Standup as art

Flavorpill recommends Creative Week NYC:

The second-annual Creative Week returns for seven days of inspiration across genres. (Seriously: from spoken word, television, and typeset to photography and music, you'd be hard-pressed not to find a creative aspect covered.)

Hard-pressed, eh? Here are the categories:


Comedy? Not so much. No surprise either. Comedy is near the bottom of the art totem pole.

It's rarely taught in schools. Comedies rarely win Best Picture. You don't see standup in museums. Carlin and Pryor are rarely mentioned among the great thinkers of their time. The NY Times has an architecture critic but you'll never see anyone reviewing comedy in a thoughtful way there. Entertainment Weekly reviews all kinda crap, but not comedy. Other than Time Out NY, it's tough to find any mainstream publication in NYC that truly "covers" comedy. A great photographer is an artist...a great comedian is, well, just a comedian.

I guess when you make fun of things, you don't get taken seriously. It's all just a joke.

But hey, maybe it's good to be an alien in the pretentious, BS-filled art world. And at least it ain't dance. No one respects that.


Sam Morril said...

Couldn't agree more.

Comedy isn't trendy like film or design. It doesn't exude sex appeal like music. Comedy lacks glamour, and that's part of what I love about it. It's real. It mocks the self-congratulatory nature of these other art forms.

All the awards shows on television are a joke. At last years Emmys, Hugh Jackman won an award for a dance number he did while hosting the Oscars. He got an award for something he did at another awards show...

Only "pretty" professions get rewarded constantly. Comedy is ugly. Filmmakers, photographers, musicians may get slammed by critics, but comics get slammed right to their face.

But, hey... I'd love some more coverage from the media.. Also wouldn't mind seeing the Times do some more pieces on it.

Mike Lawrence said...

There is some truly great comedy (in films and onstage) but I think a lot of it is hard to defend. Sure there's bad photography and bad music, but when you see bad comedy it's really hard sometimes to say "Yay! That's the artform I'm proud to be a part of"

P.S. I'm writing this from an open mic so my judgement may be clouded by hearing too many masturbation and Tiger Woods jokes"

ECN said...

You know, a lot of people worry about this. I wouldn't, though. The main thing about comedy is that it isn't a thing, exactly. I mean, there's not enough of an emphasis on albums, video concert recordings, etc. -- and when there is, it's still more "here is a document of one time this person told some jokes than "here is a definitive record of a work that was made."

Which makes it frustrating to talk about from a review standpoint.

When a movie comes out, you can say "here's the Coen Brothers' new movie", and talk about that, often in the context of their other works.

When a band puts out an album, it's "hey, here's a new Radiohead album! Is it more like their early work? And what's with the melodica?"

Whereas comedy is by its nature hazier. There are only a few comedians who are in a position of putting out multiple new albums/specials within a few years of each other... and the ones who do (I'm thinking Louis CK, Oswalt, Chris Rock when he was doing specials, et al.) do in fact get some of that attention.

But it's tougher to really gauge what they're up to, because unlike (say) a band, there's no notion that a comedian's albums taken together comprise his/her "Complete Works". I mean, you can listen to all the Beatles' albums and say, okay, now you know the Beatles.

To do that with (for example) Todd Barry, you'd have to track down his albums, plus dozens of short TV spots... and does his acting work count? Some of it? All of it?... and then also the bits he's done that haven't even made it to an album. (And you can never see most of those, because he's retired them by now.)

And then you go and see him live, and most of what he's doing isn't even ON any of those things. It's freaking NEW STUFF already.

And that's not even bringing up the ad-libs. (Honestly. I'm not bringing up the ad-libs again. I promise.)

So, yeah, it's a little tougher to get to grips with a comedian than it is with virtually any other kind of performing artist, just because a comedian's track record is so messy and theoretically almost infinite.

(And yeah, a lot of them are crap too. Not that a lot of bands, or directors, or authors aren't crap. But at least you can listen to a Creed album or whatever, say "hey, this is crap", and be done with it. Even the bad bands are more convenient to work with than comedians.)

soce said...

It's only considered art by the mainstream when you can turn that experimental set into a one-man show and put it on in a playhouse for stuffy white people.

Matteson said...

Soce was being sarcastic, but I think he's actually hit on a big reason why comedy isn't considered an art - comedy (particularly stand up) is best experienced live, and the majority of people only experience live comedy at comedy clubs, and comedy clubs for the most part are horrible. Theater probably wouldn't be considered an art either if you were eating chicken fingers while watching and Hamlet spent 15 minutes during the second act trying to quiet down a bachalorette party. Stuffy white people or no, one-man shows are considered art because they're treated as such. I don't think anyone that saw Birbiglia's "Sleepwalk with me" would consider it not to be art.

The other reason Comedy will probably never be considered an Art by the mainstream is that art tends to mean "serious" to most people, and comedy by definition isn't serious (at least on the surface). Of course most people that are really into comedy know that under the surface, comedy is often much more serious, real, and honest than any other "art" form. You've just got to see through the masturbation and tiger woods jokes.

Hank Thompson said...

Maybe something is only art if it is consumed while silent. I went to the art musuem a few months ago; didn't hear one applause break. By this definition tennis is art, at least the first few volleys or until a ballgirl trips, which is always a crowd-pleaser.

There's, of course, a range within any medium of what is or isn't art. See the documentary My Kid Could Paint That.

I tend to avoid rigid definitions or declarations of what is or isn't art, because ultimately it doesn't matter. If anything the only test that matters is time. I wrote a joke about eight months ago that I still use, so that makes it art, even though its about tiger woods farting while masturbating cause he's different than a woman.

AllanSteiner said...

I agree with most of the comments above. Often comedy is not an artform at all. Often, comedy is simply a juvenile form of entertainment, but when a comic is really trying something different, and it works, and sometimes even when it doesn't, there is that feeling of "oh my god, I'm seeing something happen right now" that's art. and that takes a certain kind of fines.

I don't think it's a stretch to say that kind of comedy as art philosophy will be reaching the mainstream soon enough. The UCB audience alone is proof that there is an audience for it. It just needs time...

AllanSteiner said...

Not to mention, most of the time when you see people talking about stand up as art, they mention it under theatre, which is on there...

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