Black Ops: 'Post-Racial' Comedy in the Age of Obama

In 2010, former troupe-mates Donald Glover and DC Pierson returned from Los Angeles to perform at The Creek and The Cave, in New York City. Glover was tossed a question from an audience member: What's it like working with Chevy Chase? In response, he described how Chase had delivered a 40-minute lecture to Saturday Night Live cast member Bobby Moynihan laying out the case for why Glover has to be homosexual, which he is not. "That's the only way a guy like Chevy Chase has of processing a black guy who looks like me, talks like me, dresses like me," said Glover on stage that night. "That's how alien I am to him."

There is good reason for Glover — for Black America as a whole — to seem alien. In the 2010-2011 season, there was only one black protagonist on broadcast television: the title role of The Cleveland Show, a black cartoon character voiced by Mike Henry, a white actor. But in the past year or so something has changed.

Baratunde Thurston wrote How To Be Black, which debuted early this year alongside Touré Neblett's Who's Afraid of Post-Blackness? and Patrice Evans' The Negropedia. Chris Rock anointed W. Kamau Bell as a successor of sorts, producing Bell's Totally Biased for FX, which just got renewed for a second season, joining the second season of Key & Peele, Comedy Central's promising replacement for the long-mourned savvy cult classic Chappelle's Show. READ MORE


What's Wrong with Comedy Central?

I have been writing about comedy for about seven years now — hi, 2005! — and, whenever I interview a comedian, almost without fail the conversation will end with something like “Don’t make me sound like a jerk” or “Oh man, I’m just now realizing how long we’ve been talking and everything I said.” There’s a lot of anxiety and even dread among comedians; that much is pretty common knowledge: the wounded self-esteems, the brittle egos, the chest-puffing aspiration. But the thing I’ve always liked most about comedians is their candor. My mother always told me that people who are into brutal honesty do it for the brutality, not the honesty; but candor is a virtue where comedians trump business executives, tech entrepreneurs, fashionistas, dramatic actors, professional athletes and politicians like nothing else. Comedians tell it like it is. So imagine my confusion when I called up a bunch of comedians and asked them to contribute their thoughts to this story. For the first time in all those years, over and over I heard “you can’t quote me, man” and “I don’t really think I can talk about this, not even anonymously” and the old-school flat-out “no comment.” There was also a lot of understandable community-oriented “I don’t want to step on any toes.” This is a story about Comedy Central.

We’re in the middle of an interesting moment for Comedy Central, given some recent noteworthy departures there, including former Director of Development Sam Grossman. As pilot season gears up, it’s a good time to ask: how did Comedy Central get to its current situation? READ MORE


Messin' with Texas: Why Doesn't SXSW Pay its Comedians?

Charlie Sotelo hasn't gotten much sleep this year, but that's true for him every January and February. Sotelo is the sole staffer handling the comedy division of South by Southwest, the ever-expanding music/tech/hipster Austin, TX hoedown and trade show.

This year his nights have been even more restless, after Duncan Trussell, a comedian who was invited to perform, publicly scolded the festival for not offering to pay his travel and lodging expenses through a series of YouTube videos, including a version of the "Hitler reacts" meme.

SXSW is not a comedy festival. There are no wristbands or badges to buy to see comedy shows; it's all free — provided you've already bought wristbands or badges to see other SXSW events. Comedy is the gift that comes with purchase, like a decoder ring at the bottom of a box of cereal. The festival, which began in 1987, has only included comedy since 2008. While it has a long history of rocketing musicians to fame (Hanson, John Mayer, James Blunt) and helping to popularize startups (Twitter, Foursquare), it has no such prestige with comedians' careers. READ MORE


Due West: A Roundtable Discussion on New York's Ongoing Comedy Exodus

It was inevitable that a city so saturated with comedians would stumble onto a storyline so unexpected from their jaded ironies and hipster quips. New York is in the middle of its own romcom and, true to form, the object of its affection is the very thing it always swore it hated: Los Angeles. But if New York is all about the bookish grad-schooly dry wit of, say, Jon Stewart and LA quintessence is the vain bubblegum blather of a Kardashian, then what kind of drama unfolds when the two lock eyes? Turns out: none.

This is not drama. Drama has mystery and tension, and what’s going on with these bicoastal bedfellows is actually pretty predictable and practiced, nothing new. What is new, though, is that so many comedians have moved out of New York in so few recent months. It’s not just that Conan moved out to LA or that The Onion is about to pack up and head to Chicago. It’s that the Del Close Marathon this year ran into booking problems precisely because too many of its regular performers were busy with LA’s TV production season (there’s talk of moving the marathon to earlier in the summer next year, in deference to LA). That bears repeating: In deference to LA.

There’s a gold rush! “This would be a good time for Brooklyn hipster stand-up comics out there to start bugging their agents about TV work,” declared New York. Some of the folks interviewed in this 3,000-mile-wide roundtable discussion were in the midst of moving out there while they were being interviewed. There are real consequences: What has this done to the scene in New York? And can all those new Los Angelenos really find superstardom? And how many people can Jason Mantzoukas convince to watch the documentary Touching The Void? Read on. READ MORE