Not quite a leap year, and yet in many ways, 2019 felt like the longest year ever in comedy, leaping into a Dickensian abyss where it’s somehow simultaneously the absolute best and worst time to ply one’s trade as a stand-up comedian. And that’s just from talking to any professional comedian or reading his/her social media timeline!
The year began with two comedians beloved by their community leaving us too soon (Brody Stevens and Kevin Barnett) and putting a harsh spotlight on how well comedians take care of themselves and each other. September we all watched the meteoric rise and fall of Shane Gillis, hired and fired by Saturday Night Live over a long weekend, brought back to Earth by his own words and Twitter campaigns. By year’s end, many other comedians (mostly men) worried about “cancel culture” coming for them — despite plenty of evidence to the contrary: Aziz Ansari celebrated a new Netflix special filmed in front of adoring fans; Louis C.K. found more fans willing to pay to see what comedic comeback tricks he had up his sleeves than protestors willing to picket outside the clubs; and we even witnessed a woman in comedy who’d survived rape only to find herself booked on a show with Harvey Weinstein sitting with VIP treatment right in front of her.
Yep, 2019 had it all. Including more comedy specials than ever before. Perhaps because we made it ridiculously easy for anyone to have one.
By my count, we saw some 66 new hours of stand-up via traditional distribution, including Netflix, HBO, Showtime, Comedy Central, and new original specials this year on CNN and Amazon Prime. That’s actually a slight dip from 2018. At the same time, however, Amazon’s self-releasing mechanisms allow any would-be performer to upload video, and more than 100 new specials showed up on Amazon (whether free with Prime, or available for rental/purchase) this year, with almost a third of them coming from outside North America (though still predominately English-speaking titles from the UK, Australia, Canada and India).