State of standup

I’ve been watching a bunch of standup clips on YouTube and Instagram. Most of them involuntarily because they’re injected into my feed. Either the platform algorithms are working overtime, or there is a crisis-level glut of standup comedy, or possibly both.

Technically speaking, there are more people getting on a stage these day and performing standup routines. Whether they’re actually doing comedy or being funny is up for debate.

What I’m seeing is a lot of people executing different formats of standup they’ve seen somewhere before. Watching standup lately feels like seeing cover bands that focus only replicating the sound instead of interpreting great songs for themselves.

I binged a bunch of clips from “Don’t Tell Comedy” and the emerging patterns of topics and styles were noticeable right away. It feels more like watching Toastmasters than comedy.

When it comes to style, people have clearly been told to do something that’ll make people remember you. Dress funny. Talk funny. Or be a character. For me, the best indicator of a comedian is if I can remember one of their jokes or stories. Because if it’s good, I will most likely repeat it to someone else.

I’ve seen a lot of comics who can get a laugh out of me and the audience. But later, I can’t remember a single thing they said in their act.

As for topics, there’s a lot of people doing the same things…

Personal appearance Most of their material is self-deprecating and focused on how they look. It’s a safe gimmick because audiences will let you get away with anything as long as you’re making fun of yourself. It’s usually their opener, but some comics have made this 100% of their act by creating some dork character and putting them in implausible scenarios.

Racism That’s it. That’s the punchline. Make a bunch of jokes about stereotypes of you own culture and get an easy laugh. Then accuse the audience of being racist for laughing. It’s weak because it’s a crutch. What else do you expect the audience to do? It’s like Wayne’s World when he says, “a sphincter says what?”

Gender Younger people are more comfortable with the concept of gender fluidity than their parents. However, they haven’t quite reached maturity about. I hear a lot of younger comics make the same lame jokes about preferred pronouns and trans people as people over 40. Younger comics clearly think they can joke about it because they understand it. The olds can’t because they’re ignorant. I think these jokes have less to do with gender identity and more to do with generational identity. I’d say to the olds, let the younger people have this one.

Drugs I’m not sure why this is even a popular topic anymore. Drugs, like sex, were taboo topics 50 years ago. If you don’t take recreational drugs, you surely know someone who does, and it’s not a shock. I guess weed is just the younger generation’s booze.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m not a curmudgeon. There are plenty of ways to be funny with the aforementioned topics. I’m not even saying the bits I’ve seen aren’t funny. I’m just calling attention to a pattern. My only critique is these once controversial topics are actually quite safe now. A lot of comics aren’t bringing anything new to the table when they discuss them. It’s easy to lose interest in a topic when you see the same takes over an over again. That’s probably why this, like all other trends fizzle out slowly. It takes a while for everyone else to see the pattern.