Stand-up Comedy is the Black Sheep of Entertainment Industry
In moments of despair, a visit to YouTube for a dose of stand-up comedy has become a universal remedy. Providing entertainment that goes beyond simple amusement, these clever comedians not only reflect our experiences; but also turn them into amusing stories. These stand-up performances are no longer just for laughs; they are antidotes to loneliness, which lift up our spirits during rough times.
Even though stand-up comedy has become a staple of our lives, stand-up comedy has occupied a designation of “black sheep” in the entertainment industry. The genre is still relatively new compared to other flashier forms of entertainment. Because of its impact, the entertainment industry and its award shows still haven't acknowledged it as a separate category deserving of recognition.
Laughter, as it seems, has finally gotten its prescription filled at the Golden Globes. The 81st Golden Globe Awards ceremony witnessed a historic first – the introduction of the "Best Performance in Stand-up Comedy on Television" category. This, what feels like a small step, marks a paradigm shift in the entertainment industry’s perception of stand-up comedy, which is often an overlooked art form. Today, stand-up comedy is associated with smoky basements and dimly lit clubs, which are overlooked before extravagant forms of entertainment.
But as stand-up comedy is gaining popularity, especially on streaming platforms such as YouTube, Netflix, and Amazon Prime, the genre is also claiming its long-awaited spot at the award shows.
However, the recognition still clings to scripted performances, limiting award-worthy shows to streaming giants, and not acknowledging the spontaneity found on platforms like YouTube, where individual voices need no ‘specials’ to make an impact.
And this recognition is not significant. While the Golden Globe Awards started introducing "Best Performance in Stand-up Comedy on Television" and Emmy Awards have an "Outstanding Variety Special (Live)" category that occasionally includes stand-up specials, there's no dedicated awards show with the same level of widespread recognition as the Oscars, Grammys, or Emmys.
On top of this, both domestic and international award shows present a curious paradox when it comes to realizing stand-up comedy. The award shows celebrate the comedy shows, oftentimes overlooking the comedian.
For instance, the Emmy Awards have a category for "Outstanding Variety Special (Live)," which encompasses a broad range of live entertainment, not solely stand-up comedy. Similarly, the Golden Globes recently introduced a "Best Stand-Up Comedy Performance" award. Still, its inaugural ceremony saw the winner, Ricky Gervais, absent, perhaps highlighting the disconnect between the award and the stand-up community itself.
And the issue is not just about the award shows and imparting trophies; it's about acknowledging the power of laughter and considering it as a separate, and unique genre on its own, which gains as much media coverage as other entertainment genres.
Let's See, What do Stats Say?
According to a 2020 study by USC Annenberg, stand-up comedy received only 0.7% of coverage in major news outlets like The New York Times and The Washington Post. This in comparison to film (5.5%), music (3.4%), and television (1.9%) industry is significantly lower. This highlights the significant lack of mainstream
am media attention given to stand-up compared to other entertainment forms.
On top of that, a 2015 study by the University of Pennsylvania found that the median annual income for comedians and comics was averaged at about $25,730, significantly lower than other arts occupations like actors ($42,770), dancers ($38,500), and singers ($46,890). This data is a reflection of the financial instability faced by many stand-up comedians.
This is understandable as stand-up comedy is a relatively new genre- a genre of art, entertainment, and a form of therapy, where the entertainment industry and mature audiences are still wrapping their heads around its charm.
A 2023 Statista report indicates that 75% of the 35-44 age group in the US subscribe to at least one streaming service, but stand-up specials haven't yet achieved the same mainstream popularity as sitcoms or other scripted content on these platforms.
Amidst these challenges, standup comedy stands speak loudly about the social issues that bring positive changes to the society in most amusing ways. While the entertainment industry and older audiences still understand the genre, stand-up comedy is a therapeutic form of entertainment for addressing societal problems and bringing positive changes in society.
Stand-up comedy is not limited by perspectives and opinions. Comedians use their own stories and backgrounds to make people laugh and see different perspectives. It empowers the entertainment industry.
As per the research findings, comedy was the most profitable genre in the film industry in 2017 US, bringing more than 15% of the box office collections. In fact, on YouTube and television, comedy is one of the most popular genres.
Since comedy is still the best medicine in cinema, it is time that we begin to embrace stand-up comedy as a separate and significant part of the entertainment industry as well.
At the bottom of it, stand-up comedy is more than just a form of entertainment seeking media attention; it is a form of self-expression, a therapeutic experience that has the power to make people smile at their lowest. Such a genuinely empathetic art form should deserve much more than a mere ‘spot’ at the cinema-dominated award shows.
Beyond entertainment, stand-up comedy catalyzes societal change and enhances the overall well-being of humans. It is beyond jokes- it is serious business.