How Stand Up Comedians Created The New Age Sitcom

Updated: Jul 17, 2019

Stand up comedians are at the forefront of the television renaissance.

In 2001 stand up comedian Ricky Gervais premiered his British mockumentary sitcom The Office. The show followed a fictitious paper company and its employees. Show creator Ricky Gervais starred as the delusional office manager David Brent. The show was critically acclaimed and it was the first British comedy in 25 years to be nominated for a Golden Globe, and the first ever to win one. Gervais was also awarded the Golden Globe for Best Actor in a Television series: Comedy or Musical as well as a variety of other awards. The show began airing in The United States on Cartoon Network's late night programming Adult Swim in September of 2009 until 2012. The show was so impactful it spawned another critically acclaimed remake in the United States. The US version of the Office won multiple emmys, a Golden Globe and a Peabody award. The US version ran from 2005 to 2013 and featured Steve Carrell as the bumbling office manager Michael Scott. The Office US is now the most popular show on Netflix. Ricky Gervais started a new trend in America that showed studios that a sitcom style show wasn’t necessary to be funny. The audience didn’t need a laugh track if the story and jokes were told well. The Office embraced the mundaneness of everyday life as well as cringe humour and brought it to the United States. The US version changed the lighting from a dark grey environment to a more lighthearted environment. The US version had more heart and a connection to the work family, possibly due to its longer air time. Despite the US one being different in many ways it still had the essence of the original through its use of dry cringe humour.

Louis Ck continued the tradition of non traditional comedy shows by creating his masterpiece Louie. Louis CK had previously created a show called Lucky Louie. The show was a sitcom which followed a working class part time mechanic and his family. It was very traditional in the way it was made in front of a live studio audience and was inspired by old school sitcoms. Lucky Louie followed the traditional model that stand up comedians such as Jerry seinfeld had started and pioneered pretty successfully. Lucky Louie was cancelled before the end of its first season. Louis CK was then picked up by FX and was given a smaller deal in which he’d have more creative control over his work. What came from that deal is one of the most revolutionary shows in modern comedy/television. Louis wrote, directed, produced and even edited his show Louie. Louie was an existential comedy that followed the life of Louie as a stand up comic in New York City. Louie is loosely based on comedian Louis C.K.'s life, showing segments of him doing his stand-up routine onstage, and depicting his life offstage as a divorced father of two girls. The show was dark, sincere and hilarious when it wanted to be.

Louie paved the way for another FX hit show in Atlanta. Stand up comedian, actor, director, writer, rapper and modern day renaissance man Donald Glover aka Childish Gambino has been responsible for the best show on television today. Atlanta focuses on the life of a rapper and his entourage through the city of Atlanta, Georgia and trying to make it in the competitive music industry in the city. The show has been praised for its view on the African American experience, its realism, dark humor and we can't forget about Darius. Like Louie before it, Atlanta is an existential comedy taking us through the psyche of each character and showing us why they are acting the way they are. It deals with real life issues affecting many people such as poverty, trust issues, coping through trauma with marijuana and much more while using absurd humor. It also delves into society, the entertainment industry, social media and even simulation theory. Glover originally described the show as what it feels like to be black and I have to agree. This show made me understand why representation is important, I never had my stories told this well by people who look like me. As the show expanded it became much more than that. It became an artistic time capsule of the current zeitgeist. It begins to show aspects of the human experience. It shows us how crazy we really are without coming off as preachy and focusing on production value. Director Hiro Murai creates awe inspiring shots and scenes that use the landscape of the city Atlanta as a character in the show. Glover and long time collaborator Murai have created a modern masterpiece that cements our present in the future.

Unlike the previous two shows the next show on my list isn't known for its dark humour but like the previous shows it goes past the antiquated comedian sitcom route and tries to create art. Master of none created by stand up comedian and former Parks and Rec actor Aziz Ansari deals with dating in the digital age. It follows the life of Dev an actor living in New York City. Master of none makes a point to emphasize the art of filmmaking. Almost every scene looks like an old Italian movie. Aziz Ansari uses arthouse style and cites his influences while creating art to the highest level. Even though Master of None isn’t particularly dark it still deals with real aspects of life in the modern age. Master of None has been praised for its diverse cast and its real depictions of minority life in America. The show contains episodes such as ‘Religion’ which depicts the life of first generation immigrants in America, and ‘Thanksgiving’ which shows the struggles of coming out as gay in a black family. Aziz showcases the struggles of minorities while also keeping the show lighthearted and modern.

What makes these shows and a lot of other shows that are coming out right now so different is their realism. Tv shows have gone past goofy and quirky hijinx with a 30 minute solution. People are looking towards something that reflects their actual lives. We see ourselves in these stories. We can binge whole seasons so we want to be engulfed in a world. These shows depict real aspects of life in ways that the old tv model would not have allowed for. Through artistic integrity, challenging the status quo and a vision, comedians have lead the charge of the television renaissance that we are experiencing. To all the artists out there, be bold, adventurous and don’t settle.


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