June 29, 2010
Paul Reiser, stand-up comic and star of successful TV series Mad About You, once said, “Watching a mediocre comic will trigger you. You’re not inspired by greatness, you’re inspired by mediocrity.”
I’ve found myself watching the season of Last Comic Standing on NBC. As I watch the featured comedians, I get inspired. “I could do that,” I, along with many other think to ourselves. “These jokes aren’t really that great. I would be a smash hit on that show compared to those other comics.”
Here’s the thing though. I’d get slaughtered, much like you would in that competition. Here are the reasons why:
You are not up against other amateurs.
This is probably the biggest misconception by the general public about LCS. The producers of the show want you to think that they’re going into small town America and finding people with raw comedic talent, then giving them a chance to pursue a dream. However, the contestants on Last Comic Standing are hardly newbies. Louis Ramey, a contestant during Season 6 was seemingly plucked from obscurity and made it deep into the show. However, not only had Louis been a professional comic for several years, but he even had his own 30 minute special on Comedy Central 4 years earlier! The same stories apply to Lavell Crawford & Doug Benson (Season 5), Gabriel Iglesias (Season 4), and Todd Glass (Season 2). All had previous success on television. So amateurs they are not. Therefore, if you think you can just go up on stage and compete with people who are ostensibly at a starting point in their career, just like you, then you are wrong.
The Jokes Aren’t That Funny
You’re right. The bits that these comedians perform are rarely raucously funny. They elicit a chuckle from the viewers at home, leading one to believe that they are at least as funny as these so-called professional. “I’m as funny as these guys are.” However, the show is broadcast on NBC and is rated TV-14, meaning that only mostly clean material can make it through the censors. There’s nothing wrong with being a clean comic. In fact, I think, there is something noble in that. However, it’s like trying to play a piano with all the black keys taken off. You can’t play a Beethoven’s Moonlight Sonata without a few sharps thrown in there. If you did, it wouldn’t sound nearly as wonderful.
The Material Burn
I’m not going to try and inflate a comic’s skill set. Putting together a 5 minute set of funny jokes and humorous stories is not really that hard. A lot of people could do that. However, putting together 2 separate 5 minute sets per show for 13 episodes is a feat of pure endurance. That’s why most of the comedians on the show are already well-established. That new material viewers see every single week is not really “new”. Most of the comics are pulling from a giant stockpile of battle-tested jokes that they painstakingly accumulated over years of performance.
Here’s where the real bubble bursts. I’ve heard from several established comedians that the LCS is a giant money-making scheme perpetrated by the major talent agencies in conjunction with NBC. Here’s how it works, the talent agencies approach NBC with comedians that they really want to push. They both agree on who will make it and to what round. NBC benefits because they get strong, relatively unknown comedians on the air at a little cost to them. The talent agencies get a comedian who, after the completion of the show, has a network TV credit. This allows the comedian to ask for higher rates of pay from comedy clubs. Agencies get a certain percentage of the comedians pay, and the more a comedian makes, the more an agency makes.
So you think you got what it takes?