What is Post-Comedy?

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What is Post-Comedy? According to a recent article from Vulture, ”like post-rock, post-comedy uses the elements of comedy (be it stand-up, sitcom, or film) but without the goal of creating the traditional comedic result — laughter — instead focusing on tone, emotional impact, storytelling, and formal experimentation. The goal of being “funny” is optional for some or for the entirety of the piece.”

For me, it’s people who are bothered by a thing, have an issue, and that issue makes it so that they can’t enjoy themselves. Thus, they stack that burden onto the medium of comedy because apparently being a poet is, uh, you know, a little too gay. Like Judd Apatow, his Twitter feed is very post-comedy. ;) ;)

On the surface, it kind of just sounds like an episode of Louie. Not really outwardly funny, weirdly toned, and void of any sense of joy. But what’s the difference between that definition of Post-Comedy and... say... Twin Peaks? Is it because David Lynch doesn’t label himself a comedian and Donald Glover has in the past? Does Wes Craven directing Music of the Heart make it post-horror?

There are no strict terms as to what factors into being ‘post-comedy’ or not ‘post comedy’, to the point of making it a near senseless term. Much of the more cinematic ‘post-comedy’ would have simply fallen under ‘horror’ or ‘black comedy’ only five years ago. The thread that arguably sets it apart is that a good variety of the recent ‘post-comedy’ has been specifically concentrated on tackling social issues.

Now, is post-comedy inherently political? I would argue that it is not. Though being that we live in highly charged political times, it has frequently taken that form.

Take Hari Kondabolu for example. A man with low self-esteem, probably because he’s a fat dork with glasses. Hari was allegedly a comedian before funneling his depression into activism. As of this past year or so, the most pressing issue in Hari’s life has been ridding the world of Apu from The Simpsons and making a paycheck from that. The result was a relatively popular TruTV documentary and... being looked at as a good guy? I guess that’s what people want most nowadays with all the rapists running around, I don’t know. 

Jim Jefferies was one of the funniest comedians in the world only six years ago. His comedy act was essentially made up of stories about drug fueled benders, but he did have one bit about gun control. Well... that Jim, he really got off on the gun control bit. I have a hunch it made him feel smart and powerful. Thanks to that bit, he’s been brought into the halo of Time Warner sanctioned Jon Stewart clones, void of a unique personality and probably sweating every morning, noon, and night that nobody digs up clips from his old podcast or appearances on Opie & Anthony.

This trajectory is not uncommon. As a matter of fact, it is rampant among comedians. And while Hollywood as a whole has started to be looked at with daggering eyes by conservatives and, really, anybody with good taste — the loudest voices coming out of California seem to be those of comedians. They go on a stage, they captivate their audience with humor tinted observations, and suddenly they feel like God. Perhaps their audience enters the arena a blank slate and walks out with a slightly skewed angle on one of the highlighted topics of the comedian’s set. Many comics, consciously or not, have employed their humor as a tool to affect change.

George Carlin, from the ‘60s to his final HBO special in the late aughts, was a consistently funny voice and has often been cited as one of — if not the greatest — stand up comedian of all time. His act was blatantly partisan, and took societal norms and governmental administrations to task in both honest and common sense ways, which made for great joke telling. But more importantly to that, he wielded his humor as a sword against power structures when the vast majority of comedians did not. That is what set Carlin, and Lenny Bruce before him, apart from the rest. The ironic thing about this is, while seemingly attempting to emulate the man by means of Jon Stewart, Carlin is rarely brought up nowadays. When you do see him, it’s usually a meme with a quote and his picture in black and white, probably being shared by some aging GenX leftist. You know, the same people today that would ‘cancel’ him over any of his comments about Islam.

However, the effect of a guy like Carlin and former Daily Show host Jon Stewart (during his heyday), is this current mingling of telling jokes and ‘speaking truth to power’. Using humor to tear down oppressive systems and stick it to the man. “It’s not a joke unless it punches up” — whatever that means. The result of that is that humor is now viewed as a political matter. However, that is the simplistic take on this issue. It is not a political matter. The right-wing uses the same playbook. When the fuck did you ever hear Dave Rubin, comedian, tell a joke? But let’s make one thing clear — it’s not a 50/50 divide. 85% of the comedians pushing this drivel are trying to force left-wing goggles onto the culture. Maybe on Earth 2 unhinged comedian Owen Benjamin is the talk of the town the same way Nanette is to all these painfully boring Twitter journalists. I don’t know, and wouldn’t want to know because I’d never want to live there. Hell, I don’t even want to live here. This essay is actually going to conclude with me opening a manila envelope and blood pouring out of my nose.

The reality though, for these comedians that believe you can inspire change through humor, is... that they’re right. They are one-hundred percent correct. Humor is an effective tool in changing minds and patterns of thought. What they failed to take into account though, is that this only works if you are funny and if there is an anticipation of you being funny.

Now you say to yourself, humor is subjective. The person who finds Yes Dear star Anthony Clark funny may not find Anthony Jeselnik to be their cup of tea. Which is true. But you still view the two of them within a similar cylinder, as different as they may be. From the outside, you look at them and make the assumption that, in their own ways, their primary goal in life is to entertain people. That can no longer be said of Stephen Colbert, Sarah Silverman, Michael Ian Black, Jimmy Kimmel, Steven Crowder, Owen Benjamin, Samantha Bee, Seth Rogen, Dennis Miller, Jim Carrey, Kumail Nanjiani, Amy Schumer… you know I’m reading this list to myself and starting to wonder if half of these people were ever funny to begin with. Point is, their scales have tipped. 

I would like to make it clear also, because up to this point, it seems like I am condemning comedy that takes an angle on politics or social issues. This is not the case. There is nothing inherently wrong with serious matters intertwining with comedy. Just like there is nothing inherently wrong with reading a novel that has some kind of underlying message to it about the environment or religion or whatever it may be. It becomes a problem when that ingredient overwhelms the end product. Maybe you like two sugars in your coffee? Two sugars? Well how about half your glass is liquid syrup. Disgusting Dunkin Donuts syrup. I hate that shit. But some people like it. And those people usually get diabetes and pass away at a young age. 

It seems as if ‘post-comedy’ has become a catch-all term for comedians who no longer want to engage in what they’ve become recognized for, but still feel the urge to drop a joke on occasion. Perhaps I am wrong about this. But when the likes of Drew Michael and Hannah Gadsby, both of whom released specials this year that have been branded with that term, are the poster children of your budding comedy movement, it’s hard to see it as anything else.