Okay, I know I said I was going to continue my “Comedy and assholes” series this week, but allergies kicked into high gear over the weekend, which weakened my immune system and rendered me susceptible to catching a cold, or something like it. Anyways, that’s my long-winded way of saying this past week sucked and I didn’t get a lot of work done. So I’ll be digging into the aforementioned series shortly, but not before addressing CNN’s first-ever comedy special.
Yes, CNN, otherwise known as the “Cable News Network” and the progenitor of our modern 24-hour news cycle era, is getting into the stand-up comedy business. And it’s doing it with Saturday Night Live and Comedy Central alum Colin Quinn, whose recent one-person show Red State Blue State was taped for a Memorial Day premiere on the otherwise news-focused channel.
Don’t get me wrong. I like Colin Quinn. He’s highly underrated when it comes to assessing the pool of “Weekend Update” hosts on SNL, and his Comedy Central panel show Tough Crowd was a staple of my college years. I also got the chance to interview him for his previous special, New York Story, which debuted on Netflix in 2016.
I also enjoy CNN’s non-news or non-political content, like the food-focused Anthony Bourdain: Parts Unknown and The History of Comedy documentary series. Along with Fox News and MSNBC, the three major cable news channels have been devoting plenty of airtime to original content for well over a decade. There’s absolutely nothing wrong with diversifying! In fact, if these three networks actually tried to do nothing but current events and politics, then they probably wouldn’t garner the ratings they currently do. I mean, of course most of the eyeballs tuning in are waiting for the latest controversy, but just as many people are hoping to catch some favorite bits of food trivia or nostalgic rushes from CNN’s decade-focused documentary programs.
So the mere fact that CNN is about to release its first comedy special isn’t troubling me at all. Rather, Thursday’s announcement simply triggered the angst I’ve already been feeling about the current state of stand-up, which the title (and original purpose) of this newsletter clearly describes: there’s too much goddamn comedy. Yes, this also means, at least in terms of sheer numbers, that there’s so much comedy that there’s at least something for everyone out there. But it’s also a lot. Like, a lot.
In a statement, Amy Entelis, CNN’s executive vice president for talent and content development, said the network is “always looking for new ways to engage our viewers by exploring the issues that are most important to them.” What’s more, she added, “Colin Quinn’s show is a smart political satire that speaks to what is dividing our country.” As for the show itself, CNN describes it as an “hour-long presentation of [Quinn’s] critically-acclaimed Off-Broadway show [that] brings the funny tackling the absurdities, hypocrisies and calamities on both sides of the political divide.”
Again, Red State Blue State itself sounds like a great show. Most reviews of its off-Broadway run were quite positive, which is not at all surprising when you consider just how prepared a performer Quinn is. Since this was his sixth one-person show (as opposed to a traditional “stand-up” set), you can rest assured that even more preparation than normal was put into its creation and execution. Plus, Quinn is a very thoughtful and introspective person. He cares deeply about every single syllable of every single word in every single line of what he’s saying during every performance. It’s an attention to detail that hearkens back to the scribbling smartness of George Carlin’s onstage work.
Careful craftsmanship doesn’t necessarily mean that the result is going to be good, but in Quinn’s case, it almost always is. This is especially true of Red State Blue State, a show that purposefully tackles the intensely two-sided political divide that major news networks like CNN have had a hand in shaping over the past few decades. So irony of ironies that they chose to distribute it, as I’m sure Quinn himself would be just as critical of them as he would be of their competitors.
But if CNN, of all places, is now trying to stick its hand in the over-stuffed cookie jar that is the streaming comedy boom of the 2010s, then isn’t that a sign that too many people trying to get the same cookie is going to result in crumbs for the rest? Over-baking this silly metaphor even further, when is the cookie jar finally going to turn up empty? Next thing you know, Dennis Miller is going to opt out of the self-release or Comedy Dynamics-provided models for his next special and go straight to Fox News.
I guess what I’m trying to say is, this is a lot and I don’t know for certain how much longer it’s going to last. Some have already been predicting the current boom’s inevitable bust, and with outliers as seemingly antithetical to stand-up as CNN getting in on the action, I can’t help but feel that said bust is going to happen sooner rather than later.
Even so, I’m going to try my best to not preemptively judge Quinn’s new special based solely on its chosen home. (Or at all, for that matter.) I’m going to watch it, and considering my own history with his comedy and what I’ve read about the live show, I’m probably going to enjoy it. But I can’t shake the feeling that it’s going to feel weird to me that I’m watching it on CNN.
Then again, watching original stand-up specials on Netflix, and not Comedy Central or HBO, five years ago felt weird, too.
The “More Cowbell” SNL sketch from 2000 is rightfully considered a classic, and if you agree, then you’ll probably enjoy fellow SNL alums Chris Kattan and Jimmy Fallon reminiscing about it on Thursday’s The Tonight Show. Sadly, Kattan’s current press tour is built around his new book, which contains some not-so-nice allegations about his alleged mistreatment by Lorne Michaels and the show’s other producers regarding an apparent health mishap. Regardless, it’s nice to see him talking positively about the “More Cowbell” sketch and Will Ferrell’s brilliance in it.
Don’t forget, I actually want you to respond. Send me whatever questions, comments are snide remarks that you may have about my thoughts on stand-up comedy, or comedy-related matters I didn’t cover, but are nonetheless on your mind. To get in touch, simply email me and we’ll go from there.