A lot of important and awful things happened in 2005, let's get that right out of the way. Katrina wiped out a good chunk of New Orleans, the war in Iraq continued, the White Sox won the World Series, Michael Jackson moved to Bahrain.
But, being the editors and publishers of an online magazine about standup comedy, we're trained to view the world from the perspective of the standup comic or the rabid standup comedy fan.
Standup comedy has become a large component of the entertainment industry and the practitioners of standup have unprecedented influence on our popular culture. Many of the stories that have standup as a component also connect with larger issues such as censorship, race, crime, life, death, success, commerce and art.
With this in mind, we present "2005, The Year In Standup!"
1. Comedy Legends Die-- Johnny Carson, The King of Late Night, passed away January 23. It had been more than a decade since he vacated the Tonight Show, and there still isn't a single, powerful show that can jumpstart a comedy career like Johnny's Tonight could. Comics come up, collect credits, work hard, build followings, accrue power. But no stand-alone, high-profile one-shot TV appearance imparts the same concentrated prestige than that one four-minute shot in front of Johnny did. Johnny wasn't just the host of a TV show. He was an icon, a symbol. His approval meant a lot-- to us and to America. Many of us comics had been grieving for a dozen years. Johnny was missed once again when he passed.
Richard Pryor passed away on December 10, after nearly two decades after being diagnosed with multiple sclerosis. Pryor is/was frequently cited as an influence by many modern comics. The readers of SHECKYmagazine named Pryor The Comic of the Millennium in a survey.
The world of comedy also lost big names like Pat Morita, Don Adams, Frank Gorshin and Nipsey Russell.
2. The Aristocrats-- The film's makers recorded a who's who of standup comics-- comedians who were beside themselves with joy over the realization that they're making their living as standup comics.
The movie puts to rest the insidious myth that comics sit around and top each other because they're insecure, competitive and bitter. Oh, no-- they do it because they can! And it's a blast!
Watching The Aristocrats is not unlike watching the Home Run Contest at the annual MLB All-Star Game. We all know what a home run looks like. And all the players know what it feels like to hit one. But the hitters take great joy and pride in participating. And the fans can't get enough of it.
And the refusal of a major theater chain to carry the film (ostensibly because of its filthy language and themes) touched off a nationwide dialogue on the subject of censorship.
3. Bill Cosby accused-- Cosby, who is no stranger to controversy, was accused of some pretty lowly behavior by a Canadian woman, a houseguest of the Cosby's. For a news cycle or two, the story made sensational headlines, before dropping off the media radar when authorities found insufficient evidence to support a woman's claims that Cosby fondled her at his suburban mansion after giving her medication that made her dizzy. Cosby, obviously unfazed by his legal woes, continued travelling the country delivering a message that hammered away at the lack of personal and moral responsibility shown by poor blacks families in America. His numerous comedy engagements throughout America continue to sell out.
4. Blue Collar/Larry The Cable Guy-- Consumers have spent more than $82 million on DVDs featuring comedians of the Blue Collar Comedy tour and movies: Jeff Foxworthy, Larry the Cable Guy, Bill Engvall and Ron White. In addition to racking up monster DVD sales, the boys have fanned out and hit the road hard in 2005.
Perhaps none hit it harder-- or had more of an impact on the culture-- than Larry The Cable Guy, AKA Dan Whitney, whose folksy routine struck a chord with NASCAR America, making him Charlie Weaver for the new millennium. If there's a Hollywood Squares 20 years from now, he'll no doubt occupy the center square.
5. Chris Rock-- The members of the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences once again hornswaggled the entertainment media into spilling oodles of unwarranted ink when they feigned concern over what the wild and crazy comedian Chris Rock might do when he hosted the 2005 Oscarcast.
They need not have worried as Rock behaved himself, of course. (Some even said he may have been too dull!) The numbers were down from the previous year, but better than those of the dismal 2002 broadcast. But the buildup to the show (and the contrived soap opera that unfolded) was enough to warrant a special achievement Oscar all on its own!
6. Cops foil Letterman kid/kidnap plot-- It was unbelievable enough that David Letterman reproduced. Then someone gets the bright idea to kidnap the tot from Dave's Montana getaway and ransom him for big bucks? Kelly Frank, the accused, eventually pleaded guilty in state District Court to felony theft, misdemeanor obstruction and possessing illegally killed wildlife. (Which in itself sounds like fodder for one of Letterman's monologue gags!) The charge of kidnapping was dropped.
7. Mitch Hedberg dies-- Comedy fans were rocked the morning of March 31 upon learning that the popular 37-year-old comic had died the night before in a New Jersey hotel room. Many fans believed it to be an ill-timed April Fools joke.
After multiple appearances on late night television, healthy DVD sales and a nationwide tour arranged by Comedy Central, Hedberg was arguably one of the most popular comedians in America. And through the internet, his influence was worldwide. His young and passionate fan base made him one of the few "rock stars" of standup comedy.
In addition to Hedberg, some lesser-known professional comedy stars were lost: Freddy Soto, Bill Sacra, Warren Thomas and Kelly Moran.
8. Dave Chappelle flakes out-- When Comedy Central announced that they had "suspended production on the third season of Chappelle's Show until further notice," they could not have known what a roller coaster of a media ride they were in for. The moody star disappeared, then resurfaced at a "retreat" in South Africa, where he was supposedly examining his options.
The show never did resume, its star walked away from $50 million and the story remains one of the most bizarre in show biz history. Writers and producers and friends remain tight-lipped to this day. Chappelle himself joked about it in some recent public appearances at comedy clubs and festivals, but has gone into little detail.
9. Judge says Leno can tell Michael Jackson jokes-- Just when you thought the Michael Jackson molestation trial couldn't have gotten any odder, Tonight Show host Jay Leno was subpoenaed to appear as a defense witness, making him subject to a gag order. Of course, this meant no joking about Jackson during the comedian's nightly monologue. Leno then asked for a clarification and an exemption from said gag order so that the ribbing might continue.
While waiting for the wheels of justice to turn, Leno enlisted the aid of several surrogates to zing Jacko, garnering loads of publicity and glittering ratings. Judge Rodney Melville eventually ruled in favor of Leno; the jokes resumed and Jackson walked a free man.
10. Dane Cook-- Here's a story: A comic, through sheer force of live performance and a mighty marshalling of the power of the World Wide Web, has what might be considered one of the most amazing years in the life of a comedian. He then caps off that year with two major announcements: He'll star in a major motion picture opposite Jessica Simpson and he'll host NBC's Saturday Night Live.
Cook's CD/DVD set "Retaliation" made history this year by becoming the highest-debuting comedy album ever at No. 4 on the Billboard 200, the fastest selling comedy recording since Steve Martin's "Wild and Crazy Guy."
And Cook is the first one to tell you he "did this with my standup comedy. Not a TV career or a film career. ...I never got caught up in anything beyond the simple idea of bettering myself at this craft that I love and respect." So rare!