Ever since Louis C.K.’s announcement that he will be doing an HBO special, ostensibly returning to his roots in the way he does his stand-up on TV, there are some who are worried that the new wave of DIY in comedy — exemplified by Louie’s self-produced, Internet-distributed special — might come to a screeching halt. First, he will still be releasing it on his site a few months after it airs on HBO. Secondly, we’re sure that with all the personal capital he’s gained with his stand-up, Louie on FX, and the revolutionary way he’s vertically integrated his brand online, this HBO special is much more on Louis’ terms than when HBO aired Shameless in 2007.
In short, do not worry about comedy losing its DIY streak.
The new shifts in how comedy is developed, produced, and distributed aren’t resting on the shoulders of Louis C.K. Think of it more as shifting tectonic plates between the industry and the art form and we’re all standing where the two are pushing up on each other. Thank the Internet for that, making it possible for any single comedian to be able to, with relative ease, find an audience, build a brand, and circumvent traditional models of making people laugh for money.
There still isn’t a blueprint for how, exactly, that works, but more and more comedians both big-named and upcoming are willing to venture out into business on their own by putting forth their own product. Podcasts, albums, shows, specials, videos, etc. are done successfully, even at this moment, by other comedians that represent a vague new comedy business model. Paul F. Tompkins, Greg Proops, and Bill Burr are all great examples, if you have doubts. This American Life just released its own special online, and Maria Bamford is set to not only do the same, but will record it in her living room.
Undoubtedly, some performers will build such cachet that they will be given opportunities to do much more ambitious projects like an HBO special and do it how they want to do it. That’s ultimately the goal in any creative endeavor: to realize a vision with as little resistance as possible. With comedy, there’s an incredible amount of sacrifice involved in getting to that point. In that regard, the podcast has proven to be a worthwhile medium for comedy to be delivered to a mass audience though monetizing it has been more than little tricky, if not advised. Yet, it’s because of free content, like podcasts, that Marc Maron is now doing a show on IFC, that Jimmy Pardo has gained a whole following outside of his stand-up and warming-up for Conan, part of how Pete Holmes got a talk show pilot.
However, if you remain worried by C.K.’s return to HBO or the releasing of online self-distributed specials by Jim Gaffigan, Aziz Ansari, and Rob Delaney as albums through a label like Comedy Central, then you could best calm your fears by simply supporting your favorite artists. Yes, that’s right, buy their albums, go see them live, and tell everyone how much you love them that you’re willing to spend hard earned money on their comedy in whatever form it comes in.
If you still want to have your proverbial cake and eat it too, then here’s a great reminder of what happens in that case in this video about why MTV doesn’t play music videos anymore from 5 Second Films’ Brian Firenzi.