I remember as a 2nd grader (give or take a year) at Riverdale Country School some Columbia psychology grad students were allowed to use us for experiments. Simple ones, maybe some of you have been involved in them (there is actually a commercial parodying them running on television currently, but it involves ponies) where the experimenter would tell us we could have 3 Hershey Kisses if we waited for an indefinite amount of time (could be 5 minutes, could be 50) or 2 Hershey Kisses at any time when we said we wished to stop waiting. I distinctly remember waiting for only a few minutes and then requesting the two Hershey Kisses.
I did not realize that more than two decades later this mindset would bite me in the ass when everyone else would adopt it.
With the advent of YouTube and similar media outlets the viewer’s attention span is both demanding and being molded for nothing less than ten minutes of humorous bursts. The shorter the better. If something is 3 minutes try to make it 2, etc. But comedy, I believed, was open to all sorts of styles and thoughts. My jokes generally come in the form of intermittent punchlines during the course of stories or opinions with (hopefully) a big punchline at the end. That is one style – it is not changing the world, but iI hope the content and perspective I have is unique enough. I am no Bill Cosby or George Carlin, but I wonder to myself sometimes if those legends started out today would they even be considered comedians or would they be placed under the more nebulous “spoken word” category, meaning I may have to listen to some set up or opinion or allow a person to develop something before I get to a more substantive and funny payoff.
I really believe YouTube, for all its convenience is going to have a very detrimental long term effect on comedy. I was recently told in the course of a rejection for something I auditioned for that I “needed to get to the jokes faster.” This was in response to one of the best sets I’d ever had in my life. Now maybe that means that I suck. But I do not feel that is the case. So, despite telling what is my best material in crisp formats that had just gotten me passed at two well regarded national clubs, I was taking too much time getting to the punch. But this may just be what the comedy fan market is demanding. But
This trend has a doubly deleterious effect on my nascent career because at the time that young storytelling comics with points of view may or may not be getting shunned (or at least fewer opportunities) for more quick hit style comics (nothing against them at all if they do it well), it also seems that this is the dawn of new dominance for the slovenly/nerdy comedian. Seth Rogan’sascendancy may be the biggest moment of this trend(or re-trend), but also in successful movies like The Hangover the two guys getting the biggest laughs are Zach Galifianakis (slovenly) and Ed Helms (sort of meek and nerdy). Shows like Important Things with Dimitri Martin and the new porn for alt comedy fans, Michael and Michael demonstrate that the nerdy and alt scene is where the comedy businsess seems to be mining for its new talent. Perhaps Dane Cook cashed in all the alpha male chips this decade for comedians. But these two trends (shorter bits, stranger comedians) make me feel like a 2009 General Motors SUV. That is why instead of getting what I think is a half-assed critique of my audition I would have preferred to hear, “Fu-k you,” or “We don’t want you,” or “You are not what we’re looking for.” Those I can understand, but if the gates to the comedy kingdom require admission fees in the form of alternative looks or sounds or rapid fire punchlines akin to Rodney Dangerfield or Robin Williams then my days in the business are numbered. It’s just not what I do.
And people are becoming more and more programmed to expect or demand certain delivery devices like YouTube – the internet is no longer enough. Not too long ago I told a waiter at a restaurant that I was a comedian. He seemed to be a big comedy fan so I gave him my card which has my website on it. He then asked me if I had any clips on YouTube and that he’d look me up on YouTube. I just gave him a sh*t eating grin because I did not want saliva in my food, but in my head I was thinking, “Yeah maybe you could check out clips of mine if I put them on YouTube, but wait, I think I know where you might also have a chance of seeing some clips – the FU-KING website I just gave you that has all my stuff you pre-programmed moron.”
And to show that this is not sour grapes or some small potatoes gripe, all entertainment is feeling this decrease in attention and creativity – even porn! See the link below.
Now if even porn stars are craving more substance to their work something is going dreadfully wrong with our pop culture.
I really feel like at some point down the road YouTube will have some video Twitter equivalent where things can only be 15 seconds long and will just consist of people taking dumps in public places or near children and we will all be competing with that stupidity as comics. I just hope this is a phase of comedy and not a permanent direction because if it is I’ll just take my two Hershey kisses now.