The Rise and Fall of Stand Up Comedy

Directed by Aries Spears


In 1975 there were only ten comedy clubs. There were some in LA, a few in New York, and a few scattered in-between. Around 1986, something happened. Comedy became increasingly popular. A&E introduced an hour long special called, A&E’s An Evening At The Improv. Within less than a decade we went from ten full time comedy clubs, to almost 350. Part of comedy’s popularity was because of the Tonight Show. Performers like Robin Williams were becoming huge draws for the Holy Zoo in San Francisco. Leno was working the circuit in New York. Even newcomers were getting decent paychecks. The increased number of clubs meant more competition, and a need for headliners, features, and openers. And, the market responded.

1989: The Comedy Boom.  Bill Cosby is a famous story teller. Paul Reiser is headlining in New York. Eddie Murphy is the next Richard Pryor. And Chris Rock has already decided he wants to be the next Eddie Murphy. A & E’s an Evening At The Improv plays three times a day, every day. Some people watch it all three times, and then video record it and watch it again. HBO has the young comedian’s special. Showtime has their version of the same show. And Cinemax, handles every comic whose not good enough to get an HBO or Showtime special.

1992: Comics have gotten their own sitcoms. Others have dropped the club scene and began playing auditoriums and amphitheaters. Saturday Night Live still didn’t have writers. Robin Williams was making movies. Sad to say, so did a lot of other comics played the “Road to Fame” Game and failed

1994: Most comics who didn’t have their own sitcom, wanted one. Big Name comics like Roseanne, Bill Cosby, and Robin Williams didn’t need to play comedy clubs to earn a living. That really hurt the clubs Big names comics stopped playing clubs, club owners used talen that were not ready to fill up spots. People started noticing they could watch better comics on TV .  TV added the Comedy Channel to the cable box. That’s when clubs started closing left and right. In 1993 a quarter of the comedy clubs nation were shut down. Phoenix had 5 comedy clubs, only 2 are left.  The biggest one, the Improv, was constantly on the verge of bankruptcy.

By 1995, the Improvs in New York, San Diego, and Chicago had all closed.  Headliners were taking jobs performing for corporate executives. Others took jobs as radio DJs. And a few other comics ended up asking McDonald’s if needed entertaining people to work the drive-through microphone. TV saturation has to end. Stand-up comedy can become fresh again. That will only happen if people are not overwhelmed with it every night. Fortunately, this has already began. It would also help a lot if big name comics keep playing the comedy clubs. One night with The BIG NAME people in town could draw a lot of people who don’t usually support comedy clubs. Finally, the next generation of super-comics have to return to the industry and quit acting rich.



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