Sunday, April 22, 2012

Smells Like Teen Spirit

How the Comedy Nerd Took Over is an op-ed at the New York Times about Bill Burr's recent criticisms of the alternative comedy scene. I agree with Burr's comment that the alternative scene is insular, and not an accurate reflection of mainstream comedy culture—but that's it's purpose! The alternative scene—in any art form—nurtures whatever the mainstream neglects. 
I also strongly disagree with his assertion that a good comic should be able to kill in any room. If that's your goal, then you can't do weird experimental stuff, you're limiting yourself. If alternative comedy was actually worthless, people wouldn't go to alternative shows, there would be no scene. The movement's existence shows that performers and audiences alike are hungry for a new type of comedy, and I admire comics who are willing to venture into that unexplored territory. I agree that alternative comedy has its own tropes and weaknesses—such as when comics pretend to be more nervous than they are, or tell jokes that are intentionally unfunny—but it doesn't have any more than mainstream comedy.
You could argue that the alternative scene is a reaction against traditional standup; it's mean spiritedness, vulgarity, homophobia, sexism, and general lack of creativity. Bill Burr's rant proves that all those flaws are still entrenched in mainstream comedy. His unwillingness to accept alternative comedy proves the movement's relevance.
Illustration by Tom Gauld

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