Rated “U” for Under
Earlier today, Ted Alexandro hipped all his Facebook friends to the article in COED Magazine entitled “The 24 Most Underrated Stand Up Comedians,” so we had to scurry on over and check it out. Here’s the nutshell, the elevator pitch, the first paragraph, the setup, from authoer Igor Derysh:
The best comedians aren’t necessarily the ones that get all the movie roles, have sold out comedy tours or guest star on the most popular TV shows. In fact, some of the best comedians have been touring the minor circuit: comedy clubs and colleges, perfecting their craft for decades. Unfortunately, for one reason or another, they just haven’t been able to get that one big break. Sure, some of them may have their own hour-long stand-up specials, and have appeared all over Comedy Central, but you’re not going to see one of these guys starring in a hit movie any time soon. COED’s giving credit where credit is due in our list of the most underrated comedians.
Where do we begin?
We could go on and on, but maybe our whole problem with the article is the use of the word “underrated.” It’s a pointless word– and even more worthless concept– that is used mostly among sports geeks. And we can understand its use among sports fans. After all, athletes are often rated. Their performance is ranked, their statistics are compiled and examined and analyzed and twisted this way and that. Even athletes who are a decade or more past their playing days are considered in the millions of discussions that take place in sports bars, dorm rooms, broadcast booths and radio talk shows. The idea that a baseball player or a long-distance runner might be considered by some folks to be less than fully appreciated is fun or entertaining to kick around.
But when talking about standup comics it’s a pointless exercise. After all, who rates comics? (Mind you, we’re not complaining. We often say that standup comedy has dodged a bullet by not having a comedy reviewer at every major daily. We’re fairly sure that comedy hasn’t suffered for lack of a regular ranking system or an annual awards ceremony.)
Of course, there are some interesting measurements out there (“metrics” is what the wonks like to call them) that offer some clues as to who is capturing the public’s fancy comedy-wise. Forbes (the biweekly magazine that covers business) comes out with an occasional list of the top-grossing comedians. The iTunes site ranks comedians according to how many times their work has been downloaded. Youtube.com includes the number of downloads of each clip that a comedian (or a well-meaning fan) uploads to the video-sharing site. If you’re lucky enough to have access to Pollstar magazine, you can see actual dollar figures for tours of some of the top comedians.
With all that, though, there are still people who insist on “rating” comedians. And, sadly, there will be editors and writers who take the lazy road and create “list” articles like the one linked above that seek to gather all the “underrated” comedians into one lengthy piece that alternately praises the comedian chosen for the list and bemoans the vague, unnamed forces that “prevent him from breaking into the mainstream.”
And there’s another term that gives us pause: “mainstream” Isn’t being featured on Comedy Central the very essence of mainstream? Exactly what are the criteria for becoming mainstream? Is it, like the author says, “starring in a hit movie?”
We’re just somewhat dismayed that the author seems to think that these fine comedians– from Demetri Martin to Mike Birbiglia to Bill Burr to Patrice O’Neal and on and on– are being portrayed as being failures. Martin, for instance, has had a stint as “a writer for Conan O’Brien a few years ago, a few appearances on The Daily Show, his own stand-up special and a starring role in the indie hit Taking Woodstock,” yet seems to think that Martin has every reason to mope.
We look at the list (and we look at their list of accomplishments) and we see resumes that are (or should be) the envy of every comedian who hasn’t yet achieved what they have.
And it is more than ironic that a publication that is named “Coed” couldn’t find at least one female comic to include. (We’re not into affirmative action, but the lack of a funny woman in the list– especially considering the inclusion of two deceased comics!– is just a bit insulting. Couldn’t they have thrown the women a bone (or a boner, maybe) or two?
(Note: We don’t think that Hicks or Giraldo maybe should have been included on a different list. We mean them no disrespect, we just think that their presence on this list is somewhat incongruous.)
Reply to: Rated “U” for Under