Ask A Genius 327 – Comedy Change
October 21, 2017
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Scott Douglas Jacobsen: How has comedy changed for now compared to the past? How will this change the future of comedy as well?
Rick Rosner: Well, I mean the biggest change applies to all information and media and entertainment and it’s just the sheer volume and variety available. I read someplace that people in the 17th century, 18th century maybe only had two books in their houses; the Bible and Pilgrim’s Progress.
Similarly somebody on a farm; how many jokes would that person hear a hundred years ago in the course of a week? Two? Maybe goes to town, hears a couple jokes? Three? I don’t know. Now the average joke consumer, say somebody who watches late-night TV is going to see at least twenty-five jokes a night, somebody goes on Twitter looking for jokes can read hundreds a day, will see The Good Place comes back tonight; it’s the sitcom set in heaven, you watch a sitcom and a decent sitcom will give you 40 jokes in 22 minutes, just people today have heard a gazillion jokes, people also have more information about which we can joke than Johnny Carson could joke about in the 1970s.
Carson’s writers wrote off the teletype, they had an AP news feed that was this automatic typewriter the go [mimics typewriter sound], it would spit out a big roll of paper with the stories of the day and those guys would see those stories and they would… largely, guys, I don’t know how many women worked on the Tonight Show writing staff, but it was less than half a dozen or fewer than that. But anyway, they were writing off 20 stories they got from the news maybe somebody brought in newspapers but the number of different things that could be joked about or smaller because people have less information.
So, what the future holds is more volume, I mean Twitter has empowered thousands of people who wouldn’t otherwise be writing jokes to be writing jokes and the other social media encourages other forms of humor. So, you’ll have more people doing, you’ll have faster delivery and you’ll have a greater informational basis for the jokes.
Also, there’s been an erosion of taboos where I don’t know how much farther it can go but you can joke about anything, where in the past you had to watch what you joked about because some things were improper. Now you can joke about anything, any subject you can manage to think of to joke about. Now with taboos gone and everything permitted everything’s been kind of colonized or exploited for jokes and it’s tough to come up with new areas. That’s about it.
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American Television Writer
Scott Douglas Jacobsen
Editor-in-Chief, In-Sight Publishing
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