Change in comedy

by Ella Smith

From the beginning of creation, laughter has been a gift from God. Likewise, the comedy genre is not a new idea. It has been around since as early as the fifth century in Ancient Greek plays. Many things about comedy haven’t changed. Comedy still has the main goal of making people laugh, entertaining people, often showing the absurdities in life and offering a helpful takeaway for the audience.

However, with the growing popularity of streaming and the shift in how society consumes media, comedy isn’t viewed or experienced in the same way it used to be. We no longer go to the theaters for every new movie we watch. We don’t go to comedy clubs to see new comedians. Society is not the same as it was a few years ago. A good question to ask ourselves is whether comedy has changed with it or been left behind.

There are many different formats used to portray comedy. Two of the most prevalent are movies and stand-up. They make up the majority of the ways comedy is expressed and are the most commonly viewed mediums of comedy.

Comedy movies experienced a shift over the last few years in how they are both viewed and made. In the late 2000s, comedy movies were prevalent and had frequent success as blockbusters. Since then the genre has experienced several failures. In 2010, there were 21 comedy movies in the top 100 highest-grossing films. In 2015 there were 18. That number went down to 15 in 2020 and dropped to 8 in 2021. This steady decline points to a lack of interest in comedy movies. It’s not that there are fewer comedy movies but there are certainly fewer comedy movies that are doing well in theaters.

There could be a few reasons for this. One reason could be studios leaning more towards actor-based comedies rather than script-based comedies. This leads to comedies often lacking a solid plot and new writing. These actor-based comedies are not always bad but have grown stagnant.

Another reason is the popularity of streaming services. Streaming services have changed every genre of television and movies but especially comedies. Comedy movies have always been a riskier genre because it is very subjective and requires a good balance of elements to create a successful movie. This has only been heightened by fans growing more vocal about negative opinions. Now that streaming services have taken over so much media production, it no longer feels necessary for them to take that risk.

Sean O’Connor, assistant professor of Broadcasting, Digital Media, and Journalism at Cedarville University commented on the effects streaming services have had on comedy.

“Streaming is keeping comedy alive but that doesn’t mean it always works.”

There is a lot more content on streaming services, but many of them fail to make an impression or create something unique. Many are just rehashes of familiar concepts with no new twist added to them. Every few movies you will find a good unique one but it’s hard to distinguish what will be good and what will be unimpressive.

Stand-up comedy has also been influenced by the growth in online platforms. The changes in the stand-up industry have had positive effects on the industry. In the past, stand-up comedians had to be a famous actor before becoming a comedian. Otherwise they would have to slog tirelessly in small venues for little to no pay until they had built up enough popularity. Now, with so many ways to view content, it is easier for comedians to build a platform on YouTube or social media in a more risk-free environment. This enables them to already have an audience before having shows or touring. Comedians who have an established audience are also able to utilize streaming platforms. Many streaming services are adding comedy series from famous comedians. Netflix alone released 54 stand-up comedy specials this year. This can bolster a comedian’s popularity and allow them to reach an audience they might not have reached from in-person shows.

On the other hand, there could be some downsides to the popularity of online platform building. With more content online, it is easier for people to watch clips of people and determine whether they are funny or not before they go see them in person. This means comedians have to have content that is funny enough to entice their audience to go out of their way to watch them. As far as the actual content of stand-up comedy, not too much has changed in the structure and format of comedy. It still is a highly subjective genre and largely dependent on the audience.

Comedy in all its mediums is nothing new, nor will it cease to exist anytime soon. However, it has changed in how it is produced and consumed and will continue to do so. It is less important in what form comedy appears but rather that it fulfills a purpose, to entertain, amuse, serve as a destresser, or point out a dissonance in society.

Payton Burdette, the president of LOL, the Cedarville comedy organization also works at Funny Bone, a comedy club in Dayton. He summarized how comedy has been affected by time.  

“The genre of comedy is timeless, how people consume that content will change.”

Ella Smith is a freshmen professional writing and informational design student as well as a writer for Cedars. She enjoys a stack of good books, a warm cup of tea (with a fair bit of honey,) and cuddling with her dogs.

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