After 41 years the Montreal Comedy Festival is being cancelled. One of the most prestigious if not the most prestigious comedy festival is seeking protection from creditors. They did carry on through the pandemic but did so with reduced revenue. They also say the business of free festivals has changed. They hope to be back in 2025.

This festival saw the most prominent names in comedy grace its many stages and it could not survive. It got me to thinking. If this festival can’t survive, a festival that brought hundreds of thousands of people into Montreal looking to spend money and immerse themselves in stand- up comedy, then what does the future of standup comedy look like?

Sadly, I do not think the future is bright. Anybody who knows comedy knows that the golden age of comedy was forty years ago. Clubs were popping up all over the place and even average comedians could make a good living. Comedy was so popular it was even popping up on non- comedy channels like MTV, VHI and A&E. By the time I got into comedy I was already being told you should have been here ten years ago. A few years ago, I was told that we were in the midst of a new comedy golden age. Shows were popping up all over the place. Many of them were shows with little or poor pay. I sad when the money goes up I will believe we are in a comedy boom. The money did not go up. In fact comedians have not really seen a rate increase in the forty years since the boom. Oh comedians like Chappelle and Rock command a hefty pay check from the likes of Netflix but the average comedian you see at a live show probably has a side gig like driving Uber or being a real estate agent.

I believe people still enjoy live comedy but I am not so sure people under thirty are enjoying it in the same large numbers as prior generations. At least not live and in person where comedy is at its best. Now granted, by choice, I do not go into the clubs in Manhattan very much anymore and traditionally that is where the percentage of young people in the audience was higher than in the suburbs.

I think the younger you are the more addicted you are to your phone. We see this in a decrease in dating and an increase in porn watching and sex dolls. We see this in more people feeling isolated. Seeing live comedy is very much a community experience. Whether it is on a date or with a large group of friends, if live comedy is done well it brings a room full of strangers together for a brief time and makes them feel like one community.

I also feel the type of comedy people want is changing. Now tastes always change over time. You will be hard pressed to find modern comedians saying, “take my wife please” or “what’s the deal with airplane peanuts.” Standup comedy was always a place where ideas could be pushed and boundaries expanded. Often it was the young people and the young comedians who were leading the charge. It seems increasingly young people are more worried about offending someone than hearing funny things. I don’t think you have to be offensive to be funny. I also don’t think everything that I don’t agree with or understand is offensive and worth complaining about. Taking chances on stage is no longer rewarded. In fact, it is punished. Clubs don’t want complaints from audience and would prefer the comedians color inside the lines. If live standup comedy is not dangerous in the comedy clubs as far as hearing challenging things is there even a point to it? Is it even exciting? If it is not exciting, why am I going to pay my hard- earned money for tickets and drinks? I may not.

I also believe the younger people are increasingly being drawn into combat comedy or crowd work comedy. This is where the comedian and the audience interact often with the comedian making fun of the audience member. This has always been a thing. A thing that I am considered to be quite good at. Now it seems these are the clips online that got some of the largest amounts of views and likes and follows. In standup comedy now all those things are important.  Audiences are now expecting that to be on every show. The audience is coming to engage. At least some of the audience is. You still have people who want to hear material but invariably an audience member sucks the air out of the room. Most clubs are not going to remove the audience member as they want the drink sales. I don’t see this type of comedy having a long shelf life. Don’t get me wrong, it can be very funny and it can make every show unique but I don’t think it benefits anyone if this becomes the hot thing. Comedy ceases becoming about an exchange of ideas and morphs into becoming an exchange of insults.

Finally, our attention span has gotten much shorter. When I began in comedy twenty- five years ago a show could last two hours and an audience might still be listening and paying attention. That was great for comedy venues because that meant a longer time to sell food and drinks. Then it seemed like one and a half hours was the sweet spot. Now it seems like that is too long. Sometimes it seems people start getting restless at around one hour and fifteen minutes. The chit chat increases as does the looking on the phones. If shows become this length of time that is a very large decrease in revenue from food and drink. We just don’t have the attention span anymore. Does any of us sit through commercials anymore? If I am watching comedy at home I can pause or stop it and resume it later. I can’t do that live. Our loves are so fast paced now and comedy involves sitting still and taking a journey of the mind. There are no flashing lights. There are no sirens like a police chase. It is one person armed with words depending on a room full of people that are focused on listening.

So I do think the fact that the Montreal Comedy Festival is in trouble is a sign of things to come? I do think live comedy will always exist but I do think the popularity will continue to wane. I do think this blog wound up being too long and some of you probably went to Tik Tok in the middle of this and will hopefully come back.

We will discuss this and more on Tuesday at 7 PM Est.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *