Hello, comedy fans! In a world where one percent of the world’s richest people snagged 82% of the wealth created last year and three men are wealthier than the bottom 50% of the US population combined, it’s time to take the edge off with some comedy news! Unfortunately, like most things these days it’s a good news/bad news scenario. Let’s get into it.
Netflix Widens the Field
Netflix, the rapidly metastasizing media behemoth that’s planning to spend $8 billion on programming this year (which I discussed last week), announced that it’s going to start releasing 15-minute standup specials. This is in addition to the 30-minute specials it began releasing last year, as well as the lavish amounts it has spent on household names like Chappelle, Seinfeld and CK. Netflix is committed to owning the streaming standup space by releasing a new special every week, and money is apparently no object—Louie alone got $40 million for two hour-long specials, the second of which is now canceled. Whoopsie!
Despite Netflix’s unnerving consolidation of comedy capital, a series of 15-minute specials is a damn good development. Fifteen minutes is enough time to get a good feel for a comic, and it’s enough time for the comic to toy with ideas and spread themselves out with a fully realized chunk of material. It’s also the standard length of a showcase set at most “A” clubs in New York and LA, and it’ll provide an entry point for emerging comics working their way up the ranks to that prestigious hour-long special.
Even better, exactly half of the 16 performers slated to release their first batch of quarter-hours are women! This news didn’t go unnoticed:
However, let’s not cut the cake at the equity party just yet. Last week comedian Mo’Nique called for a boycott of Netflix following the paltry sum they presented her for a possible special. She took to Instagram to point out she was offered a fraction of the money ($500k) that Amy Schumer ($13 million), Dave Chappelle ($20 million) and Chris Rock ($20 million) were paid. As an Academy Award winner who’s been on television continuously since 1999, Mo’Nique has a good case to make for herself. She called out Netflix for color bias and gender bias, and Wanda Sykes backed her up on Twitter, saying she was offered even less. So once again, as we consider the dazzling array of new avenues open to comics on the come-up, it’s worth noting some of the same old showbiz mechanisms at work.
The Curious Case of Owen Benjamin, Butthole
I’ve been following the ideological confluence of “free speech” comics and Trumpian edgelords since Pepe was a tadpole, so I’ve taken interest in the career trajectory of Owen Benjamin. I was only vaguely aware of him as another basic-bitch white dudebro comic with “strong” opinions, but he’s recently emerged as a darling of the alt-right, taking predictably “inflammatory” stands on liberals, trans rights and the sad plight of the poor white guy. It’s been instructive to watch him become radicalized on Twitter over the past year, gradually tilting his material more towards the 4Chan crowd and garnering coverage on right-wing media outlets like Breitbart, Twitchy and Daily Wire.
Benjamin has lost work for the content of his comedy and his tweets, a development that’s set off alarm bells among the type of people who live for signs of white male persecution. Last year, the University of Connecticut canceled a gig with Benjamin over his views on trans children, and one can assume his reputation will continue to precede him now that he’s “out.” Considering I’ve signed contracts to perform at colleges that stipulated things like “no profanity” and “no sexual content,” I can’t understand how comics like Benjamin expect to be able to dabble in textbook transphobia with no repercussions.
Either way, Benjamin has to find new audiences for his brand of comedy, and thus we saw him on the dais the other night with some of the leading Obergruppenführers of the troll brigade at their “Night for Freedom” in Manhattan: rape apologist Mike Cernovich, Proud Boy founder Gavin McInnes and pseudo-philosopher creep Stefan Molyneux. Amid this braintrust, Benjamin seemed tentative, overmatched, outshined. You can almost see him mentally retracing his steps to figure out how he went from being a nationally televised standup to the placeholder panelist on a widely ridiculed alpha-douche wankfest. His is a fascinating career trajectory that could only happen in 2018. It’ll be interesting to see how it works out for him.
Onstage Assault in South Carolina
To round out this mixed bag of comedy news, we have a video from this weekend showing the vicious attempted assault of a comedian onstage at the Comedy House in Columbia, South Carolina:
— ment nelson (@mentnelson) January 22, 2018
The assailant, in tan pants with long dreads, attempts to attack comedian Steve Brown in the middle of his performance, first with his fists, then with the mic stand, and finally by throwing the stool at him. Amazingly, more than 30 seconds transpire before security finally shows up onstage to trundle off the attacker. (Note to comedy club management: Do your damn job!)
Brown later posted a video in which he explained that he had no interaction with the attacker before the man leapt onstage—this wasn’t a heckler-roast gone sideways—and that he still has no idea what set the man off. However, Brown has since removed his video, which makes me wonder if the whole thing was a pre-planned attempt to go viral, or if Brown is now sitting back to consider his legal options. Either way, it’s a shocking reminder just how scary live comedy can be. And it can happen here.