Jesse David Fox has written a great essay for Vulture on how comedy is evolving, especially in light of new “comedy specials” like Hannah Gadsby’s Nanette:
“Comedy is always changing” was the one thing Federman wanted to make sure I remembered. It reminded me of my favorite line from I’m Dying Up Here, Showtime’s fictionalized drama about the 1970s L.A. comedy scene (talk about comedy being taken seriously!). After bombing at the show’s version of the Comedy Store, a Borscht Belt comedian (played by Judy Gold) a few generations older than the vanguard the show follows, says: “A hundred years from now, people are still gonna be listening to Beethoven and ooh’ing over Michelangelo, reading Shakespeare. But us? Jokes and shoulders, that’s what we are. Jokes for people to laugh at and shoulders for comics down the road to stand on … We’re just a faint echo in a joke told a hundred years from now.” It’s something I noticed working on the two editions of the 100 Jokes that Shaped Modern Comedy — every joke in history both built on what came before it and rendered it not as vital. The good news is, it’s not a zero-sum game. Tomorrow, John Mulaney isn’t going to go into Word, highlight all the punch lines in his act, press delete, and replace them with resigned sighs. And sure, the press materials for Amazon’s Forever say Yang and Hubbard literally told the staff to write fewer jokes, but a lot of those writers also work on The Good Place, and that show has a ton of jokes. There are still one-liner comedians today, 70 years after that fell out of fashion. But the progress will not be stopped. It is the only constant. Jokes and shoulders, that’s what comedy is. Well, maybe not jokes.