So it looks like Last Comic Standing (LCS to you acronitwits) is coming back after all. Perhaps this will be Jay Leno‘s new job since his 10pm show is tanking bigtime. Perhaps enough reality television has succeeded (read: cheap cost, big enough ratings) for NBC to revive the corpse. (I have mixed feelings about it, but anything that gets comics more air time is worth trying. As promising as John Oliver‘s new show on Comedy Central looks, it’s still basic cable. Major networks are not what they once where, but for now they still carry a bigger stick.)
If you know one thing about me, you know I despise reality television. Abhor it. Beyond the obvious knock that it takes time away from scripted television programming, it’s often embarrassingly puerile and stupid. Basically the networks theorized that people will do anything to get famous, and they cashed in big. Now we have people wandering the planet who are famous for nothing else than being famous. No accomplishments, no skills, just a willingness to allow their train wreck of a life to be broadcast for money. And to add insult to injury, these delusional mouth-breathers believe that this somehow translates into artistic merit worthy of our adulation and respect.
Wrong. It just makes you a celebretard.
But it’s our own fault. Culture will always pander to the lowest common denominator, and boy, did we drop the limbo bar low over the past couple of decades. There’s nothing real about the Real World or the Real Housewives; prostitution is illegal but we pimp girls out to Bret Michaels and Flavor Flav on broadcast cable, and don’t even get me started on celebrity interventions or the vapid bimbos and L.A. party whores who somehow have multiple shows dedicated to following their every waking moment. Even when a show does try to involve some real people who want to follow a dream – American Idol – they blow it by getting celebretard judges.
So when Last Comic Standing first hit the airwaves, I was nauseated. Not only did some of the selections seem odd (anyone smell ringers?), but some of the weeding-out activities were a bit absurd. Trying to be funny in a laundromat or at a day care center is an interesting test of whether you can appeal to a specific audience, but it’s not anything close to the type of audiences a comedian will be working with professionally. Somehow I can’t see Bill Hicks making children laugh. Weep or burst into tears, perhaps, but not laugh. Does that diminish him as a comic? So I dialed in occasionally to see actual stand-up performances on real stages, but otherwise avoided it like the plague.
So what prompted this little diatribe today? The Fox Reality Channel ran a marathon of Season Two episodes this afternoon, and when I came home my daughter was engrossed in the second hour. She had not ever seen the program, and was only familiar with a couple of the comedians. When I sat down to share some time with her, they were at the stage of moving from the auditions to the group of forty, and I realized that I was familiar with the majority of them – hell, I probably owned albums from at least half. It dawned on me that at the time of the show (2004) I probably only knew a couple of them, but over the next five years many of them had reached a larger level of success – despite the fact that only one walked away with the title.
I was also pleased to see that although there was a certain level of the bullshit that I hate – preening for the camera, overly dramatic behavior to “stand out” from the rest of the crew – for the most part there was stage time of some sort. Sure, they made some people out to be pains in the ass, and others behaved like they were on an episode of Survivor, but it was light years beyond sticking eight people in a million dollar loft in New York and getting them all cushy jobs and then calling it The Real World. When the ten comics hit the house they laughed at the absurdity of their surroundings and tried to focus on making the next cut so they would be able to have their fate determined by their performance on stage.
Of course, in this season, the credibility of the show took a kick in the nuts when the final ten were announced. Judges Drew Carey and Brett Butler went from slack-jawed to irate when they realized that three of the four judges hadn’t cast votes for some of the finalists, while others they had at the top of their list didn’t make the cut. Turns out that producers and executives behind the scenes were also casting votes, so despite what the four judges onscreen did, it was the unseen movers and shakers behind the scenes who determined the final selections – the ten who would get weekly television exposure as the show went forward. And some of the finalists were clients of these executives and producers.
Hard to believe that controversy didn’t sink the show immediately. But it didn’t.
The marathon continues tomorrow, and so will my story.