HBO vs. Showtime vs. Comedy Central

Late into the night, or early this morning, after seeing parts of three different comedy specials on Showtime, I couldn’t help but think about how Showtime’s comedy specials all have a uniquely odd look and feel to them. Especially when compared to the consistent theater sets and production values of one-hour comedy specials that get aired on HBO and Comedy Central.

Why is that? For one thing, HBO tends to control its own comedy output, which means its comedians often tape their hourlong sets at the same venue with the same crews. Comedy Central does the same for its half-hour Comedy Central Presents, and for hour specials, they’re most likely edited versions of highly stylized and produced DVDs. But Showtime is another matter. Whether it’s Joe Rogan (at the Tempe Improv), Paul Mooney (at the Laugh Factory) or Mo’Nique at an Ohio prison (or even Doug Stanhope at Gotham Comedy Club), these specials will go anywhere. They’ll feature lots of close-ups. They’ll bounce the camera angles around the room. They’re as OK filming in a small club as they are outdoors. They’re independent. They’re rogue, even. Performance art pieces. I get the sense that many of these specials were made by the artists themselves, then later sold to Showtime.

But does that make one network’s comedy specials better than the others? Depends upon what you mean by better, I suppose. Comedy being so subjective, you cannot say one form of televised special is funnier than another — that’s left in the hands of the performer and the gutteral reactions of you as a viewer and listener.

Do you think, however, that one network does a better job of showcasing stand-up comedy and comedians as artists? Does one network offer more in the way of helping further a comedian’s career? Is that answer different now than it would’ve been even a year ago (looking at you HBO)?

I’m curious to hear your thoughts on it.

Sean L. McCarthy

Editor and publisher since 2007, when he was named New York's Funniest Reporter. Former newspaper reporter at the New York Daily News, Boston Herald and smaller dailies and community papers across America. Loves comedy so much he founded this site.

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