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This guy, some guy, created a list of comedians and called it the top 100 standup comedian list 2001. It was for some publication, I couldn't quite make out which. I heard about it and winced. Why would anyone wanna do that? What a dumb idea. That's right. A dumb idea! Who would benefit from such a list? How was it created? I finally saw it. It was worse than I had anticipated.
The list purported to be "culled from opinions of television executives, comedy club owners and managers, personal managers and agents and standup comedians." I immediately flashed back to my August column, in which I said terrible things about a Variety article that ran at the same time that the most recent Just For Laughs festival in Montreal was happening. I groused about how that article, "10 Comics To Watch," brazenly told us that they had left it to the tastemakers-- agents, managers, talent bookers and creative execs in network and cable TV-- to guide us in the right direction" How thoughtful of them!
The same problems that plagued that list also plague this most recent abomination. Mind you, I am not against lists. I just don't like these two lists. We might wanna compile and publish a list of our own some day here at the magazine, so I am not surrendering my right to make a list. I just wish people would think a little more when they throw one together.
Now I'm not going to go through and tell you that some folks who belonged on that list were left off. And I'm not going to tell you that some of the folks who were included don't belong there. The particulars of the list don't really concern me. What concerns me are how it was compiled, who it benefits and what effect it might have. I'll take the questions in reverse order.
I can dispose of the third question fairly easily: It will have zero effect. On standup comedy, on the art of standup, live performance numbers, relative "bookability"-- Zero effect.
Whom does it benefit? No one, except the folks who were consulted. And even then, I am predicting very little benefit will come to the "television executives, comedy club owners and managers, personal managers and agents and standup comedians" who were queried to make this list. The list has serious credibility problems. For any list (Fortune 500, People's Sexiest People, Money's Places to Live) to be influential, the creators must have credibility.
How it was compiled presents further problems. The process is somewhat myterious, as we don't know what questions were asked and we're not sure who who was consulted. There's no data (other than the numbers 1 through 100 and the names next to each). This is because the polling is based on opinions and little else. Which is fine and dandy, but troublesome when you introduce the concept of a ranking.
Why do I care? I care because conducting polls can be useful. And publishing the results can be useful and entertaining. Lists are nearly always fun articles to read. Why do I care if this poll was neither fun nor useful? Because I suspect that if a poll isn't useful, it might be harmful.
I have some ideas for polling that I'd like to realize for
future issues. I have an idea of what I'd like to
find out and how I'd like to use the information. I can't
say exactly who we'd talk to or what we'd ask about. I will
tell you, though, the people I talk to will be predominantly
standup comics and standup comedy fans. I care about what
these peole think. Television executives, comedy club owners,
managers, personal managers and agents are, as always,
entitled to their opinions but their priorities are at
odds with the priorities of comics and fans.
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.