I generally like Chris Rock, but he said something in the “Vanity Fair” inaugural comedy issue that really got my goat. When asked if he thinks comedy is better today, Rock responded: “The previous generation’s comedians were better because they had to make everybody laugh.”
I have several problems with this. First of all, how does he know that these old-timey comedians truly made everybody laugh? Today, anybody with a computer can find literally thousands of comedians to peruse at their leisure and decide which they like best. To contrast, in Rock’s “Golden Age,” you could only watch comedians on Johnny Carson. Comedy tastes are much more developed now than they were when everybody had no choice but to watch the same half dozen comedians. I once handed over a pretty fat stack of cash to watch Bill Cosby tell long stories on stage in his sweats, and I only laughed twice. This is not to say that a huge demographic does not find Bill Cosby hilarious, but as a stand up, he simply is not my taste.
Secondly, who cares? If each individual looking for a laugh can find a comedian with material perfectly suited to his or her tastes and interests, isn’t this something to celebrate? Shouldn’t a comedian focus on finding his or her own voice and style and not on pleasing the maximum amount of people? If you want to watch a set exclusively about costumed cats on calendars, then I recommend Michelle Wolf. If you want to hear about Comic Con and Firefly, look up Mike Lawrence. If you really want to hear jokes about masturbating in American Apparel changing rooms, then you are kind of a disgusting person, but boy, have you found your match with Kurt Metzger. Sure, an audience of more than a few thousand total will probably never see most of these comedians, but to their fans, they are the funniest people in the world, even Metzger.
Personally, I am obsessed with a little-known comedian named Nate Bargatze, who is from Nashville and tells odd jokes about growing up with a father who worked as a professional clown and magician. Do I partially love him because he is from Tennessee, and I like whenever he mentions something geographically specific to our shared region of origin? Absolutely. But I also love his material, which highlights his strange life and even stranger observations, his delivery, his voice, his intelligence, his timing — -which is impeccable — and his love for McDonald’s. I laugh at every one of his jokes, and I would much rather embrace this than wish he were more universally appealing.
Chris Rock, you have it all wrong. I would rather watch ten comics and find one I truly love than see Bill Cosby live again. I wish all the success in the world for Nate, but if he doesn’t make it big because there are too many other comedians dividing the attention of the comedy audience, I don’t see that as a problem; the more people who get to do what they love, and find people who enjoy it, the better.