The 10 Biggest Comedy News Stories of 2011

With the global economy crumbling, citizens taking to the streets to vent their frustrations through protest, and People magazine shockingly cheating Ryan Gosling out of the Sexiest Man Alive title he so rightfully deserves, it often felt like the world was spinning out of control in 2011. That’s why it’s a great thing there was so much great comedy for people to turn to as a distraction from the hardships of the world. We’re in the midst of a major comedy boom, partly due to people finding solace from their troubles in humor and partly due to the overabundance of great laughs available from all the new platforms for comedy that have emerged over the past few years (Twitter, podcasts, more cable networks offering original programming). More comedy means more news stories pertaining to comedy, so here are the ten most significant comedy-related news stories of the past year.

10. The Eddie Murphy Comeback That Wasn’t

2011 was the year of the aborted Eddie Murphy comeback. The comedian was announced as the host of next year’s Oscars in September and he made it seem like he would be returning to his 80’s prime with a role in Tower Heist that harkened back to the street-smart, fast-talking characters he used to play in his best films (48 Hrs., Trading Places). Murphy also denounced the godawful family comedies he’s been starring in for the past several years and swore off making anymore movies like that, but then everything went to hell. Despite Tower Heist being Eddie Murphy’s best-reviewed comedy in over a decade, the film drew mixed reactions from critics and was only a mild success at the box office. Then, a homophobic remark by Brett Ratner caused him and Murphy to drop out of the Oscars gig. Hosting the Oscars was supposed to be the centerpiece of Murphy’s comeback. It would have been the closest he’s com to performing stand-up since the 80’s and a lot of people in the comedy community, including Norm Macdonald, had high hopes. The release of the trailer for his next movie, A Thousand Words, which – to be fair – has been sitting on the shelf for three years since long before Murphy swore off mediocre family fare, was the final nail in the coffin on any hopes that this would be the year Eddie Murphy would recapture his brilliantly funny 80’s persona.

9. Ricky Gervais Becomes More Insufferable by the Second

After taking some heat in January for a Golden Globes hosting stint that some said was a little cruel to the celebrities he joked about, Ricky Gervais spent the next several months gloating about how bold he was at the Globes, acting like he’s a Lenny Bruce-esque bastion of free speech when all he really did was say that an Angelina Jolie movie wasn’t very good. That was just the start of Ricky Gervais’s lack of self-awareness drawing him closer to David Brent territory and further away from the Ricky Gervais we know and love. Other self-important or misguided Ricky Gervais acts of 2011 include reveling in the brilliance of his own religious beliefs with a series of immodest essays on atheism, publicly insulting the US Office, bragging about how he came up with the idea for Night at the Museum years ago but never bothered to write it, throwing the word ‘mong’ around on Twitter, giving unsolicited lectures on humor, and, finally, responding to negative reviews for his new show Life’s Too Short by tweeting a picture of his packed-to-the-brim awards case.

8. Stephen Colbert’s Super PAC

In June, Stephen Colbert got his political action committee, Colbert Super PAC, approved by the FEC to begin collecting funds to influence elections. Colbert has been using his Super PAC to draw attention to and satirize the Citizens United ruling, which declared that corporations have the same rights as people. The Super PAC has created some pretty hilarious ads and has led to some great moments on The Colbert Report, including his one-on-one with Republican strategist Frank Luntz. With Colbert Super PAC in the mix, it’s going to be one wild 2012 election.

7. The Year of the Homophobic Rant

In the aftermath of a much-criticized homophobic joke in the trailer for the Vince Vaughn/Kevin James vehicle The Dilemma at the end of last year, this year saw homophobic outbursts from a number of comedians making headlines. First, Victoria Jackson launched into an anti-gay, anti-Muslim rant during a CNN interview, followed by Tracy Morgan taking a lot of heat for saying, during a stand-up routine, that he would stab his son if he ever came out as gay, and, finally, Brett Ratner leaving his post as producer of next year’s Oscars after an off-handed homophobic remark. The gay rights movement has made great strides this year in the wake of 2010’s It Gets Better Project with “Don’t ask, don’t tell” being struck down and gay marriage being legalized in New York, but it seems like some members of the comedy community still have a little catching up to do.

6. Steve Carell Leaves The Office with Class, While Charlie Sheen Departs Two and a Half Men in a Burst of Flames

Two of the highest-rated sitcoms on TV lost their stars this past year, with Steve Carell classily vacating his post at The Office to focus on his family and his movie career and Charlie Sheen being fired from Two and a Half Men after a public meltdown that’s been documented pretty thoroughly elsewhere.

5. The Arrested Development Movie Looks More Certain than Ever… Maybe

It’s been nearly six years since Arrested Development ended its run, but there’s been talk of a movie ever since the final line of the series was Ron Howard teasing the possibility of said movie. The years that followed saw reports about cast members expressing interest trickle in every few months, but no substantial news about the reunion came in until this October when Mitch Hurwitz announced at New Yorker Festival that Arrested Development would be returning in 2013 with 10 new episodes of and a movie. Netflix quickly snapped up the rights to the show’s new mini-season, and it seems like the Arrested Development revival is now more concrete than ever. Of course, because of how long the project has taken to come together and how many years we’ve been assured it’s happening but haven’t seen any progress, cast member David Cross is still adopting an “I’ll believe it when I see it” attitude, so don’t get your hopes up, fans!

4. NBC Benches Community

The critically-acclaimed but ratings-challenged sitcom Community, one of the best comedies on TV, has continued to grow even stronger and funnier as 2011 wore on, but its ratings have been sliding and, last month, NBC announced its new midseason schedule – with Community nowhere to be found. Don’t worry, though, because the show will be back in the spring with 12 amazing new episodes, no matter what. Community’s involuntary hiatus isn’t good news by any means but it doesn’t spell cancelation either. The show’s stars are confident about its chances, and I am too. It’s only a few months until Community returns, and you can spend it reliving Community’s spectacular 59 episodes with our rundown of the show’s best moments.

3. The Comedy Podcast Continues Its Rise

This year also saw the amount of comedy podcast listeners climbing up and up, with publications like Rolling Stone and The Onion’s A.V. Club taking notice and beginning to cover what’s emerged as a wildly-popular source for comedy. Perhaps no other show attracted more praise and attention than Marc Maron’s WTF, which was the subject of a flattering and deserved New York Times profile and saw Maron’s ability to land A-list guests increase this year with the likes of Conan O’Brien, Amy Poehler, Jon Hamm, Garry Shandling, and Chris Rock dropping by his garage. Elsewhere, major podcast networks continued to take shape with Scott Aukerman and Jeff Ullrich’s Earwolf Network and Chris Hardwick’s Nerdist Industries leading the pack and rapidly filling out their lineups with high-quality shows. With bigger name celebrities appearing as podcast guests, major publications acknowledging the medium, and these podcast networks presenting quality-checked content in a more organized way, the comedy podcast industry is really booming.

2. Louis C.K. Cements his Status as His Generation’s Leading Stand-up

In 2011, Louis C.K. was still the hardest-working person in comedy, with the second season of his FX series Louie outdoing its first, drawing outstanding reviews, and earning a great deal of respect from the comedy community. It’d be remarkable if that’s all that Louis C.K. did in 2011, since he writes, directs, edits, and stars in every episode, but he also earned four Emmy nominations for the first season of Louie and last year’s stand-up special Hilarious, was relentlessly funny in a series of funny talk show appearances, and released an entire new hour of material, Live at the Beacon Theater (the third year in a row he’s put out a completely-new hour). C.K. debuted a straightforward payment plan for his newest special, putting it out himself for $5 with an easy-to-use website that epitomizes his ‘no-bullshit’ style. This new way of presenting content has been wildly successful for C.K. and may well change the way comedians release their material. Considering all that Louis C.K. did in 2011, it’s a wonder he has any time to sleep.

1. Patrice O’Neal Passes On

Beloved veteran stand-up comic Patrice O’Neal sadly passed away at the age of 41 in November after suffering a stroke the previous month. A bold and daring comedian, O’Neal’s raw, honest comedic voice will truly be missed. It’s always a shame when one of the brightest comedians going is snuffed out in their prime, and the outpouring of support from members of the comedy community was a fitting goodbye to one of the best comics we had. Patrice O’Neal’s new album, Mr. P, will be released posthumously next year and is available for pre-order on Amazon and iTunes now, and you can view some of his comedy highlights with our retrospective.

Bradford Evans is a writer living in Los Angeles.

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