Are Smart Phones Killing Live Comedy?

Smart phones have created and ended comedy careers. In the age where everyone has a computer/video camera in their pocket, smart phones are ruining live comedy. Obviously, there are the plain rude assholes who sit in the front row and text their friends while standup shows are going on. (Don’t even get me started about people who forget to turn their ringer off.)

The immediacy of blasting out misquotes and out of context material on social networks has literally ruined comedians’ careers.

Comedy is an ever-evolving process; comedy clubs used to be a safe haven where a performer could get on stage, work out material, and have the creative license to take a chance with the risk of failing. The routine was a present moment experience and wouldn’t go beyond the room.

Now, a joke in-formation uttered by a comedian runs the risk of being broadcast on YouTube and blasted out on the Twittersphere. Cell phone cameras have hurt comedians’ development of material as fans post unauthorized YouTube videos before comics wish to share the material with the entire world.


Chris Rock stands firm that smart phones are ruining comedy. “The sad thing, with all this taping and stuff, no one’s going to do stand-up,” Rock stated. “And every big stand-up I talk to says, “How do I work out new material? Where can you go, if I have a half an idea and then it’s on the Internet next week?””

Rock references his infamous “Niggas vs. Black People” routine from his 1996 Bring the Pain standup special, an act he estimates took six months to hone and perfect. (Imagine the early days of that routine.)

“You know how racist that thing was a week in?” Rock said, “That’s not to be seen by anybody.”

Rock said he would perform more often in small comedy rooms — if he did not fear that fans would post video recordings of his sets. “I’ll go back to comedy clubs when they get a real no-camera policy, the same way they did with smoking.”

The casebook example of a comedian’s career ruined by a cell phone video is Michael Richards. One little racist rant captured at the Laugh Factory — and blasted out to the world — put the nail in the coffin of his career. By no means am I saying being racist is funny (comedy is always the weak taking on the powerful), but when we see the out of context video on YouTube, we have no idea what on before or after the two-minute racist rant that was heard around the world. (My theory is Richards was trying to be “edgy” like hack Carlos Mencia — and horrifically failed. After all, the sign does say, “Comedy Club. 

Another prime example is Dave Chappelle’s show last year in Connecticut – where he stopped his performance after being heckled. Chappelle went on unannounced at the gig so he could work out new material. After getting annoyed by an onslaught of requests to do his Rick James impersonation, Chappelle left the stage. When the video was posted on YouTube, the media jumped to the conclusion that the comedian was having a meltdown: 


Live comedy is just that — a live event. And cell phone are ruining live comedy. Video didn’t kill the comedy star; Daniel Tosh’s rape joke and Tracy Morgan’s homophobic routine both gained a mainstream media frenzy when their acts when their jokes were paraphrased on Twitter. The only solution is for comedians to perform solely for the Amish.

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