Last Thursday the controversial stand-up/reality show Last Comic Standing returned after a 4 year hiatus. While the show provides a primetime stage for underrated and under-seen stand-ups to perform their craft on network TV, the show is controversial because it’s in competition format, reducing it to something akin to that of American Idol (that gem of show that produces the next big “stars” with the same effectiveness as the US soccer program).
While the world is not free of the notion of comedy as a competition (festivals, shows, etc.), it’s a largely despised format that’s flawed logically for two reasons (that I feel like typing):
1.Comedy is subjective. Purely. Even music is subjective but it can be judged to an extent on a well agreed-upon scale, such as pitch or tone by a
ballpark majority of people. Not comedy. No one person, or three, can set a standard of, “This is what comedy is, this is good comedy, and this is bad comedy.” To do so discourages originality and creativity.
2. The Panel of Judges: How do you establish someone’s credibility at judging a stand-up contest? Being a stand-up is a key element, but shouldn’t that person still be regularly flexing that skillset? Doing stand-up in the eighties and focusing the rest of your life in other entertainment mediums or nut farms dulls your perspective. Comedy is ever changing and what’s considered groundbreaking, edgy, hacky, etc. changes year by year. The people best suited to know what’s killing at the height of today are the people doing it daily (… probably). The people competing on stage might be better suited than the judges (with exception of maybe Russell Peters). But also, your credibility is subjective too. Again, that’s comedy in a nutshell: it’s subjective. Good comedy cannot be defined, it is in the eye of the beholder. Who is to say they are an authority on comedy?
Ohh boy, enter Roseanne Barr in one corner… and Ben Kronberg in the other.
In the hatchet job of a clip seen around the world, Ben Kronberg performed a hilarious yet horribly edited set that was followed by a verbal barrage of (in my opinion) unfair and harsh criticism from the three judges, Barr, Peters, and Keenan Ivory Wayans. It’s not just that they weren’t in love with Ben’s comedy, it’s that they made wild accusations to make Ben seem like he was both bad at his job and an arrogant prick. The night veered from a formal critique to an outright slap in the face.
The premiere featured two rounds of invitationals. Some comics had their entire set aired from beginning to end, and some only got one joke shown. NY comedian Ben Kronberg was given neither privilege. Kronberg’s set was chopped up and edited in an orchestrated way intent on making the innovative comic fill a role every reality show needs: a villain.
Kronberg opened his set with a bit in which he flicks through his phone for a few seconds, then through his signature notebook, then looks up at the audience and says, “What? Like you guys start working right when you get to your jobs?” A solid bit I’ve seen the man do to much success on occasion… and thank God I have, because anybody watching Ben for the first time didn’t get the same luxury.
While LCS edited some comics sets by cutting out entire jokes (understandable and forgivable), LCS edited out parts of Ben’s opener. Jumping through Ben’s set-up of scrolling through his notes and superimposing a time-elapsed counter, whilst jump cutting between him and the judges seemingly bored faces took all the momentum and power from the joke (that, trust me, is there). To cut up a single bit, and to add a mocking time-elapsed counter is to demean the joke before it’s even over, and the cut-aways to the seemingly unimpressed judges decided whether the joke was good or not for you. It’s not NBC’s choice. It’s your choice, your view on whether a joke is funny or not. The editor tried to take that away from the audience at home. Everything about the editing was setting up Kronberg for a fall.
The LCS editors then in turn jumped wildly through the rest of his set, narrowing it down to a minute and two jokes, then opened the floor to the judges in which, led by Roseanne Barr, unleashed a wave of criticism.
Besides Roseanne saying Ben “wasted a lot of time up there,” (odd thought, as the payout worked handsomely in his favor) what really irked me (and many other comics) was Roseanne saying she felt Ben, “was disrespectful to the people in front of [him], disrespectful to the audience.” In what way was he disrespectful? He was telling a joke (a clean joke mind you), and everything he did was in an effort to entertain and make that audience laugh. That’s your sole purpose as a stand-up. That’s what you do, that’s your goal on stage. Ben didn’t “wait to start his set,” he started it the second he stopped walking and set his feet in front of that microphone. What would have actually been disrespectful is if he half-assed his set, just kind of lazily going through the motions, or did way under his time, or told the audience to “go f*ck themselves” for not laughing at a joke (all things I’ve seen done by comics before). There was nothing disrespectful about his set, but rather, in the dramatic ironic twist, Roseanne, the judges, and LCS were the true disrespectful parties. Kronberg was just a comic doing what a comic does.
And that’s the thing, back to subjectivity, the show audience did laugh! The joke worked. It also worked every other time I’ve seen Ben do this joke live from one of the most popular venues in Brooklyn, to a DIY alt venue in Georgia. The joke was even good enough to open with in his Comedy Central Half Hour, and again, the audience agreed and then some (it’s an applause break getter). The man knows what he’s doing people!
Kronberg didn’t take this barrage lying down, and ended up being the most real thing on the show that night. Those comics are put in a difficult situation: performing comedy and then immediately being judged in front of the audience you just performed for. It’s like doing comedy then having your Youtube comments read out loud for the room to hear… and Ben rode that sinking ship down with some dignity.
— Jacqueline Novak (@jacquelinenovak) May 23, 2014
Well, Barr didn’t like being played with (it’s surprisingly easier to be the judge not the judgee. Who knew!) calling Ben’s remarks an act of arrogance. “Well you know comedy better than me I guess,” Barr retorted after one of Kronberg’s many attempts to save face and defend his set. Again, our good friend irony smacks us hard in the face in a way even Alanis Morissette can understand. It’s such an arrogant claim to say you know comedy more than somebody else, as is being annoyed or insulted at the idea that a working comic could possibly be in some measurable way better or more knowledgeable than you. Again, unlike Roseanne, Ben does stand-up on a daily basis. He most likely does have a good idea of what works and what doesn’t because he is regularly engaged in it. He has to assess his and other’s comedy every day. Unfortunately, those early exchanges happened to be the the nicest things said about Kronberg. Roseanne went on to tell Ben to “go f*ck [himself.]”