Is YouTube Bad for Stand-Up Comedy? Chris Rock Thinks So [VIDEO]

A potential enemy to comedians is lurking in comedy clubs and possibly threatening the livelihoods of stand-up comedians. No, it is not the drunk heckler yelling obscenities or the dead, awkward silence after an awful joke. It’s the smartphone, and since the dawn of YouTube it has caught comedians doing everything from making awful stolen jokes to screaming racist obscenities at the audience. Channels like HecklerBlog have made these meltdowns (or comedic gems) go viral.

Chris Rock blamed YouTube for ruining stand-up comedy during his visit to “The Daily Show With Jon Stewart” on Wednesday, saying, “I hate going to clubs because people tape your shit all the time like before it’s ready!” Surprisingly, he’s not worried about his HBO specials floating around YouTube.

Anyway, he’s right. Cameras are everywhere in comedy clubs these days albeit in poor quality. It happens in big venues like the Laugh Factory as well as your Friday night amateur nights at random hole-in-the-wall coffee houses.

Making matters worse, Rock adds that the YouTube generation has made it easier for people to remember old jokes, so it would be harder for him to hash out some old classics like his “vs. Black People” rant. That puts the so-called “attention deficit disorder” generation to bed.

He said, “No one wants to hear jokes twice. They barely want to hear them once. That’s how I’ve always envied singers like Sting’s still singing ‘Roxanne’ getting paid!”

Rock goes on, “[The audience would say] ‘How dare you say the same funny thing you said last year!’”

Having a dozen camera phones on a comedian’s act could make them nervous not only because their bombs will live forever on YouTube, but also because it compromises the development of new routines, which is what Rock seems to fear the most. Search for stand-up comedians on YouTube, and you’ll find a myriad of brilliant acts on stage. At the same time, you’ll also find terrible material.

However, I don’t think that it should seriously threaten a gifted comedian like Chris Rock from doing stand-up in the age of YouTube, because I believe that knowledge is power. While comedy clubs and the comedians themselves can try to ban cameras and phones from the show, it won’t stop some bonehead from sneakily whipping out his phone and recording the show so he can post it on YouTube.

Stand-up comedians have succeeded — and failed — at making audiences laugh despite YouTube. Having a ton of cell phone cameras won’t make the difference — if a comedian’s act is really bad, removing cell phones from the audience will not stop them from spreading it by word of mouth in the social media age.


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