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Back in the 1970s and 80s, comedians like George Carlin, Richard Pryor, Steve Martin, and so many others that I could spend days naming ruled the comedy stage. Standup comedy has been a highly lucrative industry for decades, yet is seems to have hit a wall in recent years.
Who are the popular comedians right now? I personally can only think of Dave Chappelle, John Mulaney, and Louis C.K. as viable options, with Chappelle taking a break from the industry and C.K. losing all of his credibility due to the #MeToo movement. So we have John Mulaney, who is an amazing comedian and one of my personal idols—yet how can he be the only one? Kevin Hart is doing movies, Jim Gaffigan hasn't been big since 2010, and Amy Schumer has run into accusations of being a joke thief.
So why is comedy so dry in 2019? Why are most of the few comedians who do perform not very funny? I would like to make my own analysis of the situation, and I hope that I can get to the bottom of this comedy industry decline.
We live in a time where if somebody says something slightly controversial in front of a widespread audience, there's going to be a large group of people who get offended or "triggered." I am in no way saying this aspect of our culture is bad. I'm not here to be political or fill this article with my personal beliefs. However, I think that it is this culture that has killed the standup comedian.
Every time a comedian goes on stage, they are at risk of getting in trouble. I know this firsthand, I have been doing standup comedy for over a year now, and a lot of my material can be interpreted as offensive. I have personally come up with bits that I find hilarious, however, I have not utilized them because of my fear of offending somebody and not being allowed back to the venue.
A major aspect of standup comedy is making fun of people. I do that a lot at my shows. Anyone who tries to heckle or put input into my set gets completely insulted, and afterwards, I walk straight to them and thank them for being good sports.
However, in our culture, it seems like you can't make fun of anybody. Even if you don't have a hateful bone in your body, if you make a joke about the wrong group of people, you're going to hear about it all over Twitter. In my opinion, this aspect of our society is a major part of why our current comedians just can't be as funny as the comedians in the 70s.
Lack of Material
Let's be honest here, there are only so many times you can hear a comedian talk about Donald Trump. Politics are always a major source for comedic material, but how much is there to go around? Every comedian talks about politics, and it's getting old. But on the flip side, what is there aside from that?
If you can't make fun of anybody, and if you can't talk about politics, then what are you supposed to write jokes about? Everyone has funny life stories, but those stories will always come from a certain walk of life. An African American comedian's funny life story may not be funny to a Caucasian person, and vise versa, just because we cannot always understand each other's culture.
What universal jokes are left? There are very few topics that a comedian can write about, and unless you're a writing genius, chances are you'll go through several bouts of severe writer's block.
A major problem with our generations is a lack of creativity. This doesn't just affect comedians either, it affects everyone. In our schools, we're taught to follow directions, in the workplace, we're required to do things a certain way, and even our parents tell us not to paint on the walls (alright, maybe that one gets a pass).
But how is someone expected to be creative and come up with something when that kind of behavior has been frowned upon their entire lives? In the 70s, people were dropping out of school to smoke weed, do DMT, and find themselves—and that created the greatest generation of comedians that we will likely ever see.
The comedians we have now were most likely the class clowns in school, and had to rebel against their teachers, parents, and bosses in order to keep their naturally given creativity. The so called "bad seeds" in school are today's millionaires, as they never conformed to a certain way of thinking and, therefore, were able to express themselves through writing, music, comedy, acting, or several other factors that got them famous.
I know for a fact that is how I became a comedian and a writer, and I can almost guarantee that people like Dave Chappelle, Joe Rogan, Iliza Shlesinger, Chris Destefino, and several of my other personal favorite comedians were the exact same way.
Overall, I feel like every comedian has to have some kind of shtick. Comedy has been around too long to really enjoy a well-rounded set like one would find with Carlin or Pryor; you have to find a comedian for every topic you want to hear about. Bill Maher can get away with going on stage and yelling about politics because that's his shtick, and anyone who wants to enjoy that particular type of comedy knows to look for Bill Maher.
Comedians not being funny anymore may just be my perception. Maher is an amazing comic if you want to hear about politics. Kevin Smith is an amazing comic if you want to hear about his life stories. I could go on all day about comedians who only do one thing, but even though John Mulaney recently got an Emmy for being perhaps the last well-rounded comic around, he is the last of the Mohicans.
To make it as a standup comic in today's atmosphere, you can't strive to be the next Kevin Hart or Bill Burr. You have to be the only you. You have to find what you are good at writing jokes about and stick to it. Chances are I'll never make it as a standup comedian, and that is because I'm trying to be a traditional comic. Maybe the future will be full of genre specialists, just like the music industry has always been. Or maybe no one is funny anymore, and it has something to do with how our children are being raised. Either way, I hope that standup comedy gets some new stars very soon, and I hope that we all get to laugh much, much more.