Is Comedy a Contender?

Illustrated by Christina Chang

Stand-up comedy is enjoying its greatest moment in American history. The facts speak for themselves:

  • According to Facebook, more than 91 million of its U.S. users (roughly 1 in 3 Americans) show an active interest in stand-up comedy.
  • Stand-up comedians wield tremendous online influence: The world’s top 50 comics alone are followed by more than 700 million fans on social media.
  • Comedy tours today are rivaling top musical acts in terms of sales and revenue. Last year, comedian Kevin Hart smashed industry records, earning an estimated $87 million in the wake of his wildly successful U.S. stadium tour. In similar fashion, Amy Schumer became the industry’s top-earning female ($17 million) last year, due, in large part, to a comedy tour that is still ongoing.
  • Americans are packing smaller comedy clubs, too. In 2015, the nation’s 653 dedicated comedy clubs sold a whopping 50 million tickets (IBISWorld).
  • The comedy from stand-up comedy in its many forms (movies, TV, touring and licensing) is predicted to exceed $8 billion annually in the U.S (BBC, Statistica).
  • Stand-up has become the heart of the cultural zeitgeist, with President Trump interacting and responding to comedians critical of his policies on Twitter and elsewhere.

Clearly, stand-up comedy is huge. Yet despite both its popularity and market potential, I continue to be amazed by how many people fail to give stand-up comedy the recognition it deserves as both an industry and driver of cultural change. Like the old Rodney Dangerfield punchline, stand-up today is getting “no respect.”

The Power of Laughter

Laughter is like food, sleep and shelter: it’s something our bodies need and crave. It’s no coincidence that you see laughter and humor as the focus of so many TED and TEDx talks. Smart people know that laughter not only has real health benefits (including reducing stress and preventing illness), it also helps us grow professionally and creatively.

Research has shown that laughter enables people to think more broadly and associate ideas more freely when taking on complicated tasks that demand creative solutions. (Rutgers). Other studies suggest laughter has evolved over time to become a unique social signal — akin to a bird’s song — that helps humans bond (Dartmouth). Moreover, it’s the most successful among us who laugh the most, with one study finding that outstanding executives use humor twice as much as average executives (Harvard Business School).

Clearly, everyone needs laughter in their lives. Unfortunately, good laughter, reliable laughter, is more difficult to find than it ought to be.

The Demand for Comedy

Our innate desire for humor and laughter has made comedy a consistent staple of popular media for as long it has existed. Media consumers have long demanded humor. That’s why comedians, like Jack Benny and Groucho Marx, were the first entertainers to fill the airwaves on both radio and TV.

That demand has reached new heights as new media channels emerge but consumers have to know where to look. Comedy Central has popular comedy programming on almost every media channel, including cable TV, Snapchat, Twitter, Facebook and more — proving that laughter is more than a niche market in capturing a generation of loyal consumers. On SiriusXM, stations devoted exclusively to comedy comprise an outsize share of the satellite radio’s most popular channels. Most every comedy cable TV show, from TBS’s Full Frontal with Samantha Bee to NBC stalwart Saturday Night Live, will release their televised content to YouTube and dozens of other video/clip sharing sites. Yet, in the face of this comedy overload, when fans of stand-up comedy want to find a centralized place to fulfill that basic need from laughter, where can they go?

Roadblocks to Laughter and Stand-up Comedy

It used to be that many stand-up comedy fans went to the record shop in order to connect with their favorite artists. As recently as the 1980s, in fact, stand-up comedians such as Eddie Murphy, Andrew Dice Clay and The Jerky Boys made up a significant portion of all record sales. Today’s stand-up comedians aren’t as fortunate, though it’s not because they’re any less popular. Rather it’s because streaming services, which now distribute the vast majority of recorded entertainment, have other priorities.

Today’s most popular streaming services, such as Pandora and Spotify, were founded to solve the challenges of the music industry. That remains their core focus, leaving tens of millions of stand-up comedy fans underserved. Usually filled with spotty libraries, poorly curated content, and search tools that don’t index spoken word content like comedy, other streaming services simply can’t fulfill the needs of the modern comedy enthusiast.

Comedians are also losing in this music delivery model. Because these services are built for music first, comedians lose the opportunity to build excitement and interest in new content. Comedians can’t drop a joke like Rihanna or Jay-Z drops a hit single. A good joke requires both buildup and context and works in concert with an entire performance, yet today’s services fail to provide the technology to support that approach.

A Solution for Stand-up Comedians and Their Millions of Fans

As a stand-up comedian and a tech entrepreneur, I saw first-hand how the current distribution system fails to adequately address the comedy market. That’s why I created Laugh.ly, an app devoted entirely to connecting stand-up comedians with their legions of fans. I built Laugh.ly to be the kind of app I, a comedy fan, would want to use.

In six short months we’ve made tremendous strides, inking deals with more than of 650 top comedians and developing proprietary technology that understands the context of a joke and enhances user experience by creating intelligent playlists and recommendations. We have many more features in the works for this year that will make it that much easier for audiences to connect with their favorite comic.

If 2017 continues to be anything like 2016, you can be sure we’ll all be in search of a good laugh. Stand-up comedy, I know, is ready to fill that need. It has the expertise, it has the following, it has the finances. All it needs now is the outlet.