Boston used to have two daily newspapers that each had a weekly comedy column, covering the local scene, interviewing touring comedians and reviewing shows and performers. But that was, well, so five years ago. That’s where I first started blogging about comedy in addition to covering it in print alongside other entertainment and pop culture. The latest circulation figures released this week couldn’t put either The Boston Globe or The Boston Herald anywhere near where they used to be.
While there certainly is much more reporting of comedy since I left the New York Daily News and launched The Comic’s Comic four years ago this month, it has migrated online and been left to the devices of who knows in some cases. Who are some of these people reviewing comedy CDs and DVDs anyhow? How do we decide who’s qualified enough to critique comedy?
Turns out the ol’ Gray Lady herself — and if you even acknowledge that reference, you’re old — has acknowledged that this comedy boom of the 21st Century must be taken into account. Or maybe just held accountable? Either way, or nevertheless, the New York Times has extended theater critic Jason Zinoman’s duties to include the stand-ups, improvisers, sketch groups and other comedians who also perform in the smaller theaters and comedy clubs. (That’s Zinoman photographed above left with the NYT’s Arthur Sulzberger, Jr. and playwright Dan LeFranc at a 2010 event.) As Zinoman wrote in a blog post this morning announcing his new column (it’ll appear at least every other week, on Wednesdays, he says):
If a stand-up comic kills in the forest, does it make a sound? I don’t know, but what’s more certain is that no critic from a major paper will review it. Every night in this city, scores of artists take the stage and perform for large, enthusiastic audiences, and are usually ignored by critics in the media capital. Most of those comedians are ordinary or bad, but a few may become the next Richard Pryor of David Letterman.
And in his first print column, which spotlights Hannibal Buress, Zinoman further expresses the need for comedy criticism (echoing just about everything I’ve ever said when interviewed or when trying to pitch the mainstream media on the subject):
Stand-up is the only major art form in which most American critics don’t take performers seriously until they leave the field. Jerry Seinfeld and Louis C. K. needed television shows to really receive notice. To paraphrase a great man, today’s comics don’t get no respect, and considering their ambition, diversity and influence, they should.
That conviction undergirds this new column, appearing every other week and dedicated to reviewing comedy. Not limited to stand-up, this column will try to reflect today’s vast and fragmented scene, for creative, funny work can be found everywhere from late-night cable to bars in Brooklyn to a tweet.
Welcome to our world, Jason. This actually means the NYT has two reporters keeping an eye on comedy, with David Itzkoff already prowling the beat (as part of a larger pop culture assignment) for a few years now.