There’s no doubt the world is changing – and thus comedy is evolving too. But is the future bright for the genre, or is it being diluted amid “cancel culture” and a more conscious society?
In recent months, there’s been plenty to divide fans, from the 2022 Oscars slap involving Will Smith, Chris Rock and a joke aimed at Jada Pinkett Smith to contentious Netflix specials from Dave Chappelle and Ricky Gervais.
Yet comedy still resonates. Jerrod Carmichael’s deeply honest “Rothaniel” special on HBO not only brought laughs, but also profound vulnerability.
“To keep with the times and celebrate more voices, of course, (comedy) has to be updated,” author and comedian Phoebe Robinson tells USA TODAY. Although there are “great foundational aspects to comedy,” she says, it’s important to “not rely on what worked before and push the genre further.”
So what does the future of comedy look like? The answer is complicated and subjective. We talked to dozens of comedians and industry experts to find out where comedy is today. Read all the stories in the USA TODAY series.
Do stereotypes have a place in comedy?
Comedy has become a breeding ground for anger rather than laughter as the landscape changes and the line blurs between satire and blatant insults. Amethod for some of trying to unify people has now divided audiences on whether a stereotype is relatable or harmful, with amplified risk on the stage during a standup set. Comedians like Mo Amer and Phoebe Robinson talk about the role of stereotypes in comedy and how it’s impacting the industry.
Read it: Do stereotypes have a place in comedy? Phoebe Robinson, more comedians talk being in the joke
Previous coverage:Can America take a joke? Yes. Dave Chappelle, Chris Rock incidents are part of a continuum, experts say
The importance of punching up
Comedians are in a fierce dispute about the appropriateness of “punching down” in humor. Making jokes about people with less power than the comedian, called punching down, has become a topic of debate as high-profile comedians aim their humor at transgender people and other marginalized groups. But what’s lost in the discourse is a discussion of one of the great traditions of American comedy: punching up. Comedians like Sarah Cooper explain the importance of speaking truth to power.
Read it: Comedians like Chappelle, Gervais want to punch down, but what about the need to punch up?
Previous coverage:Dave Chappelle has been accused of ‘punching down’ in ‘The Closer.’ How can comedy go up from here?
Why comedians are getting introspective
Carmichael isn’t the only comedian who is making more intimate comedy specials. Hannah Gadsby and Bo Burnham have also used their standup sets to share some painful life moments, littered with jokes. Experts explain why this moment is ripe for this art form.
Read it: Why comedians make intimate comedy specials: ‘We want to be heard’
9 comedians being hilariously authentic on TikTok
When the pandemic hit and the world shut down, TikTok exploded, making way for anyone who is funny to build a massive platform to share their comedy. We talked to nine comedians, including Elyse Myers, Leo González and Elsa Majimbo, who are proving there’s humor in humanity and are showcasing it without ever stepping foot in a comedy club.
Read it: How these comedians are earning laughs on TikTok — and changing the industry
Why Mindy Kaling is smooth she wasn’t on TikTok early in her career
Comedy’s changed a lot over the past two decades — and Kaling’s witnessed the shift firsthand. But she’s not mad about TikTok not being a thing when she was a young comic. Though many comedians have built fanbases through these platforms, Kaling says social media can create undue pressure to constantly put out content in hopes of getting discovered. She tells us how she became successful.
Read it: Mindy Kaling on the pressures of TikTok for young comedians, where comedy is headed
How Meg Stalter went from social media to breakout star
Stalter became the rare breakout star of the pandemic era, thanks in large part to her absurd character videos on Twitter and Instagram. Now, the 31-year-old standup has launched a burgeoning career with a role in HBO Max’s Emmy-winning comedy “Hacks” and a half-hour comedy pilot called “Church Girls” in development. Stalter talks with USA TODAY about her singular comedy, career ambitions and the future of comedy.
Read it: Meg Stalter mastered the art of cringe comedy. Now, she’s ready to show you her ‘earnest’ side
10 up and coming comedians
So what’s next for comedy? These up-and-coming stars give us a clue. At the height of the pandemic, sketch and standup comedians were forced to adapt their work for at-home audiences, with many gaining massive followings on social media platforms such as TikTok. Now, there’s a new crop of talent that’s taking over Hollywood.
Read it: 10 up-and-coming comedians you need to know