Is ‘Last Comic Standing’ Good or Bad for Comedians?
NBC recently announced that they’re bringing back the standup competition series Last Comic Standing for another season for another season this summer with Wanda Sykes producing. Patton Oswalt immediately joked on Twitter that “For a comedian, appearing on To Catch a Predator is a better career boost than Last Comic Standing.”
Ever since its first season aired in 2003, Last Comic Standing has had a complex reputation in the standup world. While treating comedy like a competition is odd and an overdramatic reality show is the sort of thing comedians would make fun of, Last Comic Standing still gave national exposure to many talented comedians while boosting their careers and bringing standup to a mainstream audience. We recently talked to several former Last Comic Standing contestants about their feelings on the show and NBC’s upcoming revival:
ALONZO BODDEN: Look, it’s popular and easy to shit on the show. It was not, nor will be, perfect. That being said, I had a great run. I made some friends that are still friends.
TOMMY JOHNAGIN: My experience was completely positive right up until the moment I lost. That sucked.
EDDIE PEPITONE: It’s antithetical to what real comedy is. To put comedians in a competition against each other is very lame. From what I’ve seen, who wins are not necessarily the best comedians but they kind of have the best story. It’s reality television, so it doesn’t really get to the heart of a comedian. I think it can be good exposure for some people if they’re at the beginning of their career, but the idea of pitting comedians against each other in a competition is just kinda lame.
NIKKI GLASER: Although Last Comic Standing may not provide the best setting for a standup comic, and the funniest comic may not always advance, I think any primetime exposure for comics is a good thing.
BODDEN: No one else was nor is putting standup comics on in primetime.
JOHNAGIN: I was able to do standup on a primetime show to a national audience every week for a couple months.
MYQ KAPLAN: For an individual comedian, the best thing Last Comic Standing can do is showcase them for tons of people who otherwise would never have seen their comedy. The worst thing that it can do is make someone feel bad and/or look silly in front of tons of people. That’s also the worst case scenario for anyone who does comedy NOT on Last Comic Standing.
LAURIE KILMARTIN: The only negative is when you’re the comedian they are trashing online. You may want to kill yourself. Don’t. Just do your act and don’t read the comments. At some point, people only remember that you were on TV… and now they can see you at the club down the block, for 7-15 dollars.
BODDEN: Producers [tried] to create controversy for “reality” part of show. We knew that going in. When I said “I know I’m funnier than Gary Gulman or John Heffron” or whoever, it wasn’t a personal attack; it was part of show. Grow up, we all knew that.
KAPLAN: They could edit you maliciously, of course. It is a reality show. But I find that most of the time, the producers wanted people to like the comics, so they made most people look as good as possible. Look at Doug Benson’s run on the show. He was hilarious, including in ways that made fun of the show, and they got it, and ran with it, and helped him look great doing that.
GLASER: I remember being starstruck in the lobby of the hotel when I met Tig [Notaro] and Doug Benson, comics I already admired, who I would be competing against. I knew I didn’t stand a chance, but I was excited just to be there and make new friends. It felt like a competitive summer camp.
JOHNAGIN: The season that I did was purely standup with no challenges, and we weren’t all living in a house together. I like that format better than one’s they’ve done in the past. Here is show about standup comedy, and these are standup comedians, they do standup comedy; they don’t dress up in silly outfits at a laundromat.
PEPITONE: I remember watching it one season where they were having people go down to the Santa Monica and having them do weird shit. It’s just that reality TV world of absolute phoniness.
KAPLAN: I especially enjoyed being on my season because it was one of the only seasons where they had us just do standup, not live in a house, not live on a boat, not eat green eggs and ham, not do anything that wasn’t just do our standup.
APARNA NANCHERLA: I thought they did a good job of making the show more standup-friendly the most recent season.
KURT METZGER: Anything on TV that pays comics at least scale is good for comedy to me. As a contest, it is intrinsically fucked. There’s no fucking way this stupid ass nation as a whole is qualified to vote on who the funniest comic is or even what funny is. So if you’re looking for it to validate you, you’re a sucker. It’s fucked. It’s a fucked thing to have a comedy-off.
BODDEN: Is standup a competitive sport? No. Did winning make me the world’s best comic? No. It was a format that interests people.
KAPLAN: I think the main philosophical objection to the show would be “comedy isn’t a competition.” And that’s fair. I respect people who don’t want to do the show for that reason. I agree that comedy isn’t a competition, because in the real life comedy world, there’s no limit to how many people can succeed. And I honestly believe that Last Comic Standing has played a significant role in helping many great comedians move forward in their careers. Every season had one “winner,” but tons more winners.
METZGER: As long as you don’t look at it as a contest that means something, you’re good.
KAPLAN: I didn’t go on the show to prove that I’m “better” than other comedians, because that statement is ridiculous. I went on to do comedy. And I think it’s great for there to be as many places possible for comedians to do comedy and for audiences to see comedy that they might not have otherwise.
KILMARTIN: It helps create consumers of comedy. People watch the show, discuss your act versus someone else’s act, and in the process, they are becoming fans of standup.
KAPLAN: Last Comic Standing definitely put my comedy in front of the largest audience I’d ever had, and a lot of those people became my fans, so I am grateful to have had that opportunity.
JOHNAGIN: I made a lot of new fans from the show. Good fans. Fans of mine and standup in general. When I’m touring, I’ll still have at least a couple people a show tell me they watched and voted.
KILMARTIN: LCS exposes comedians to people who aren’t necessarily comedy nerds, people who maybe go out to a club once a year. After my season aired, I noticed a ton of moms in my audiences, and many of them told me they came out because they saw me on LCS. These are people who have to really work to see a live show; they organize their friends, hire a sitter. They never would’ve heard of me if it weren’t for Last Comic.
TAYLOR WILLIAMSON: Because of two performances on Last Comic Standing, I was able to pay my bills for three years with all the work that came from it. Because of becoming a finalist on America’s Got Talent, I’m financially set for a long time and so many of my dreams are coming true.
METZGER: It was pretty helpful to me honestly. I didn’t even make the semifinals but I got bookings from it.
RICH VOS: LCS bought me a house. If Patton [Oswalt] wants to buy me a better house, I will denounce the show; if not, the show was great.
BODDEN: I think Jay Mohr said it best when he told us if this national exposure doesn’t triple our money, we’re doing something wrong.
PEPITONE: People do it because if they get television exposure like that, their price goes up and blah blah blah for their road gigs or whatever. It’s just a contrivance. You don’t really get to do long sets, [there are] weird audiences that they get to see these shows, and [it’s] degrading too. “Oh, you’ve gotta look happy in this scene.”
KAPLAN: I also auditioned for the show several times before the season that I made the finals, so I certainly had a taste of what it was like to have the show do nothing for me. But that’s really the worst it can do, I think. If you try out for the show, either you move forward and have an opportunity for more people to see your comedy, or you don’t, and then your life continues just as it would have if you hadn’t auditioned. Worst case scenario for a comedian, nothing happens. Best case, something does.
KILMARTIN: I don’t understand why NBC keeps “bringing it back.” It’s cheap to produce and it always does well. Why isn’t it on a predictable schedule like America’s Got Talent or American Idol or any other talent show? Who’s in charge over there? Jesus Fucking Christ.
NANCHERLA: I will be curious to see what’s changed this time around. I think Wanda Sykes is a great choice to set the tone.
WILLIAMSON: Last Comic Standing coming back is wonderful. Having standup comedy on primetime national television in any capacity is a great thing as it’s another opportunity for comedians to share their art with the world. LCS exposed non-comedy fans to Todd Glass, Andy Kindler, Greg Giraldo, Mike DeStefano, Gary Gulman, Myq Kaplan, Laurie Kilmartin, and dozens of other amazing comics.
PEPITONE: The networks can’t think of any shows. It’s just unbelievable to me how they’re bringing this shit back. They recycle shit constantly because they’re so scared to try new things or they’re just devoid of ideas, and this one thing got some ratings for them. “Oh, let’s bring this back.”
GLASER: For me, Last Comic Standing was the perfect introduction to working in television. I learned how to do an interview, get mic’d, what to wear on camera… little stuff I wouldn’t have learned in the clubs.
METZGER: It was free PR and I didn’t give a shit if I won as long as I looked funny to the relatively big audience. If you think something like that determines your real comedy worth then you’re as fucked as the contest.
JOHNAGIN: It’s a great time to be a comedian or to be a fan of comedy because there are countless ways to release and consume comedy. I think LCS is just a tiny part of that, and it’s good that it exists but it’s also good that there is only one show where people get to call in vote for the best comedian.