Guy Walks into a Bar (a series)
A Guide for Comedians. Stories for Comedy Fans.
Phony Media (#11)
A Funeral for Terrific Working Comics
When last we spoke (2/21/22) –
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!
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?
“Hey, what’s this Intranet Thingy’?”
Part II — Social-Media — As Important as Air and Water
Yes, the above heading is a heavy statement. But isn’t it what you are living by — for — through? Do you not get most of … if not all … your information, news, entertainment, and so-called “human connections,” by way of it? If you answered NO, you are either:
1. Too old and confused by it.
2. In denial of its relevance.
3. … OR A LIAR!
Think about it. Your phone dictates your life, not the other way around. Therefore, it only makes sense that a Comedian with a massive abundance of views, likes, follows, subscribes, and so on, is going to be “your gauge” for who is great, simply because they are digitally popular! Ducks going east, will always immediately turn west if a piece of bread is thrown in that direction. We … You (the public) are those ducks. Please don’t be insulted, as venue owners and comedy industry personnel are Seagulls at the beach when it comes to this stuff. I’ll spare the explanation, just imagine tossing that hunk of dough in both scenarios. Allow me to preface this article with a disclaimer: a comedian who kills onstage for years (albeit they might be basically unknown to the mass public) CAN turn to social media, as a marketing tool, have it catch on fire, and be worth their salt — aka deserving of your fandom. This is a rarified occupancy in the algorithm universe!
One unique and shining example of a Comedian who had a social media domino effect to stardom is Sebastian Maniscalco. Much like the cable days, discussed in part I (yet unheard of these days) people were discovering Sebastian’s STAND-UP COMEDY on YouTube and sharing it with each other. He became famous with tremendous help from the internet, BUT because of his comedy. Not some stupid gimmick, or a fifteen-second character, or the use of editing tools. I am here to discuss how this medium has destroyed live comedy and the public’s perception, not list, and articulate who is worth their Influencer fame. The latter is a whole other topic and one that, if I broach, would only create arguments for me, amongst “the loyal Cultists.” Additionally, it would only dredge up in me industry truths, that I suppress because I am powerless over them anyway!
The first social media site to reach a million monthly active users was Myspace — it achieved this milestone around 2004. This is arguably the beginning of social media as we know it! I know I have verbally beat on Dane Cook often, and rightfully so. But he was smart! He was a decent Comedian, stole material, had a good look, and his energy appealed to a younger audience. However, it was his hindsight to embrace this form of somewhat direct interaction with people that made him famous. Regardless of arguing facts about purists’ ideals and blah… blah… the ends justify the means! He clearly was the founding father of using social media to launch one to stardom.
Just when I thought that the industry had hit another all-time crawl — a post nine eleven world — such as the post-Comedy Boom era. In 2003 a show hit network television that excited in me the prospect of a resurrection. A way to bring the best of the best Stand-Up Comics to millions of viewers. Whetting their appetites for more, and in turn, them going out to see live comedy. Last Comic Standing was born on NBC. It was not long before their real format became clear. This was not a show about seasoned Comedians competing and getting their just due on television. We were now in the Reality Show Boom era and Last Comic, quickly became just that. Pitting vetted Comics against inexperienced ones. It was off balance. Their goal was not showcasing great comics from the circuit. Rather, it was choosing people with interesting backstories to move forward in the competition and putting them together in living quarters for the voyeur public. Once again, another brilliant concept, that could fuel live shows, had shot itself in the foot. When handfuls of these inexperienced acts were packaged for live road bookings, complete with high ticket prices (i.e., promo — “From Last Comic Standing”) the poop floated to the top. Many served audiences their best five minutes (as seen on TV), then went on to disappoint them, when that was about all they had to deliver!
Facebook — Clearly the Hitler of Social Media
I was, “late to the party,” as usual (circa 2008/09), when every comic I knew was already using Facebook (or Fuckbook… as many of the die-hards would refer to it), specifically to promote shows — not yet trying for their “15 SECONDS” of vignette fame. Suddenly, they could directly connect with the public and reach new people. They weren’t quite “Followers” at this early stage… they were FRIENDS (boy has that term become an oxymoron). It was simply a way to advertise shows and inform the public that you would be in their town. “Joe, you’re a great talent, you’ve got to get on Facebook,” I was informed. As the self-proclaimed Tech Anti-Christ, I moaned and complained about the homework that I would have to do. “What is it? How do you do it?” Finally, “ok, I’ll do it!” It was a useful marketing tool and cost-effective… especially for cheapo, always bitching and whining, club owners. Another bullet was about to be shot, into yet another foot!
Much like silent movies, it evolved from posting a picture with some gig information to a platform where you give people a short video for laughs. As I often do with my career crystal ball, I saw what was happening. I knew it was the future of turning people on to you — in turn enticing them to come out to see you. I put it on my someday list. Folks, I’m not a stickler, I just really hate using technology. I even told another comic (my age bracket and with similar history) who was pumping out little shorts, “you see what you’re doing… it’s smart. It’s the future of this business and I really have to jump on board!” Eventually, I did, but someone moved the board when I jumped. Whether I am a student of the craft, a true performance artist, or an idiot (most likely the latter) I need an audience. Or I need someone to hold the camera, phone as it is, while I do the funny. Being my own cameraman, editor, AND comic, just never demonstrates “the me,” that comes out when I entertain people… as opposed to for the purpose of moving my graph line on an algorithm spreadsheet. Believe me, I’ve tried! But just as I stand on my soapbox, and correctly call it “white noise,” some brand-new stand-up will come from nowhere and tip the scales in their favor. This causes nearly every struggling (some extremely funny and talented) Comedian, who has paid their dues repeatedly, to start fumbling all over again with this technology, like it’s a wet bar of soap.
Matt Klinman (started out at The Onion, creator of the #Pitch app) said it succinctly in this interview with Vulture magazine, “How Facebook is Killing Comedy” (*Content may be blocked for non-subscribers)
Klinman said, to which I agree one hundred percent -
The worst part is that as an artist, it feels like your own fault. We’re used to a world where if you put something out there that’s good, people see it and share it. But that’s just not true in this world. Someone can make something really good, and just because of some weird algorithmic reasons, or if it’s not designed specifically for Facebook, it doesn’t do well. And then it becomes impossible to know what a good thing to make is anymore.
DOOMSDAY FOR THE OLD GUARD
If Facebook is a coffin for talented live performers, short-form platforms like TikTok and Instagram are the nails in the lid! Although these videos/vlogs can be entertaining, they have NOTHING to do with Stand-Up comedy…and they tell you even less about who you are going out to spend your hard-earned money to see live! It makes me nauseous, and I am far from alone. “Perception is reality” — BUT IS IT? Or are you (the public) simply buying into a form of advertising? Which insurance, detergent, car, or snack, are you going to buy? The one(s) with the highly devised and well-marketed sixty-second commercial — or the ones that are much better (cheaper even), though you’ve never heard of them?
Perception “becomes” reality. But it is the furthest thing from reality. I have seen acts that are social media stars sell out large venues. Now, if those audiences were honest with themselves, once they get past the fascination of seeing the funny person from the inside of their iPhone, they would surely admit that overall, the Internet Influencer was, “Eh,” as a Comedian. Social media cements that people will ALWAYS, believe what they hear and see, however brief. NO ONE bothers to investigate things or people further and make their own informed choices. So it goes, artistic geniuses are usually celebrated in death. Sadly, with this millisecond by millisecond evolving and ever-changing medium, even they will be quickly washed over after passing. As SHIT comes at us constantly and we base our favorites on numbers!!! If I’m exaggerating (which I’m not) explain how Robin Williams was everywhere — all the time — in our entertainment view. Then suddenly, while still extremely relevant, he took his life. Yet that tragic event and his legacy seemed to have sadly disappeared so quickly.
Am I bitchin’? Sure!
Am I hesitant to change? Absolutely!
Am I a little envious? You betcha’!