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Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Is Comedy Really Dead?

While watching the the surprisingly well packaged 40th anniversary special of "Saturday Night Live" recently, I couldn't help but think about all the great comedians (many of whom have passed) who were so fearless in their comedy, so unpredictable and uncompromising in their approach. Then I wondered, what ever happened to those kind of comedians who were unafraid of making their audience uncomfortable, confronting cultural and political truths others are too afraid to mention?

Has Internet commentary gotten so hyper reactionary that comedy has become diluted in order to appease it?

I never really considered this thought until recently when I stumbled upon a rather somber HitFix article mourning the loss of Eddie Murphy's "thrilling"  brand of comedy. It got me thinking about the state of the genre, and how it seems like Chris Rock is the lone comedian who bothers to take a chance anymore. Even Kevin Hart seems to skirt controversy, choosing to focus on lighter comedy that is safer and appealing to a more general audience. There's nothing wrong with that, but I do wonder how we got to this point in comedy -- and how someone like old school Eddie Murphy, Arsenio Hall, Richard Pryor, Red Foxx, Margaret Cho, Sherman Hemsley, Whoopi Goldberg, Rodney Dangerfield, and Robin Williams would fit in today without being accused of "crossing the line." Maybe that's why so many of them who are still with us are going the drama or dramedy routes, for which they often earn the street cred they didn't receive when they were "merely comedians."

These days it just seems like great comedies often have heavily dramatic elements, or on the other side of the spectrum are packaged to look like, say, Unfinished Business (which I haven't seen, but the trailer isn't doing it any favors). Is it because many of us (and I'm throwing myself into the mix as well) have gotten too highbrow or "intellectual" to enjoy such fare? Or do we simply yearn for what is no longer?

But in today's Internet age, is it even possible for such bold comedy to even exist, much less thrive?

Share your thoughts below.


Ashlee Blackwell said...

These are great points.

I recently just listened to an episode of a podcast where they were talking about past comedians like Murphy when they were in their prime - and then commented on being, I guess, uncomfortable and imagining Murphy not getting a pass in this day and age with some of the language he used.

Sigh - I'm gonna be a bit controversial and say, "Get over it."

So like you, I'm guessing the people behind the products like Hart telling them that in order to sustain and make your money in this business, it's best to "play it safe".

And maybe, the much more 'straight' comedies now just don't look very good in my opinion. I'd rather watch Richard Pryor's Moving or The Golden Child for the 1000th time than go see Horrible Bosses 2. We're not "too highbrow and 'intellectual'" - we just want a "good" comedy. Those aren't churned out like they used to.

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