Who Calls The Comedy Shots?


Earlier today I added Curb My Enthusiasm to my Netflix queue. Now over the years I’ve watched numerous clips and scenes from the show but I realized I’ve never actually watched a full episode – so decided it was time I gave it a proper shot.

But then I got to thinking why I haven’t watched the show before – I mean it’s always received fantastic reviews, the clips I saw made me laugh, it’s HBO… but I think deep down the real reason is that I have a bit of a knee jerk reaction to anything that receives too much praise. Especially when it comes to comedy I’m even more wary because I think more than any other genre there’s a real prejudice and agenda about what is – and more crucially isn’t – funny. And it kind of irks me!

Now comedy is a very personal thing but I think more than any other genre it’s really reliant on who you are and the life you live. I’m a gay man and not wanting to stereotype myself – but I have what I would class as very gay taste in comedy. For me Will and Grace is funny. Sex and the City is funny. The Golden Girls will always remain funny. Ugly Betty used to be funny. And Glee is currently pretty funny. All have a pretty gay sensibility.

Unfortunately the mainstream media doesn’t take gay comedy very seriously – because the ‘cool’ comedy of today is like a high school clique that’s strictly by invite only. And a lot of my favorite shows just aren’t on the list.

What is on the list? 30 Rock. The Office. The Daily Show. The Colbert Report. Flight of the Conchords. Arrested Development. The Sarah Silverman Project. These are the shows it’s ‘safe’ and ‘okay’ to like. But are they really the funniest shows on TV? Maybe, maybe not. Do they reflect the subjective tastes of key tastemakers in the media? Undoubtedly.

So who puts this list together? Well again I hate to stereotype – but it’s basically white, middle class, college educated, urbanites – and mostly guys. The kind of people who edit magazines which inevitably champion these shows as the funniest stuff on TV – just look at any TV piece in the likes of Esquire, Details or GQ. Time Out has a literal orgasm at the mere mention of their names…

Collectively these men (and a few women) make up what I call the Comedy Clique – and strongly influence the conversation of what is and isn’t funny. But as someone who doesn’t necessarily share this sense of humor I must admit I find it quite frustrating. Nobody wants to be told their taste is invalid and that’s what these taste makers do. Now I’m not saying we should all be embracing According To Jim or Til’ Death… but come on – how about a little diversity here!

The comedy clique also dictates a few rules that all members must adhere to.

First you can never be too successful – because then you’re not cool. Arrested Development barely made it through three seasons, but its constant struggle to stay on the air had made it a martyr for the comedy clique – and is resulting in an upcoming movie (which let’s face it is going to flop quicker than you can say X Files 2)

Next rule – you have to be part of the approved ‘talent’ list. Later in the summer Kathy Griffin is back for another season of My Life On The D List. I’m a huge fan of Kathy’s – as are a lot of gay men – but Kathy isn’t on the list. She’s not ‘cool’ enough. Remember that famous Vanity Fair ‘Funny Women’ issue a couple of years back? They profiled virtually every comedienne in Hollywood, bar Kathy. Because of course Kathy isn’t on the list. She might sell out shows around America and have a long-running, Emmy winning reality show – but her humor appeals to gay men and women – so therefore she’s not part of the cool kids club. Joan Rivers is the same. Never will be part of the Clique.

Who is on the list? Well Steve Carrell and Tina Fey are the king and queen of this particular prom. They’re good looking, but not hunk or beauty queen attractive. They have their own shows that are only minor hits at best (remember can’t be too popular) and their humor is seen as smart – and the comedy clique loves smart because it reminds them how clever they themselves are.

Now I have nothing against these two guys at all. I’m not a huge fan of 30 Rock or The Office, but don’t actively dislike them. I just think they’re over-rated by the Comedy Clique. But Tina’s Sarah Palin skits on SNL were fantastic. Ditto Carrell’s awards show appearances. And in interviews and features they’re both very charming and likeable. But let’s not forget that between them these guys are also responsible for Baby Mama, Dan In Real Life, Evan Almighty and Get Smart – four of the un-funniest movies in recent memory. Conveniently the Comedy Clique draws a veil over these projects!

Also on the list? Amy Poehler, though if you can find anyone who actually watches Parks and Recreation and doesn’t live in New York or LA you’re doing well. Sarah Silverman, who proved at the 2007 MTV awards she has no understanding of the difference between mean and funny.  And anyone who’s ever had anything to do with Arrested Development, because don’t you know – it is the funniest TV show ever. Fact!

Conveniently no black comedians make the list. Chris Rock is closest but you’ll never hear the Comedy Clique championing someone like Wanda Sykes (they prefer faux lesbians like Sarah Silverman to the real deal).  And Tyler Perry is open to scorn, largely because his films are broad and hopeful – and for the Comedy Clique cynicism rules.

Next rule of the Comedy Clique? Clever trumps funny every time. Shows favored by the Comedy Clique have to be smart, because if people don’t find them funny – well they obviously aren’t smart enough to get the humor in the first place. Comedy Clique shows should leave you smiling – but never laughing hysterically. That would be just too broad. No joke is too obscure or knowing for this club.

Which brings us to subject matter – the final rule of the Comedy Clique. There are just certain subjects that will always work for the hipster brigade – and others that are strictly no no’s. Firstly shows should always focus on the underdog – just look at Flight of the Conchords or Arrested Development. Anyone who’s successful or popular is just ripe to be taken down. Remember cynicism rules!

Next, you can’t deal with anything frivolous – celebrity and fashion for example are for gay men and women. That’s why Chelsea Handler is liked, but not beloved, and why Kathy Griffin isn’t even a blip on the radar. Of course you can tackle fashion if you do it in a sneering, ironic way. Zoolander is seen by the Comedy Clique as one of the best movies ever made – but it’s because it’s white, straight men taking on fashion – and thus making fun of it. The condescension just drips off the screen. Sex and the City on the other hand gets dismissed as a ‘chick flick’ (while no one I read called The Hangover a ‘dick flick’?) – because it loves fashion and is unashamedly female.

To be a member of the Comedy Clique you also have to love certain types of music – and these songs will always be the soundtrack to favored shows and movies. I could barely get through 500 Days of Summer due to its Smiths’ obsession which, for me, made it feel like an expensively produced student film. The Comedy Clique crowd laps it up though!

Actually musically the Comedy Clique shares common ground with the Music Clique – the cool boys club that dictates what is – and isn’t – cool on the music front. For reference simply open up any end of year music guide in magazine like Esquire and Time Out. When they count down their Top 100 songs and albums of the year see how many you recognize, let alone like!

The Comedy Clique also loves to make fun of anyone outside of an urban capital. The Mid West is an easy target, so for that reason the Clique prefer to tackle the suburbs and attack middle class conformity. You can’t be cool and live in the suburbs – that’s the rule don’t you know. City equals hip, suburbs equals square.

So there you have it – just a few of the rules of the Comedy Clique. Do you agree? What makes you laugh and why? Feel free to weigh in – I’d love to hear your feedback…