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Comedy

Why Online Comedy Fests Can't Beat Live Laughs

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Tue, May 28, 2013 at 8:00 AM

click to enlarge Seth Rogen and Sarah Silverman get wild on the web -- and decide to play a pirated version of Star Trek: Into Darkness at YouTube Comedy Week's The Big Live Comedy Show - YOUTUBE/GETTY
  • YouTube/Getty
  • Seth Rogen and Sarah Silverman get wild on the web -- and decide to play a pirated version of Star Trek: Into Darkness at YouTube Comedy Week's The Big Live Comedy Show
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"The internet is like the wild west! It's totally unregulated so we thought it would be cool to see how far we can go without any consequences."

Those were Sarah Silverman's infamous words at The Big Live Comedy Show, the two-hour livestream event that kicked off YouTube's Comedy Week, an online fest that proved to be an exercise in dental surgery, especially for anyone sifting through several haystacks of monotonous material. YouTube's Comedy Week posted from May 19-25 in the wake of Comedy Central's also-ran #ComedyFest, which is best described as a labyrinth of one-liners that took place entirely on Twitter from April 29-May 3 (with the exception of a livestream opener comprised of Judd Apatow and Carl Reiner elbowing Mel Brooks to embrace the social platform).

I'm with the chorus of naysayers who scratched their heads over these low octane stunts: Why host an online comedy festival when one occurs every day of the week?

With all being said and done, neither festival produced mass-appealing viral clips a la Funny or Die's Landlord or UCBComedy's BP Spills Coffee -- something every comedy festival should have.

On any given day, Funny or Die can kick both festivals in the pants simply because the site curates its front page, knows its demo, mines L.A.'s next generation of progressive comics (like Allan McLeod) and only gives viewers so much to eat in one sitting; all the while exposing the hysterical underbelly of our bubble gum society (Lindsay Lohan's eHarmony profile remains a timeless pisser).

YouTube threw everything and the kitchen sink on its site, despite all efforts to spotlight particular events each day. Much of it was derivative of either The Lonely Island (participants of the event), Weird Al Yankovic or the old Dick Clark-Ed McMahon NBC show TV's Bloopers and Practical Jokes.

Though YouTube's lineup included heavy hitters like Seth Rogen, Vince Vaughn and Tim & Eric, what was significantly lacking were the presence of such revolutionaries like UCB's Joe Wengert, who in my mind is the heir to Fred Armisen's absurdist crown; modern day Boston-bred vaudevillians The Walsh Brothers; and Asterios Kokkinos, whose Admiral Ackbar viral vids are ripe enough for any Conan episode. Knock-knock YouTube: Upload these guys next time.

click to enlarge "I saw your profile pic. Get well soon." -- Jeffrey Ross during #ComedyFest's 'Roast Me' session. - COMEDY CENTRAL
  • Comedy Central
  • "I saw your profile pic. Get well soon." -- Jeffrey Ross during #ComedyFest's 'Roast Me' session.

But as hastily assembled as YouTube's Comedy Week appeared, it outshined Comedy Central's #ComedyFest. The most glaring case in point: You can actually relive YouTube's fest because it's on archived video. Much of #ComedyFest took place as panels on Twitter --- and if you weren't scrolling at the time of their posting, re-reading them won't make that much sense. I typically tweet while I'm on the toilet and unfortunately the primetime schedule of #ComedyFest didn't coincide with my clock.

I totally get this laugh experiment as a brand extension for Comedy Central, in terms of syncing distracted young males with its televised programming. Celeb tweeting, however, can be quite guarded and glib. There were some candid moments that leaked through when an irate @asdddsyk6raf railed against Comedy Central President of Programming Kent Alterman, writing "@ComedyCentral Fuck you, no pitches. You give trashbags like Kroll and Schumer their own shitty shows, you can give me one," to which the suit politely answered, "Sold! Great idea and delivered with real grace." Still, while Twitter is a blessed place for quick quips, it's the last place for a festival that's meant to be in 4-D.

click to enlarge Those were the days: The Larry Sanders Show reunites at the 2006 U.S. Comedy Arts Festival in Aspen. - USCAF/GETTY
  • USCAF/Getty
  • Those were the days: The Larry Sanders Show reunites at the 2006 U.S. Comedy Arts Festival in Aspen.

Nowadays a fire-breathing, live comedy festival is especially important, since HBO divorced itself from the U.S. Comedy Arts Festival in 2007. USCAF, held in Aspen, Colorado, doubled as both Sundance and the Oscars for burgeoning and established comedians and was organized by the creme de la creme in the comedy industry. Comedians in L.A. during the September-December frame were always on edge as they were being scouted. For them, a USCAF spotlight meant they'd arrived, and for those vets headlining there, it meant that they were still established. Those who succeeded in keeping Aspen in stitches, returned home to talent and development meetings. USCAF (before its Vegas hand off to TBS) closed its curtains when Chris Albrecht, a true comedy connoisseur, left HBO as chairman in 2007. Rumors swirled that the festival overhead was always too big, but who cared -- it was a platinum party for the genre. Perhaps Albrecht will one day resurrect it via his new post at Starz.

Up next: Five funniest parts of both online comedy festivals

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