YouTube fun anymore).
Everyone says that there are phases and cycles in comedy, but I don’t want my prime and that of some of my peers disregarded because we are living during the Bro era of comedy. It would be like finding out you hit 300 home runs in the steroid era in baseball – no one gives a sh*t, no matter how quality and honest your play was. I just hope that some rival can arise to Comedy Central if this is the direction they want to continue – but the problem is, just like in politics, once the money gets too big, things become entrenched. But they should be forced to change their channel name from Comedy Central to Bro Central. That way people will no what the main qualification was for their new talent. Because if people start assuming tat what they see is automatically the industry standard for quality stand up it may erode the reputation of stand up. I think we can all agree it would be much better for Bro Central to destroy the reputation of bros, then for Comedy Central to destroy the reputation of stand up (or else you might think that their UP NEXT contest in which established comedians (I was not in the contest so this is unbiased) were all miraculously beat out by younger, fresher talent – i.e. using better comics to bolster the contest’s reputation, seemingly validating younger comics as their equals and superiors when they advance). Oh well, off to make my best album free and set my DVR to Kroll Show. #Blessed
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