Guy Walks into a Bar (a series)
A Guide for Comedians. Stories for Comedy Fans.
“CABLE TV SHOOTS “THE BOOM” RIGHT IN THE FOOT” (#10)
TikTok Famous. YouTube Star. Social Media Influencer. These happenstances are enough to make you want to “wet your beak.” I too, have “drank the Kool-Aid!” Most of us (Comedians) have, and then, we end up with a sick-hollow feeling of disappointment in the pit of our guts. Because we allow an algorithm, or the popularity that fifteen seconds at a time provides while someone sits at a red light, to be the barometer for what talent and fame are. Sadly, it is the new age, and it cannot be fought. Spit on, cursed at, and rightfully judged, absolutely.
The title of this newsletter is our precursor to a two-part series. We shall explore the all-important, all shallow, and all confusing, world of social media and its impact (or lack thereof) in today’s marketplace on Comedians, fans, representatives, but most of all, BUYERS! So where and when did this essential medium for a Comic begin? And begin it did — to destroy Stand-Up Comedy, forever!
Let us get into our DeLorean and go back, yes, to the eighties…
PART I: Times are Changing
Appearing on The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson was… STOP! Oh Jesus, Joseph, just stop! That is such a dated reference to how Comic’s became well-known, went on to sell out clubs, and make TV/movie deals, that tribes in South America — who only make clicking sounds to communicate — know about it! Subscriber (fees) technology was the “smoking gun,” that contained the silver bullet! You paid for cable (as eventually everyone did) or stole it (as eventually everyone had a friend 😉 who did) and now, not only do you (the public) have options, but so do entertainers, sponsors, and networks.
I’ve spoken in length about “the Comedy Boom” in, The Unfunny Truth Part 2. A time when famous musicians were popping into comedy clubs to catch who was performing. Even my mother, who was born in 1930, was aware of the likes of; Dice Clay, Sam Kinison, Whoopi Goldberg, David Brenner, Bobby Collins, and more. You can be damn sure that TV executives and anyone with four walls and a bar, were going to monopolize on it. With about twenty or so channels serving up Comedians daily, suddenly anyone can see comedy — and see it from the comfort of their home. “Sound familiar present-day Amazon and Door Dash addicts?”
This overexposure ignites a spark, that quickly becomes a flame. Every dishwasher with a dream, and every schmuck who ever told a joke at a party, are jumping on the “I’m a Comedian,” bandwagon. The public is hungry for more. Initially, clubs are packed (every night of the week) because people want to see comedy/comedians LIVE. “Hey, that’s the gal from VH-1’s Stand-Up Spotlight!” Like Covid-19 (as a relevant example), it spread to every restaurant basement and hotel banquet room … and anywhere else you can possibly imagine. Today, you would have to rent a bus, chloroform a group of riders, and prop them up in seats, to cultivate one tenth of those crowd numbers. Back then, you could scribble “Comedy Tonight” on a cocktail napkin, hang it on your watering hole door and it would sell out. Remember those dreaming dishwashers and people who told a jokebook joke at the Bar Mitzvah? Well now, they were your Comedians for the evening and their lack of talent and experience was showing.
Lazy human nature sets in (*see Amazon and Door Dash above)! “Why should I spend X and go all the way over to Y? I can stay home, smoke pot, drink — with no chances of a DUI … have sex, hang in my underwear, AND get ten-minute doses of multiple acts — plus HBO specials of the better ones.” Combined with seeing Comic enthusiast, versus polished Comedians, starts to sour people on live Stand-Up. Even cable gets desperate and starts putting everyone on (yes, even the dishwasher) to fill airtime. John Q. Public believes, “if they’re on TV, they must be the best that is available, right?” The problem is they are not! So, John Q’s next thought is, “well, if that’s the best, it sucks, WTF go out?”
Downsizing Our Goals
Including myself, we all still wanted Letterman and Carson. But other late-night shows were coming on (Conan O’Brien for example). TV was no longer at the end of a set of mandatory career hoops. No, it was accessible to all with such numerous channels. Getting a 5–10-minute spot on one of these cable shows was a good way to get exposure. A credit that the clubs and promotors could advertise. A reason for you to ask for more money, although you might not get it. However, you were guaranteed to be the weekends headliner. It was a goal of mine, as well. Even America’s Funniest People (which I was on) and daytime crap TV (i.e., The Richard Bey Show — that I was also on) were showcasing comics from the circuit, in various capacities, and we … we were getting a little tingle in our privates, from the audiences’ recognition. As I saw the work begin to thin out in the early to mid-nineties, I predicted that cable was the henchman. I would profess about it, and I was correct!
Cable DOES succeed in, SHOOTING THE BOOM, RIGHT IN THE FOOT! Comedy’s heyday is over, by the early nineties. Fortunately, at the time, we are still living in a society where people talk to each other. They go out and socialize. They listen to Howard Stern, with his cavalcade of well-known Comics stopping by. Now, Comedians on TV are more relegated to HBO presents, Comic Relief … essentially, shows with seasoned-funny Comedians. Naturally, the need to laugh had never gone away. However, people had given up on catching the next big thing on cable and then hoping to see them live. Now, that multitude of shows are going away, along with the comedy club real estate landscape. Remarkably, the industry survives … and so do all those dreamers, dishwashers, and party joke tellers. “Hmmm — now where the fuck do we put them all,” as there are approximately 50 self-labeled comedians, per square yard, on the planet?