Some days, like today, I wish the internet didn’t exist. Being a member of the last generation which remembers what life was like pre-internet, I can say with certainty ideas like unfunny “post-comedy” wouldn’t have been a thing were it not for too many bored pseudo-intellectuals trying to impress each other on the net. But here we are. Vulture is exploring the idea of “Post-Comedy.” It’s exactly what it sounds like. They, among others in the comedy sphere, are trying to say comedy shouldn’t always be funny. This, as well as post-comedy, is not a joke:
Comedians and comedy writers are increasingly pushing the bounds of what it means for something to be a comedy in the most basic sense, rewiring the relationship between comedies and jokes. So what is comedy without jokes? It’s Post-Comedy.
I’ll do my best to boil this piece down to its most basic elements. But first, allow me to boil down comedy to its most basic elements. Comedy, especially standup comedy, is meant to make the audience laugh via jokes and amusing stories. That’s what comedy is. Comedy makes people laugh. If what you do in a standup isn’t funny, further if it’s not designed to be funny, how can it possibly be sorted into the comedy category, or even assigned a “Post-Comedy” designation?
Vulture bends itself into a pretzel for the simpletons to understand:
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.
Comedy relies heavily on timing and being relatable. It often employs a lot of truth to comedic (funny) effect. Robin Williams giving the history of golf, for example, is hysterical. But say Williams had a different goal for his story about golf. Not to entertain, but to explore the pain of his life. The routine would not be comedy. And it wouldn’t be “post-comedy” comedy.
Call me a simpleton, call me a hater, but words mean things. Dramas are dramatic. Suspense films are suspenseful. A horror story should leave you horrified. Just as it would be silly to call a non-scary story “post-horror” even though it uses the same elements of timing employed by horror stories, so too is it silly to label unfunny stand-up bits as “post-comedy.”
The Vulture piece relies on the Netflix special Nanette wherein an Australian comic Hannah Gadsby delivers a monologue, to build their post-comedy case. Full disclosure, I’ve not seen Nanette. But based on what I’ve heard said about it, though the routine may be touching, dramatic, emotional, or what have you, it isn’t funny. Just because a comedian delivered a performance on stage doesn’t make that performance a comedy show. Anymore than a dancer marching in lockstep performs a dance. A weight-lifter twirling a baton is not lifting weights. You’re getting my drift.
There’s a reason for this insistence unfunny comedy should still be considered some form of comedy. Late night shows are losing their funny. Along with their ratings. The medium of television, headed up by Netflix and other streaming services, is making all fields more competitive. But late night shows and other comedy specials, like Amy Schumer’s Leather Special, aren’t losing popularity because of the shifting medium. They’re losing popularity because they’re not funny. Jimmy Kimmel ranting about health care, crying giant crocodile tears isn’t “post-comedy.” It’s not comedy at all. Instead, Kimmel is a comedian (or former comedian) leveraging his title and perceived influence to deliver a lecture on how Americans should behave. Which is neither comedic nor popular. Amy Schumer has also strayed from her comedic roots on telling jokes to politics. Then continually riffing on her promiscuity and bodily functions. Which, sorry to say, is both unoriginal and gross.
Trying to redefine comedy is right up there with trying to redefine everything else. It’s fine if a comedian wants to take a break, tell their life story for dramatic effect rather than a funny one. But it’s not comedy. It’s drama. A monologue. A touching life story. If written, a memoir. Biography. But not a comedy.
While I hate to be a ball-buster (not really), I must insist we leave words to their definitions. Comedy is comedic. Dramas are dramatic. Horrors are horrific. Masculinity is masculine. Femininity is feminine. Et cetera. Just because you want to be considered something for [pick your reason] doesn’t mean the definition of that something should shift to accommodate your vanity. If you want to be comedic, be funny. If you want to be dramatic, be dramatic. If you want to be masculine, be masculine. If you want to be relevant, try changing the definition of words.
We need to draw the line somewhere. I’m drawing it at language.