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BRIAN MCKIM has performed standup comedy in all 50 states. He earned a B.A. in Magazine Journalism from Temple University. Any resemblance to a living person is purely coincidental.


Brian McKim
Editor In Chief

"Blue In The Face"

According to some comics, the sky is falling. The recent debut of NBC's Late Friday has caused some folks to fear that standup will be harmed in some irreparable way by a show that features live standup comedy. Lot of overheated rhetoric about overexposure and false expectations and the evils of the medium of TV.

The vast majority of this sputtering misses the main point or points.

Back in October, before NBC announced their new shows (the unnamed show that would follow Conan and the one called Late Friday), I speculated in my October column as to why comics no longer strove for a late night shot and why those spots were declining in number and influence (Influence, or the ability to impart "heat" to a comic). I also reiterated my pet theory that television didn't kill live standup. (and, yes, I am blue in the face. Thanks for asking.)


In last month's Like We Care, we heralded the impending premiere of the two NBC shows and stated, "It's a good bet that standup comics will benefit from whatever shows they come up with." (See "Standup Returns To TV!")

And after watching the first installment of Late Friday and seeing the online debate about it, we are still of the opinion that it's a good thing for standup comedy. Much of the back and forth was on the relative merits of the acts that were featured, but you won't find us "reviewing" performances.

A lot of folks gave their opinion of the production values of the broadcast. Still others addressed the overall effect that the show will have on the clubs and on ticket sales and on the discrepancy between the public's expectations and the reality they might encounter when next they visit their local laughery. Interesting to ponder, but ultimately of little consequence.

What concerns me most is the slightly weasel-like public behavior of the executives and others who are in charge of the whole circus. An examination of two pieces that appeared in the popular press also leads us to some disturbing conclusions.


NBC sprayed press releases out to the popular media and they also hyped the show on their website. Being the giant, GE-owned conglomerate that they are, NBC got prominent hits in the NY Post and in USA Today.

The USA Today piece, by Bill Keveny, was less a review and more of a heads-up for viewers. But Keveny manages to sprinkle the piece with quotes from exec producer Matt Kunitz, exec producer Lisa Leingang and NBC late-night veep Rick Ludwin. And Keveny generally parrots the NBC party line. In the story's lede, he says that "...the network is offering jaded viewers a reassurance: no comics in front of brick walls and no airline food jokes."

This sums up the entire problem as far as I'm concerned. That one sentence (or independent clause) neatly displays the paranoia of the NBC brass, their willingness to insult all the shows that came before and their propensity to insult most comics working today. And it shows the eagerness on the part of the press to aid the folks at NBC in perpetuating sterotypes and hackneyed opinions about past shows and the comics who appeared on them. Kunitz says they're "trying to be a little bit edgy, a little more experimental," and Leingang concurs by saying that the rougher edges will be "more appealing to younger viewers than a slick production." All this is done, Keveny chimes in, "to avoid a program that seemed too much like the standard standup show of a few years ago, which went into decline after overexposure." (There goes those kneejerk assumptions again!)


Has there been a tremendous cry for "edgy?" Have swarms of viewers been going on hunger strikes because there just aren't enough shaky camera shots and skewed camera angles? Do such cheap production tricks enhance the presentation of standup? No. No. And no. Of course their real motive in all of this is to attract the elusive "younger viewer." The pursuit of this demographic has led to some of the more comical and moronic programming trends in recent memory.

As I recall, we were told some years back that television was going to add color to old black and white movies because... younger viewers just WOULD NOT WATCH FILMS WITHOUT COLOR. Give us the latest technical advancements, young Americans cry! We can't even consider watching a film if it's even lacking in the most rudimentary production values (like color!).

And the last time I checked, the fastest way to break a box office record is to slather a film with as many expensive, elaborate special effects as you can get your hands on. Where then, does television get this notion that teens and college students are suspicious of slick?

And where is the wisdom in attracting young viewers to a show like this one in the first place? Sooner or later, you'll attract younger and younger viewers to a show that's packed with jokes that the viewing audience is far too young and/or stupid to understand! It's kinda like marketing Louis Rukeyser's Wall Street Week to homeless people. ("Here's the deal: Henceforth, Louis will tape the show from inside a huge cardboard box!")


Equally puzzling are the statements by Big Cheese Ludwin, who states that the show will enable the network to find talent that they can shoehorn into other NBC shows. Has anything really changed? Haven't all these shows traditionally served that purpose? Why are we suddenly privy to such irrelevant information?

Ludwin further suggests that the 1:35 AM time slot will be a "forum for unconventional talent without too great a risk." A risk? Of what? "It's all about finding that fresh voice, that fresh attitude," Ludwin says, "It's terribly hard to find." Touching isn't it? A network executive so willing to admit to incompetence, cluelessness and frustration... or is he implying that nobody out there (in what TV execs derisively refer to as "flyover country,") has yet found a fresh voice or attitude? Either way, it's puzzling. My suggestion to Mr. Ludwin and to Ms. Leingang is that they might look a little harder. (And one more thing: I certainly hope that making fun of network execs is considered "edgy," as I would dearly love to appear on the show as well!)

To their credit, they managed to promote the show without once using the word "alternative." But we all know that's what this is. They danced around the "A word" it by using words like "eclectic" and "new" and by dropping catch phrases like "fresh voice" and "fresh attitude." (The folks over at Comedy Central show no such reticence; Senior VP of Development Debbie Liebling, while pumping a spate of new shows, uses the word "alternative" and "insane"--in the same sentence --then, much to her credit, she actually describes on of the shows as "funny." How radical!)


Imagine if NBC were to dream up a late night show that showcased musical talent instead of comics. How embarassing would it be if they were to present the bands as "totally unlike anything you've ever heard!" If I were a band about to tape that show, and I heard that kind of talk buzzing around, I think I would halt the taping and ask them to introduce us as "just a kickass rock and roll band." Bands --good ones, great ones and bad ones --are rarely so intent on creating such a chasm between them and what came before them. In fact, they quite often exult in their connection to their past and their influences. They pay respect to their roots. They incorporate the past into their creations and they're confident that the new work is good and even, in some ways, but not all, better.

Not so with standup. There seems to be an all-too-obvious and frantic hurry to put distance between the new and the forebears. Even a tendency to out-and-out trash the founding fathers. Would U2 open up a concert by saying, "Good evening! We were just talking backstage about how the Rolling Stones are pathetic and should just hang it up! You're looking at the future of rock right here, people! Let's shoot Mick in the head, whaddya say? And if I hear one more Bo Diddley song, I'll hurl!"

I banged out a letter to both the Post and USA Today in response to their articles. In writing to the Post, I took issue with author Adam Buckman's statement that "The young, so-called talent working the comedy clubs these days is insufficient in number to fill a one-hour TV show, much less populate several such shows week after week." I countered that there are gobs of talented comics working the clubs these days. NBC, however, has chosen to narrow their focus to alternative comics. This makes their job that much tougher.

I further pointed out that if this show had been launched 15 years ago, using the same criteria, the producers would have spurned such talented comics as Tim Allen, Jerry Seinfeld and Roseanne in favor of Ludwin's "fresh voice(s)" and "fresh attitude(s)." In 1985, Allen and the others weren't yet stars but were on the road, working in comedy clubs. Their current-day counterparts are working a lot of those same clubs as we speak. NBC has chosen to ignore them. This is especially ironic in light of the fact that one of NBC's stated goals in launching the show is to find comics who might work well in future NBC sitcoms. Do we really need to review the enormous success of the three comics I just mentioned? Particularly in SITCOMS?

I should point out here that I don't mean to imply for one minute that the folks on Late Friday aren't fresh, new or edgy, but I get the impression that NBC is implying that everyone else out there ISN'T!.

This is a tremendous development in world of Post-Bust Standup Comedy. A weekly show, on network television, that features five or six funny and interesting comics. This is a clear sign (one of the many that we've observed over the last three or four years) that the business is on the way back up. HOME Back to the Top