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Letters to Both Sides
July 29, 2012 11:43 AM   Subscribe

Patton Oswalt’s Letters to Both Sides - Oswalt addresses "all of the comedians in the room" and "all of the gatekeepers" at Montreal’s Just For Laughs 2012 about living in a living in a "post-Louie world".
posted by Artw (89 comments total) 20 users marked this as a favorite

 
I don't get how a bright funny guy like Patton Oswalt cant pretend that King of Queens wasn't anything more than terrible, awful dreck. People's blindspots for stuff they did, or stuff their friends did, when otherwise they are clearly talented and insightful is sorta a captivating thing. Because, jesus, that show was the blandest tiredest crap you'd ever want to avoid seeing.
posted by xmutex at 11:46 AM on July 29, 2012 [8 favorites]


Did he say anywhere that it wasn't dreck? That doesn't seem to be the point - just that it was a lucky early break for him.
posted by gottabefunky at 11:55 AM on July 29, 2012 [4 favorites]


I don't hear him saying it's not. $$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$.

I have gotten paid really nice amounts of money for creating tedious, unimaginative software. More money than I could have gotten paid for doing really interesting stuff. So I don't go around bad-mouthing the people I worked for. Oswalt is that times 1000.
posted by benito.strauss at 11:56 AM on July 29, 2012 [3 favorites]


I beg to differ xmutex. I am kind of a comedy nerd and I actually think KoQ was kind of awesome and hilarious. Eyes, beholders, etc.
posted by tristeza at 11:58 AM on July 29, 2012 [5 favorites]


he has spoken eloquently on the subject of artistic merit vs. work for a paycheck, but here he is tailoring his remarks for a professional trade audience. & from what I could tell, KoQ was probably the smartest of the "Normal/Fat Guy with Implausibly Attractive Wife" shows.
posted by klapaucius at 12:01 PM on July 29, 2012 [5 favorites]


The gatekeepers one is so spot-on. Between the rise of the YouTube auteur and spectacular failures like network Olympics coverage, the cable behemoths just keep digging that hole deeper.

Also I think he's just giving a little fist-bump to the other writers on KoQ for being funny in the room. Every line of dialogue on My Fat Dumb Husband flavor of the month show can't be gold. Due in part to the people referenced in the gatekeepers letter.
posted by last night a dj saved my life at 12:03 PM on July 29, 2012 [1 favorite]


Michael Caine starred in Jaws: The Revenge. Here is what he had to say regarding that movie and the issue of artistic merit vs. work for a paycheck:

"I have never seen it [the film], but by all accounts it is terrible. However, I have seen the house that it built, and it is terrific!"
posted by flarbuse at 12:13 PM on July 29, 2012 [47 favorites]


I listen to or read this keynote every year along with Kindler's State of the Industry talk. Comedy has been going in some crazy directions and it's not because the jokes are that different but because the audience, the whole idea of the audience being 1000 superfans and not whoever might be turning on their TV and watching your special because it's after that one popular show they like to watch. People have talked a lot about the sort of Jonathan Coulton thing where really you just need a dedicated group of people who are really into your thing, it doesn't even need to be that many relative to TV viewers, and you can make a decent living and people can feel that they have a real connection and everyone comes out doing okay. The comedy industry is one place where the people who have figured this out are thriving. And it doesn't mean always being a just-getting-by comedian either.

When people talk to Kevin Hart who is now one of the top billing comedians out there selling out the most shows, he talks about how he spent a lot of time just doing what the politicians call "building his base" where he got people on mailing list every time he played a show and got people sorted and let them know next time he was going to be in town and he kept doing good shows and people kept showing up, more and more of them.

A lot of those little road movie tours [Blue Collar is the one a lot of people know about, but there's also other good ones like The Axis of Evil tour and Conan's Legally Prohibited from Being Funny on Television Tour and The Original Kings of Comedy] have been real springboards for that sort of thing, and have the low-cost-high-impact effect that you used to need to get from Carson or Letterman [although Letterman and Ferguson and Leno all still showcase comedians].

I think this is all going hand in hand with the Olympics/NBC discussions from the other thread. The people involved know the scene has changed. The people who used to be in charge are not twigging that they're not so in charge anymore. I'm happy that Patton seems to be growing into someone with insight into these sorts of things.
posted by jessamyn at 12:20 PM on July 29, 2012 [10 favorites]


If you think that we’re somehow going to turn on you later if what we do falls on its face, and blame you because we can’t take criticism? Let me tell you one thing: We have gone through years of open mics to get where we need to get. Criticism is nothing to us, and comment threads are fucking electrons.
posted by nevercalm at 12:23 PM on July 29, 2012


It's a lot like the "no professional writers in the future" thread, though, jessamyn, in that every major comedy podcast -- WTF, Comedy Bang Bang, Nerdist -- has eagerly gotten back in bed with TV as soon as possible. That's still where the money is.
posted by gerryblog at 12:29 PM on July 29, 2012 [1 favorite]


KoQ was probably the smartest of the "Normal/Fat Guy with Implausibly Attractive Wife" shows.

No, The Honeymooners was (even if Audrey Meadows was hiding her looks under a layer of black-and-white-tv drab), but in the last couple decades, King of Queens was the highest quality offering, but not because of Patton Oswalt... it was the over-the-top father-in-law character played by Jerry Stiller that gave it something extra, and you can argue that they simply copied his Seinfeld character (where it wasn't even one of the best characters).

The only reason I can make this judgement is that for several months in 2005, I had to share a small apartment with one TV with my aging father and he was a sitcom rerun addict, so I was exposed to repetitive doses of Seinfeld AND King of Queens and several others. I was semi-amazed at how much his own 'old guy' behavior resembled Stiller's - and how he failed to recognize it (he also didn't notice how similar he had been when I was growing up to the dad in That 70s Show - except he never used the word 'ass'... yes, my father was a Sitcom Archetype. At least he had no Al Bundy in him.)
posted by oneswellfoop at 12:33 PM on July 29, 2012 [8 favorites]


I don't know about the comedy scene so much, but this discussion has prompted a lot of talk amongst comics industry types. Probably amongst people working in a few other mediums too, maybe all of them.
posted by Artw at 12:37 PM on July 29, 2012


And since this new generation was born into post-modern anything, they are wilder and more fearless than anything you’ve ever dealt with.
man, there is some stuff i want to say here
posted by This, of course, alludes to you at 12:38 PM on July 29, 2012 [3 favorites]


I'm surprised he didn't say to the gatekeepers, "You are no longer necessary. Louis and Jim and Aziz have already started sidestepping you entirely for their standup concerts. Louis went one further, and has sold out a comedy tour for less in per-ticket price than you guys want to charge and has made more money for himself than he made on any tour he ever made under your watch. Don't think for an instant that these two genies can be put back in the bottle now that they are released. And if you think someone has to use you to make money off a sitcom, you're wrong. It will be done before 2015, I guarantee it."
posted by hippybear at 12:49 PM on July 29, 2012 [9 favorites]


I appreciate that he sees that things are changing for the industry, but he is an example of a man with a blind spot for how it is changing for audience as well. This is, after all, somebody who tore into a woman for filming him by insulting her attractiveness, and who seemed to side with Tosh in the recent rape-joke debacle.

Yes, technology is changing the business model. It's also changing the way audiences interact, and audience expectations. And if you are only okay with these epochal shifts when they are things you like, and complain about them when they force changes you don't like, then you are attempting to enter the future only on your terms, and that's not how it is done.

The model of audience member as passive witness to an event whose only participation is to shut up until it is either time to laugh or to applaud -- well, that model is broken. They will film you. They will blog about you. They will live-tweet the event. And if you don't like that -- well, you're rapidly going to turn yourself into one of those old timers who stopped working after Carson.

New technology doesn't just create new business models. It creates new models for interaction. And the comedians of the future are going to be the ones who most fully explore the possibilities of these new forms, instead of dismissing it as heckling.
posted by Bunny Ultramod at 12:56 PM on July 29, 2012 [15 favorites]


Meh. Fuck hecklers, they are human YouTube comments.
posted by Artw at 12:58 PM on July 29, 2012 [10 favorites]


You know that nothing that comes after the word "meh" is ever worth saying, yes?
posted by Bunny Ultramod at 1:01 PM on July 29, 2012 [8 favorites]


The lesson from that whole situation is that shit came come around and bite you in the ass, it is not that hecklers are valuable and important, because they are not and never will be.
posted by Artw at 1:06 PM on July 29, 2012


The business is changing - narrowcasting is the way of the future. Gatekeeping makes sense with three over-the-air channels, and 'when the President came on your night was shot!'

We don't have cable anymore - and you should have seen my parent's face when they came over, and I pulled up the PGA online, and we could watch one hole, or follow one golfer, or choose our commentary, or move from hole to hole as we saw fit.

The end consumer, the eyeballs that got focus-grouped and marketed too and Nielsen-rated? A house, two cars, and 2.1 kids? Their (our) tastes are as finely grained as they have always been, but now we can seek out exactly what we want. Part of the downside is the filter-bubble effect, but the upside? I can get my news from the BBC, Al Jazeera, and whatever local journalist is covering it.

This is one of the reasons I like MetaFilter - it feels like a narrowcast for my interests, and ALSO introduces me to entirely new ideas.
posted by the man of twists and turns at 1:09 PM on July 29, 2012 [3 favorites]


You know that nothing that comes after the word "meh" is ever worth saying, yes?

Meh. The thing is, this heckler was important not because of what she said, but because of what Oswalt said to her. And that's important because of what everyone who heard it after the fact said about him. And that's important because we're not just isolated spectators anymore, but a global peanut gallery. And the question is how you handle that, because it can be a performer's best friend or worst enemy, and it can be both.
posted by kittens for breakfast at 1:12 PM on July 29, 2012 [1 favorite]


They will film you. They will blog about you. They will live-tweet the event. And if you don't like that -- well, you're rapidly going to turn yourself into one of those old timers who stopped working after Carson.

New technology doesn't just create new business models. It creates new models for interaction. And the comedians of the future are going to be the ones who most fully explore the possibilities of these new forms, instead of dismissing it as heckling.


Awesome, I'm bringing my boombox to your next play. New models for interaction represent!
posted by Kwine at 1:14 PM on July 29, 2012 [12 favorites]


The lesson from that whole situation is that shit came come around and bite you in the ass, it is not that hecklers are valuable and important, because they are not and never will be.

Really? The lesson I got from it is that nowadays comedians define any response they don't like as heckling. Which is a much broader definition than was historically applied, and seems to be trying to force a theatergoing model onto the experience of seeing comedy, which is, in many, many ways, not like going to theater -- in part because it is typically a lot more interactive than a stage play.

When you start your set by asking "how's everybody doing?," you have opened the doors for a lot more interaction than if you start your play by saying "Nothing is to be done." And there is a real risk that when you let loose with some racist or sexist comedy, your audience is going to respond with "I'm not doing very well right now."

That's not heckling. That's an audience offering a response you actually asked for. Heckling is deliberate interruption for the sake of interruption. The other stuff is feedback, and that's the world we live in now -- one of constant feedback. And comics have to learn how to deal with it, and their response, at the moment, is to declare that their audience is misbehaving. And it's not just comedy -- MC Chris ejected somebody from his show recently for tweeting that he didn't like the opening act. But MC Chris is actually a little more open to criticism, and apologized to the guy he ejected on Twitter, and actually offered a teary apology on YouTube.
posted by Bunny Ultramod at 1:17 PM on July 29, 2012 [12 favorites]


Awesome, I'm bringing my boombox to your next play. New models for interaction represent!

I appreciate your sarcasm, but that's not actually a new model for audience interaction. You are, however, welcome to come and film my show, or tweet during it, and at my most recent play we had audible responses from the audience, which was quite nice.

But, hey, instead of actually engaging in this conversation, why don't we invent circumstances that everybody can agree is terrible, and behave as though that's the discussion. Because that's the very model of good faith argument.
posted by Bunny Ultramod at 1:19 PM on July 29, 2012 [2 favorites]


When you start your set by asking "how's everybody doing?," you have opened the doors for a lot more interaction than if you start your play by saying "Nothing is to be done."

Finally, the "Good morning! How was your weekend?" replacement I've been looking for!
posted by gnomeloaf at 1:21 PM on July 29, 2012 [3 favorites]


I'm only allowed to engage in models for audience interaction that you find acceptable like tweeting or filming and not boomboxing?

Why are you such an old, Bunny?
posted by Kwine at 1:22 PM on July 29, 2012


All right, thank you. When you actually want to discuss this, feel free to mamail me.
posted by Bunny Ultramod at 1:23 PM on July 29, 2012 [1 favorite]


When you start your set by asking "how's everybody doing?," you have opened the doors for a lot more interaction than if you start your play by saying "Nothing is to be done." And there is a real risk that when you let loose with some racist or sexist comedy, your audience is going to respond with "I'm not doing very well right now."


But neither of the examples you brought up were initiated by someone asking "how's everybody doing?" They were both brought on by totally unsolicited actions on the part of the audience. In Oswalt's case, the audience member was filming something he was working on with the stated intention of distributing it to a public that has no way to know the difference between finished and unfinished work. So it would be less like filming your play's performance and more like filming the first rehearsal and then putting it up on YouTube and being all "OMG Bunny Ultramod's actors aren't even off book!!!"
posted by Ragged Richard at 1:26 PM on July 29, 2012 [5 favorites]


the world we live in now -- one of constant feedback
a whole lot of people would like me to interpret this as an unambiguous good thing and a force for positivity, but man the Kochs don't give a shit about feedback and HuffPo/Conde Nast run that shit, so
posted by This, of course, alludes to you at 1:28 PM on July 29, 2012


Yes, and my response to that was that if filming was not to be allowed, it was the responsibility of the venue to inform people beforehand, rather than ask that comedians do it from the stage. Comedy venues are notorious for not giving a shit what happens in their venue until something goes sour, and this is a problem. Most theaters actually present some very clear rules of conduct for people when they come into the the theater, but it is far more loosey goosey in the world of comedy, and so comedians have a set of expectations onstage that they may not share with the audience, or even with other comedians.

And it's fine if there is a miscommunication. But Oswalt treated it as though there is a universally understood rule that was being broken, when there wasn't, and, further, he behaved as though the breaking of this rule gave him license to go toxic.

You want the aural version of YouTube comments? Read what he said about the woman he kicked out.
posted by Bunny Ultramod at 1:32 PM on July 29, 2012 [3 favorites]


When I frequented a comedy club in the 1980s (and was goaded into going onstage on Open Mike Night more than once), "heckling" was not defined as a single outburst from an audience member. Multiple outbursts (at least 3-4) of a repetitive nature were the minimum before most Professional Comics would bother with a response, and the smarter ones would direct their response to the rest of the audience ("Who let the mental patient out on a day pass?").
posted by oneswellfoop at 1:36 PM on July 29, 2012 [2 favorites]


And it's fine if there is a miscommunication. But Oswalt treated it as though there is a universally understood rule that was being broken, when there wasn't, and, further, he behaved as though the breaking of this rule gave him license to go toxic.

But his first line of defense was to ask her to stop. I think there is a pretty universal human rule that if someone says "please stop filming me," and you're not a journalist covering some breaking news, you stop. That's a request that any decent person is happy to comply with.
posted by Ragged Richard at 1:37 PM on July 29, 2012 [1 favorite]


I'm a little underwhelmed -- comedy isn't particularly transformed when it comes to gatekeeping.

Comedians promoting their own tours and booking tickets on their websites isn't a revolution against the gatekeepers, but Ticketmaster was never a gatekeeper or tastemaker, it was a rent extracter that could only last so long in a free market.

And Louie? Extremely well gate-kept. Not just Louis CK's 20-year mainstream career, preceding it, but even the show itself was a product of the fact Rupert Murdoch hires good and innovative gate-keepers at all levels of the television enterprise, especially when it comes to filling gaps in the market. Louie and Fox News: same guys, same business plan, like it or not. And it's far-more-than-its-ratings-imply fame is attributable to the echt-gatemaking tastemakers like The New York Times.

As long as comedy requires signficant capital investments (in tours, television production, etc.) it's going to be subject to gatekeeping, and to tastemaking as well. 50 Shades of Grey should make publishers infinitely more worried than Marc Maron's WTF should make the heads of comedy at the studios and networks.
posted by MattD at 1:40 PM on July 29, 2012 [5 favorites]


He kind of lost me right out of the gate. Carson's retirement was not the end of the "do the Tonight Show, get a sitcom" scheme of things. Maybe for that first little while it seemed that way, but as soon as Letterman stomped over to CBS and Conan filled his Late Night slot (ew...), it all started right up again. It's because of his appearances on Late Night that I know who Patton Oswalt is.

Besides, the show he was on, King of Queens, was a sitcom starring Kevin James, a standup comic; it was essentially a spinoff of Everybody Loves Raymond, a sitcom starring Ray Romano, a standup comic. Hell, even that revolutionary Louie C.K. had a conventional sitcom for a while. And on and on. All well into the post-Carson era.

And Louie, for all its excellence, isn't really anything more than Seinfeld with fewer characters and more dick jokes. It's great--really great--but it's hardly paradigm-shattering.
posted by Sys Rq at 1:55 PM on July 29, 2012 [4 favorites]


MattD: are you unaware that Louie is completely free of network suits interference because of the contract that Louis CK made with them, taking a major cut to budget and pay in order to have complete artistic license and freedom?

Also, look at CK's concert tour, which he mounted himself and sold the tickets himself without any gatekeeping. That's a major game changer, on the scale of what Pearl Jam was trying to do back in the mid-1990s but didn't quite know how to pull off.
posted by hippybear at 2:08 PM on July 29, 2012 [5 favorites]


MattD: are you unaware that Louie is completely free of network suits interference because of the contract that Louis CK made with them, taking a major cut to budget and pay in order to have complete artistic license and freedom?

Also, look at CK's concert tour, which he mounted himself and sold the tickets himself without any gatekeeping. That's a major game changer, on the scale of what Pearl Jam was trying to do back in the mid-1990s but didn't quite know how to pull off.


I think we need to define what we mean when we talk about gatekeepers here. Yes, it's awesome that Louis C.K. is able to do all this stuff. But the network -- regardless of the terms he's negotiated with them -- is still a gatekeeper. They didn't have to make that deal. And I mean, let us be real about this -- he could have made his show as a series of episodes he paid for himself and uploaded to YouTube, and the reason he didn't was not a love for network television and a desire to deliver it a great gift. The reason he didn't was because he wanted to get paid and he wanted millions of people to see his show. So he pitched it to a gatekeeper and they said yes. Artistically, this is a triumph of independence. Bottom line, though, it's a network sitcom.
posted by kittens for breakfast at 2:25 PM on July 29, 2012 [4 favorites]


And if you think someone has to use you to make money off a sitcom, you're wrong. It will be done before 2015, I guarantee it.

Dan Harmon uses all of his royalty money to buy the rights to make seasons 5, 6 and a movie of Community. Funded by a record breaking Kickstarter for a feasibility study, the syndication rights are immediately purchased by Comedy Central and Netflix making the money back on the series along with a small profit for merch and DVD/BD sales.

Calling. It. Now.
posted by Talez at 2:31 PM on July 29, 2012 [5 favorites]


Right, but wait until he discovers how to monetize a sitcom without needing a network behind him. Dr. Horrible's Sing-a-long Blog already presented the model of how to make this work. It just hasn't been done on any scale larger than that. Yet.
posted by hippybear at 2:31 PM on July 29, 2012 [1 favorite]


Comedy is pretty unique in that the main product is still live performance no? Unlike a movie that can be made once and pirated forever a comedian is out at venues doing new stuff and every show is different. Comidians, by and large, never had the huge album sales, so there is nothing to erode. Comedians are in a pretty good place to explore new distribution methods.

I'd like to propose that Oswalt or Louis C.K. or one of these guys start streaming live shows, perhaps on a paid basis, perhaps not. If they are already doing so forgive me , the only thing I know about comedy is from Metafiler and Reddit. One of these guys should set up streaming rigs and stream via youtube or twitch.tv or one of the other streaming sites. Make the investment and prove it can work, strongarm the venues into going along with it. I can see a million other no name comedians streaming from venus with just a laptop and a 4g card.
posted by Ad hominem at 2:36 PM on July 29, 2012


Right, but wait until he discovers how to monetize a sitcom without needing a network behind him. Dr. Horrible's Sing-a-long Blog already presented the model of how to make this work. It just hasn't been done on any scale larger than that. Yet.

But that's like saying Radiohead's post-label success hasn't been duplicated on any larger scale...it's true, but it misses the point. Radiohead's post-label success happened because they had already been a success, and their prior success came via their navigation of the gatekeepers. Joss Whedon, Neil Patrick Harris, Nathan Fillion, and even (arguably) Felicia Day were already popular because they'd passed through that gate. You pass through the gate, of course it's possible to make money without an intermediary. Once you're inside, you're inside.
posted by kittens for breakfast at 2:37 PM on July 29, 2012 [9 favorites]


So you're arguing that gatekeepers are a necessary part of the ecosystem in order for new talent to be discovered and become popular?

I'm not sure that's actually true. There are success stories which spring from the web without gatekeepers regularly these days, from Irritating Orange to OK Go. That these and other similar acts have subsequently chosen to go with gatekeepers after their popularity has grown only shows that the paths toward self-actualized financial success are not sufficiently well-worn enough at this point for them to be obvious to everyone who may come along. (OK Go has since left their label, having managed to exit with the full rights to all their label-backed recordings in hand, so good for them.)

But give it all 5 years, tops, and the ecosystem will have changed forever.
posted by hippybear at 2:43 PM on July 29, 2012


complete artistic license and freedom

This is a little bit of an exaggeration, for what it's worth. Lots of freedom, yes. But John Landgraf (who heads FX) was talking to critics just yesterday about discussions they've had about content and of reaching "compromises" about content the network is concerned about. He has a lot of freedom, but FX is still a cable network that isn't going to just take whatever you send in and put it on the air. Landgraf is kind of famous for being hands-off to a great degree with everybody, and with this show in particular, but there's still a network apparatus to answer to, even if they're much more flexible than most.
posted by Linda_Holmes at 2:50 PM on July 29, 2012 [2 favorites]


I'm not sure that's actually true.

It is extremely, extremely true right now. And yeah, even success on the web seems to lead back to the gatekeepers and from there much greater success. The gatekeepers are still the barometer, from what I can glean. I think this will kind of change, but less than people think.
posted by kittens for breakfast at 2:51 PM on July 29, 2012 [1 favorite]


The reason many people who become famous on their own join the gatekeeper-run system is because gatekeepers are going to act rationally and be happy that someone else has done the scouting for them. But they now have to offer a better deal then going it alone could give a new performer, which puts the power more in the hands of the performer.

Network TV doesn't need to die before this movement makes comedians' lives better.
posted by Space Coyote at 3:00 PM on July 29, 2012


I'll buy you a MeFi sockpuppet account in 2017 if you're right and I'm wrong.
posted by hippybear at 3:01 PM on July 29, 2012


(that was directed at kittens for breakfast)
posted by hippybear at 3:02 PM on July 29, 2012


(honestly, an unhealthy diet if I've ever heard of one)
posted by hippybear at 3:02 PM on July 29, 2012 [3 favorites]


I'll buy you a MeFi sockpuppet account in 2017 if you're right and I'm wrong.

Sounds good!
posted by kittens for breakfast at 3:02 PM on July 29, 2012


(honestly, an unhealthy diet if I've ever heard of one)

They...they're full of pep and vigor.
posted by kittens for breakfast at 3:03 PM on July 29, 2012 [6 favorites]



In my hand right now I’m holding more filmmaking technology than Orsen Welles had when he filmed Citizen Kane.

I’m holding almost the same amount of cinematography, post-editing, sound editing, and broadcast capabilities as you have at your tv network.

1) simply not true
2) Louie is shot on a Red EPIC. Same camera they're shooting The Hobbit on. And he uses Ultra Primes, which cost like 20 grand each
posted by nathancaswell at 3:07 PM on July 29, 2012 [3 favorites]


2) Louie is shot on a Red EPIC. Same camera they're shooting The Hobbit on. And he uses Ultra Primes, which cost like 20 grand each

An episode of House was shot on a 5D Mark II. Not seeing the problem. The barrier to entry for production quality is orders of magnitude lower than decades ago.
posted by Talez at 3:15 PM on July 29, 2012


spectacular failures like network Olympics coverage

A spectacular creative failure, yes, but the ratings were record-breaking, so do you think NBC is going to count it as a failure?
posted by Huck500 at 3:38 PM on July 29, 2012 [1 favorite]


An episode of House was shot on a 5D Mark II. Not seeing the problem. The barrier to entry for production quality is orders of magnitude lower than decades ago.

Yeah. Your phone probably generates higher quality video than what they were filming sitcoms on, say, twenty years ago. It's not what Peter Jackson is using, but it's just fine for the purposes of making an indie movie. Back when he made Bad Taste, something like an iPhone was straight up science fiction. I forget who said film would never be a democratic medium until the means of production were equal to the cost of pen and paper, but we're pretty much there right now.
posted by kittens for breakfast at 3:39 PM on July 29, 2012 [2 favorites]


"He kind of lost me right out of the gate. Carson's retirement was not the end of the 'do the Tonight Show, get a sitcom' scheme of things. Maybe for that first little while it seemed that way, but as soon as Letterman stomped over to CBS and Conan filled his Late Night slot (ew...), it all started right up again."

Obviously, being on Leno or Letterman helped people's careers a lot. But perhaps you're not aware of the particular situation with regard to Carson's Tonight Show?

First, the media landscape and the late night landscape were far, far narrower then. Never has any show played the role in American culture that Carson's version of the the Tonight Show did. It was uniquely iconic and influential. Leno never approached that level of cultural influence; Letterman came closest but also never really approached it.

Second, though, is that Carson saw himself as a connoisseur of young comedians and almost duty-bound to identify new talent and give them a shot on his show. He personally made decisions about booking young comedians — he'd give you your shot and how you handled that one opportunity would make or break your career. I don't think he intended to be the gatekeeper, but that he took a personal interest, was inclined to give many edgy comedians a chance that the media execs never would have approved, and the previous point conspired to mean that getting a Tonight Show gig meant everything. And after Carson left, it never meant that much.

Both Leno and Letterman owe part of their success for Carson putting them on his show and I don't doubt that both felt a responsibility to follow his example. But I have a very strong impression that Carson was genuinely a fan of young comics, had a strong interest in discovering new talent, and had a surprisingly sophisticated palette. I think he was less inclined to let his ego get in the way of his judgment, and I don't have the same impression about Leno or Letterman or even Conan.
posted by Ivan Fyodorovich at 3:46 PM on July 29, 2012 [6 favorites]


You know that nothing that comes after the word "meh" is ever worth saying, yes?
posted by Bunny Ultramod at 10:01 AM on July 29 [3 favorites +] [!]


Meh-tafilter.
posted by Sebmojo at 4:18 PM on July 29, 2012 [4 favorites]


Yeah, I know of the cult of Carson, thanks. I'm just saying, if you actually look at the actual evidence re: standups who got rich off sitcoms, his track record isn't actually that remarkable, and the phenomenon neither started nor stopped when his show did.

And besides, what influence he or his show had was precisely because "First, the media landscape and the late night landscape were far, far narrower then." He had power because he was the only thing on.

was inclined to give many edgy comedians a chance

A chance to water down their acts?
posted by Sys Rq at 4:25 PM on July 29, 2012 [1 favorite]


spectacular failures like network Olympics coverage

A spectacular creative failure, yes, but the ratings were record-breaking, so do you think NBC is going to count it as a failure?


No, I think the networks and cable will just keep on keeping on like the record labels have. But viewers see the absurdity of Ryan Seacrest standing in front a green screened tweet that occurred hours ago. Regular people who wouldn't dream of cutting their cable are not OK with this delivery model. Not just the major sporting events but the circus that is cable news, forcing packages of unwanted channels while moving desirable channels to different pricing tiers, neighborhood cable monopolies. And that's to say nothing of TV executives as arbiters of taste.

I'm probably not a good barometer of television success or failure though because I left the industry 10 years ago out of frustration. Like, as in I walked off a lucrative sitcom because I hated what I was doing. We don't miss each other, me and TV. The paycheck? Yes. The labyrinth of shit? No.
posted by last night a dj saved my life at 4:44 PM on July 29, 2012 [3 favorites]


"I'm just saying, if you actually look at the actual evidence re: standups who got rich off sitcoms, his track record isn't actually that remarkable, and the phenomenon neither started nor stopped when his show did."

Have you "actually look[ed] at the actual evidence"? Because I'm not finding any such research in my googling for it. And good lists of comedians who got their own sitcoms are harder to find than you might think. I found one, but I don't think it's exhaustive. Then we'd need to find out which appeared where, and when. That's a lot of research.

If you're so invested in disproving an assertion that numerous professional comedians have made in the past, then either point to such research or do it yourself. I mean, I just now found a number of links where comedians make this argument about Carson — sure, that doesn't prove anything, because it could be received conventional wisdom that happens to be wrong. But absent some documented disproof, I'm inclined to go with what people in the industry think is true.

Not to mention that your own comment seems to be arguing both alternatives when you allow that Carson's unequaled stature would give him an unequaled influence while yet continuing to argue that he didn't have it.
posted by Ivan Fyodorovich at 4:51 PM on July 29, 2012


[Johnny Carson] personally made decisions about booking young comedians — he'd give you your shot and how you handled that one opportunity would make or break your career.

According to Drew Carey, at least, that wasn't quite the case -- booker Jim McCauley picked the comics (albeit after a long tenure of learning what Johnny liked). It was Carson calling you over to the couch that opened the doors and could make your career.
posted by Etrigan at 4:57 PM on July 29, 2012 [2 favorites]


Here's Johnny.
posted by timsteil at 5:02 PM on July 29, 2012 [1 favorite]


Gatekeeper. This is the word (or concept) that comes up repeatedly in connection with the decline of the traditional models of musicians and writers (and their respective institutional moneymakers). I like the old model more, personally, but, then, I am an old model myself.

(However, my eccentric piano playing would never be picked up by a major label, whereas at this point many thousands of people around the world have listened to my music under the current iTunes/Spotify model. No money, sure, but there never was except for the top 1%. Now it's the top .001%, excepting the touring band model, which is still pretty much a minimum wage gig.)

(Although, once again, parenthetically, I have to say that I used to be able to routinely make $200 a night in today's money playing in a cover band in a small Midwestern city, because of the power of the musicians' union, back in the 70's.)

The literary crowd has been in a similar bowl of off-tasting goulash for a few years, of course. And photographers, post-Photoshop. I have many friends with dispiriting career trajectories because of these new models.

Comedy? I can't speak with experience about this art form. I am one of those people who would say "Oh, I don't watch TV," except here on Metafilter, where this old trope makes me a snob, but so what. You don't know me. I just have so many books to read, you know.

Ironically, I just discovered Louie C.K. last week, and watched the whole first year's series, because (boy, am I an elitist!) of a review I read in the New Yorker.

Anyway, there is so much total crap out there in all entertainment/art fields that I appreciate gatekeepers. I also appreciate the proliferation of indie rock bands with unique sounds that would have been trashed by last century's A&R guys (and they were guys), so I am of two minds about this.
posted by kozad at 5:04 PM on July 29, 2012 [2 favorites]


There's a pretty interesting WTF podcast with Kevin Pollack where he talks about getting booked to do Carson as a stand-up [when he was mostly doing impressions, sort of stand-up but also acting] and he held out until he could not just get on Carson but also get to go to the couch and chitchat not just do your standup bit. And he talks about what it took to not just get on the show but say "I want to go to the couch!" and how he really thinks that's why he's known more as an actor and less of a stand-up, because he went to the couch.

Maron is a bit obsessed with the Carson/SNL path to comedy greatness which has its good sides because after listening to 30-40 comedians talking about what it was like to get on Carson or what it was like to audition for (and sometimes get on) SNL, you get a real varied sense of how it all works, not just the one standard shpiel.
posted by jessamyn at 5:09 PM on July 29, 2012 [7 favorites]


How to fix tv in 2 easy steps:

1. Each network puts up lineup on the internet of about five shows per timeslot. That's 5 times more content than what each one currently broadcasts on tv. Too hard to find content? Let everything go, people will go apeshit submitting content to the networks. Let everyone risk falling on their faces at little to no cost to the network.

2. Let the general public decide what's the best, and air that on tv. Simple. Done. You all read the article about America's Funniest Home Videos being a best of the internet, how it can put 25x what viral stuff can put out in a week in just 30 minutes. This is the same thing, but on a grander content scale. No more gatekeepers, no more bean counters, put shit out, vote out the crap and let the gold shine on primetime.
posted by furtive at 5:13 PM on July 29, 2012 [2 favorites]


I promise to STFU about myself after this, but I coincidentally grew up around a bunch of stand-ups (and SNL) and Kevin Pollak was unbelievably kind to me. Not a lot of dudes would do endless Shatner impressions on request for a kid hanging around backstage.
posted by last night a dj saved my life at 5:27 PM on July 29, 2012 [5 favorites]


About "not watching TV": if you're watching it on your laptop, you're still watching TV.
posted by Artw at 5:27 PM on July 29, 2012


So far, all the examples of how the gatekeepers are irrelevant is about people who have worked through the gatekeepers. Louie has a network TV sitcom. Oswalt does TV and Hollywood movies. Joss Whedon was famous because he'd done many, many seasons of network TV, which is what gave him the clout to hire movie and TV stars for his microbudget project. Meanwhile, those who do build an audience outside the gate, like Marc Maron, run inside it as soon as they can, because that's where the money is.

Jonathan Coulton is a good counterexample, but he's also super-niche-y. Right now it seems like you can avoid the gatekeepers if you're okay having little audience and less money, but if you want to be a professional creator, the other side of the gates is still where it's at.

(and yes, the idea that an iPhone is more filming power than Welles had making Citizen Kane is plausible only to people who know absolutely zero about how one actually makes a decent image. Has Patton Oswalt never heard of lighting equipment? cranes? track? ferchrissakes makeup?)
posted by ThatFuzzyBastard at 6:43 PM on July 29, 2012 [1 favorite]


Pretty sure he was making a hyperbolic point about the advancement and democratization of technology, and not a literal feature-by-feature scientific technical comparison of an iphone to a studio's equipment room.
posted by billyfleetwood at 7:05 PM on July 29, 2012 [4 favorites]


Every sitcom hits one out of the park now and then. KoQ had their homerun when Jerry Stiller described getting caught up in watching Saved by the Bell. I can't find it on YouTube but trust me, it was golden. Or take the wretched Third Rock from the Sun, which gave us the King of the Jig.
posted by Ber at 7:09 PM on July 29, 2012 [1 favorite]


It's going to hit a point where sound and lighting are the biggest differences though.
posted by Artw at 7:10 PM on July 29, 2012


billyfleetwood: Sure, but the point is false because he's wrong about the technology. Making a feature-length movie that looks half as good as a below-average show on Syfy is still expensive and/or time-consuming, because getting decent images into the camera requires a whole lot of skill and equipment that is totally unrelated to the image-capture device. Kino-flo's are expensive, man!
posted by ThatFuzzyBastard at 7:32 PM on July 29, 2012


Which is irrelevant for stand-up comedy below the Chris Rock stage production level.
posted by Space Coyote at 8:00 PM on July 29, 2012


billyfleetwood: Sure, but the point is false because he's wrong about the technology. Making a feature-length movie that looks half as good as a below-average show on Syfy is still expensive and/or time-consuming, because getting decent images into the camera requires a whole lot of skill and equipment that is totally unrelated to the image-capture device. Kino-flo's are expensive, man!

But how good does your movie really have to look? I mean, you aren't making Avatar here. You can do a lot on the cheap. I presume that anyone serious about filmmaking has the power to find a book about low-budget filmmaking. It's not going to look like it cost $100 million, but it's gonna look a fuck of a lot better than Clerks.
posted by kittens for breakfast at 8:18 PM on July 29, 2012


BTW: "not watching TV" includes "not watching it on your laptop." ??? FYI: We snobs, when we are not at the local art cinema, or reading books, might watch TV on our flatscreen (yes, we finally got one last year), but are too old to sit around peering into a computer to watch a movie. Life is too short. If I'm going to watch a movie or a TV show it has to be GOOD and BIG. Yes, life changes when you have just a year or thirty to live.
posted by kozad at 8:23 PM on July 29, 2012


I think that you and others have made good points, but honestly I really don't think anyone who knows very much about filmmaking technology would claim that an iPod equals what Welles had available when he made Kane. The only sense it's actually true is with regard to editing and sound design. It's not true with regard to image quality — Kane was filmed in 35mm B&W, which only much higher resolution digital cameras arguably equal (and that's contestable). But that's the least interesting part of the technology — the lenses are very important and the iPhone is a fucking brownie camera by that standard. And, as TFB mentioned, lighting is hugely, crucially important and you can't replicate that with software. Much of what a DP does is lighting.

If the comparison is what was done with analog broadcast video cameras, taping things like comedians on stage, and thirty years ago, then, yeah, the iPhone can do now what the production studio did then. But equivalent to a major motion picture, even a seventy year old one? Not a chance. It's a dumb comparison.
posted by Ivan Fyodorovich at 8:32 PM on July 29, 2012 [1 favorite]


Come on, folks, don't say 'meh' when you mean 'bah!'†

'Bah!' is the confident sound of righteous disapproval. 'Meh' is the sound of air leaking out from a collapsing spine.

†This message brought to you by the Committee to Rehabilitate Victorian Ejaculations.
posted by stavrosthewonderchicken at 9:28 PM on July 29, 2012 [9 favorites]


Feh!
posted by Sys Rq at 9:35 PM on July 29, 2012 [1 favorite]


He should be careful lest they come to a secret understanding.
He could get shot by both sides.
posted by Mezentian at 9:37 PM on July 29, 2012



BTW: "not watching TV" includes "not watching it on your laptop." ??? FYI: We snobs, when we are not at the local art cinema, or reading books, might watch TV on our flatscreen (yes, we finally got one last year), but are too old to sit around peering into a computer to watch a movie. Life is too short. If I'm going to watch a movie or a TV show it has to be GOOD and BIG. Yes, life changes when you have just a year or thirty to live.


LOL OLDS
posted by saul wright at 9:39 PM on July 29, 2012 [1 favorite]


Pff...

(a noise of disdain perfected by the French, worldwide leaders in disdainful noises)
posted by Artw at 9:40 PM on July 29, 2012


HARRUMPH!
posted by KingEdRa at 9:44 PM on July 29, 2012 [1 favorite]


How to fix tv in 2 easy steps:

1. Each network puts up lineup on the internet of about five shows per timeslot. That's 5 times more content than what each one currently broadcasts on tv. Too hard to find content? Let everything go, people will go apeshit submitting content to the networks. Let everyone risk falling on their faces at little to no cost to the network.

2. Let the general public decide what's the best, and air that on tv. Simple. Done. You all read the article about America's Funniest Home Videos being a best of the internet, how it can put 25x what viral stuff can put out in a week in just 30 minutes. This is the same thing, but on a grander content scale. No more gatekeepers, no more bean counters, put shit out, vote out the crap and let the gold shine on primetime.
posted by furtive at 2:13 PM on July 29 [1 favorite −] Favorite added! [!]


This right here is proper genius.
posted by Sebmojo at 1:52 AM on July 30, 2012


"Never has any show played the role in American culture that Carson's version of the the Tonight Show did."

Ed Sullivan.

Jack Paar.

Steve Allen.

How quickly we forget.
posted by kyrademon at 4:53 AM on July 30, 2012 [1 favorite]


Metafilter: fucking electrons.
posted by The 10th Regiment of Foot at 5:12 AM on July 30, 2012


"How quickly we forget."

No, I remember them and of course specifically considered Paar when I wrote my comment. You're arguably right about Sullivan. In general, though, while some early TV stars were iconic and hugely influential within context, I think that we overestimate the nationwide cultural importance of them relative to the peak of American broadcast television, which occurred during Carson's era.

However, I do think that some radio personalities at the height of the radio era were more important than Carson ever was. Of course, Paar and Allen were of that era. I'd say radio Steve Allen qualifies as a counter-example of my assertion.
posted by Ivan Fyodorovich at 7:13 AM on July 30, 2012


Unlike a movie that can be made once and pirated forever a comedian is out at venues doing new stuff and every show is different.

This varies WILDLY depending on the comedian. MANY (most?) comedians write a solid routine, and stick with it for quite some time. Louis CK, for example, did approximately the same hour of material for 15 years. Then he decided to do something radical (for the comedy world) and throw out his act every year and start over with a new one (cite) There are very few comedians that do this; for the most part, if you've seen a comedian's full act once? You're going to see (varying levels of, but often quite a lot of) repetition if you see that comedian again 2 weeks, or even a month, later.
posted by antifuse at 8:35 AM on July 30, 2012


How to fix tv in 2 easy steps:

1. Each network puts up lineup on the internet of about five shows per timeslot. That's 5 times more content than what each one currently broadcasts on tv. Too hard to find content? Let everything go, people will go apeshit submitting content to the networks. Let everyone risk falling on their faces at little to no cost to the network.

2. Let the general public decide what's the best, and air that on tv. Simple. Done. You all read the article about America's Funniest Home Videos being a best of the internet, how it can put 25x what viral stuff can put out in a week in just 30 minutes. This is the same thing, but on a grander content scale. No more gatekeepers, no more bean counters, put shit out, vote out the crap and let the gold shine on primetime.
posted by furtive at 2:13 PM on July 29 [1 favorite −] Favorite added! [!]

This right here is proper genius.

You do realize that, based on ratings, this would mean 24-hours-a-day of TWO AND A HALF MEN and no BREAKING BAD, right?
posted by ThatFuzzyBastard at 9:18 AM on July 30, 2012 [2 favorites]


Ivan Fyodorovich - You're probably right with regards to Paar, I'll agree he was the weakest of the three examples. And once the Ed Sullivan show went off the air, Carson was indeed in the unique situation of basically having no competition during the era of the greatest dominance of network television.

However, Sullivan's show, at its peak, had somewhere around 15 million viewers. I think that's reasonably comparable to the 17 million viewers I've seen thrown around as a number for peak-era Carson. (I've been having trouble finding exact numbers for Carson, though, so I could be wrong.)

The biggest difference may be that Sullivan became best known for introducing musicians to a wider audience (Jerry Lee Lewis, Elvis Presley, The Beatles, The Supremes, The Beach Boys, The Jackson 5, The Rolling Stones, The Mamas & the Papas, The Lovin' Spoonfuls, The Doors, Rosa Morena), while Carson became best known for introducing comedians to a wider audience (David Letterman, Jerry Seinfeld, Jeff Foxworthy, Bill Maher, Ellen DeGeneres, Tim Allen, Drew Carey, Roseanne Barr). I wonder if that's more a function of when they were most popular than anything else, though.
posted by kyrademon at 9:32 AM on July 30, 2012


This right here is proper genius.

I see the appeal, but (1) "people who vote on the internet" are not the entire audience, (2) this only works if you assume everyone will actually watch everything before voting; otherwise, they're voting on promos and descriptions and preexisting biases for and against genres and shows; (3) not everything finds its voice in one episode, and moving to a FASTER model of voting everything out of existence based on the attention span of people watching videos online seems like it would doom lots and lots of great shows; (4) there would instantly be popularity contests that had nothing to do with the actual content; and (5) this would still require a massive amount of gatekeeping to decide what people were going to get to choose from. Honestly, if you don't like what the networks put up now as their first choice, why do you think that you would like their fifth choice? I've been watching their first choices for the last week. If they gave you five times as much stuff to pick from, you'd get the same stuff, just more of it.

They don't care what you will vote for on the internet, or Community would be guaranteed a 20-season run. They care what people will actually watch, and history has shown that there is a huge difference between that and what gets votes in internet polls. Two And A Half Men, and lots of other things you may not like, remain on the air because they are popular and people like them and want them to be on. What amounts to programming by popular vote is not going to be the cure for what ails broadcast television if you don't like what's on offer, I don't think, because it's too busy being a big part of the disease.
posted by Linda_Holmes at 11:14 AM on July 30, 2012 [1 favorite]


Kids these days don't remember what it was like when Carson made careers the way Mafia dons made made men.

The first sign you'd have that you'd arrived would be the axe splitting the timbers of your door, and when he'd made a hole large enough to push his face through, he'd yell, "Heeeeeeeere's Johnny!" And Ed McMahon would be behind him with a big novelty check and a bunch of people holding balloons. And you'd just sit there, collapsed against the wall, shaking and crying with elation.

Leno never took an axe to anyone's door.
posted by Eideteker at 7:13 AM on July 31, 2012


Kids these days don't remember what it was like when Carson made careers the way Mafia dons made made men.

It's probably worth noting that, for a good long while, standup comedy was indeed controlled by the Mafia.
posted by Sys Rq at 7:33 AM on July 31, 2012


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