I love the idea of a network devoted to comedy. Waaaaay back in the day, there were two comedy networks -- The Comedy Channel, and Ha! I used to watch them both. As I recall, one had mostly old sitcoms, and the other had strings of stand-up. I liked the fact that I could turn on the TV and, if I had only 5-10 minutes to kill before doing something else, I could watch a stand-up routine.
Then they merged into Comedy Central. Now, the parent channels were nothing to brag about -- they swung wildly between very funny and very lame -- but Comedy Central seemed dedicated to the proposition that mediocrity is hilarious. We're probably 15-20 years into Comedy Central's life, and they have thus far only had two funny series -- Mystery Science Theater 3000 (which required viewers be both relatively smart and relatively well-versed in pop culture, so it wasn't for everybody), and Chappelle's Show (which, to be fair, died from no fault of their own). Except for those, they've had a few shows that were mildly interesting or slightly droll (like Battlebots) and some non-original programming (like The Critic, Futurama, Monty Python, and The Tick), but Comedy Central seems mostly dedicated to running hip but unfunny shows -- rather more like MTV than a channel devoted to comedy.
Let's consider their three big earners:
- South Park: I used to complain that South Park wasn't funny -- then came Family Guy. Then I would say things like, "Well, it's not funny, but at least it isn't Family Guy, a show apparently aimed at audiences with severe head injuries." Then came American Dad, the airing of which should be considered a violation of the Geneva Convention. So, putting it in perspective, it is no Simpsons, but as long as the Family Guy group of adult cartoons continues to be aired, South Park will seem funny by comparison. And, unlike the other two big earners, South Park has occasional funny moments. It is at its best when it is being satirical, and at its worst when we're supposed to laugh at singing turds and kids saying bad words. Yeah, that stuff was funny ... when I was six years old.
- The Daily Show: At one time, The Daily Show was mildly amusing, waaaaaay back when Craig Kilborn was the host. It wasn't laugh-out-loud funny, but some of his bits were good enough to make the show something to watch if there was nothing else on and you really didn't want to get off the sofa. Then Jon Stewart became the host, and the show immediately got dumber. Actually, for a show to get dumber after Craig Kilborn left it is an achievement of sorts, I guess. In any case, Jon Stewart is apparently the love-child of Dennis Miller and Keith Olbermann. He combines Miller's style, which is to pander to people who like to think they are smart because they are smart-assed, and Keith Olbermann's smug stupidity. I'll watch The Daily Show about once or twice per season, in the vain hope that something funny might happen (hey, I'm an optimist). It never gets any better, only worse and worse as Jon Stewart's sycophantic studio audience tries desperately to laugh in the hopes that they too will be considered cool and hip some day. In their worst seasons, Saturday Night Live's "Weekend Update" was funnier than Jon Stewart at his best. The only way to save the show would be to exile the cast and writers from planet Earth, burn the set to the ground (and salt the earth to prevent it from ever growing back), and hire the writers of The Onion. Political humor ought to have some, well, HUMOR.
- The Colbert Report: I remember well that moment of watching my first episode of the Colbert Report. I remember it in the way one remembers being in a car accident -- everything is in slow motion, all screams and tears and terror. The first 3-5 minutes were a little funny, as I recall. "Hmmm, he's parodying Bill O'Reilly. That's a little funny." Then, we return from the first commercial break, and he's still parodying Bill O'Reilly. Now it is like a sketch comedy routine that has gone on too long. Uncomfortable, and not funny. Thirty minutes later, I'm huddled in the corner in a fetal position. Now, a year later, he's still parodying Bill O'Reilly. Hey, Stephen, let's hit the punchline and move on to another joke, shall we?
Guess it just goes to show that Mencken was right about how not to lose money.