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What’s the Deal with Superlatives?

As of this very moment:
-Will Ferrell is to be awarded the Mark Twain Prize for Humor
-Modern Family took home the most Emmy statuettes over the past weekend
-Chris Hardwick’s Nerdist TV show is about to premiere on BBC America

Also, at the very same moment:
-Comedy Central roasted Charlie Sheen
-Louis C.K. didn’t win a single Emmy (even though he was nominated for four of them)
-Jonah’s Arcade didn’t get picked up by Comedy Central

Relief that the right people were lauded, frustration that the wrong people were snubbed, and everything in between might have come over you while reading those bullet points, but why is that the case? What does the Mark Twain Prize for Humor really honor? Do the awards for comedy at the Emmys really reflect the best comedy? Did the “First Annual Comedy Awards” even really reflect the best in comedy? Was The Other Guys REALLY the Best Comedy Film last year, Comedy Awards? WAS IT?

In short, what’s so funny, America?

Can we even expect a satisfying answer out of that question? What gets recognized or makes it on television is, at best, an educated guess by a group of people made with the intention to disappoint the least amount of people. They would tell you that what gets the Outstanding This or Best in That is indeed what they claim it to be, but that’s far from true, especially since there’s no real way to truly gauge what the funniest thing in America really is.


The Kennedy Center websites describes the Mark Twain Prize for Humor as recognizing “people who have had an impact on American society in ways similar to the distinguished 19th century novelist and essayist best known as Mark Twain.” Past winners of the award in include Richard Pryor, Lorne Michaels, Steve Martin, and George Carlin. Taking that into consideration, does Will Ferrell’s “Landlord” video really skewer the life of the American renter in the “Twain spirit”? That’s not to suggest that it isn’t hilarious, but it’s unclear for what the Mark Twain Prize for Humor currently stands. Some could argue that The Daily Show‘s Jon Stewart is more fitting of the Twain Prize’s description. Then again, being a crucial part of Funny or Die and how it’s changed the entire landscape of comedy and how the masses find their way to laughter does count for something Twain-esque.

Similarly, one could say that the Emmys “snubbed” Steve Carell and Louis C.K., but, then again, what really constitutes the Best Lead Actor in a Comedy Series for the Emmys? There are plenty of people that find The Big Bang Theory and Jim Parsons to be the most hilarious things they’ve ever seen and conversely might say that The Office is weird and Louie is depressing. However, that doesn’t prove the Emmys right or anyone who thinks they know “what’s really funny” wrong.

The only thing it proves is that “Best in Comedy” in all of its derivations is an absolute misnomer. There is no such thing as the funniest anything anywhere, much less the Most Outstanding Comedy Series in the United States. If you want to talk numbers, Kevin Hart should be in the conversation, since he just released the highest grossing stand-up concert film (Feel My Pain) since 2002. Yet, you’ll be hard pressed to find him mentioned in the same breath as Patton Oswalt, who has just under 500,000 followers on Twitter. It would be absolutely fantastic to agree on a “pound-for-pound” funniest anything, but for that to happen, a significant portion of us would have to be robots.

Nobody wants that. Even if you thought that was cool while reading it, you do not want that (cue Jedi hand wave).

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8 comments

  • @Billy Anderson

    While I agree with your sentiment, that didn’t really work out that well for Arrested Development. Awards don’t matter to network executives. Yes, if Louie (the show) had won 8 Emmys, then it would be much more difficult to kill the show, and Louis (the person) would definitely have leverage.

    My main point is that awards shouldn’t matter to US, the fans. I certainly don’t get my music cues from the Grammys, just like I don’t watch shows just because they win an Emmy.

    Btw, to really depress you, look at this: Arrested Development, arguably one of the greatest, and funniest, sitcoms of all time, debuted Nov of 2003, and was off the air in Feb 2006. So, less than two and a half years, and it won 5 (count ‘em) Emmys. If Louie makes money for FX, (on DVD, or Netflix, or whatever revenue stream), then Louis will get to keep making ‘em… I think I just made myself sad.

    All I’m saying is, enjoy Season 3, cuz there probably won’t be a Season 4. Can you even imagine how good Season 7 of Louie would be?

  • @Matt

    BUT, you can’t deny that the show being an “Emmy award winning show” would allow them to have slightly more leverage with advertisers AND Louie CK being behind an “Emmy award winning show” would allow him the ability to do more creating.

    And that would be great for him and his fans.

  • Who really cares? The reason most artists consider awards useless (or at least SAY they don’t care) is because most awards ARE useless. Every year, the Grammys are horrible, the Emmy’s are horrible, and the Oscars are horrible.

    The films, the music, the television, and the comedy that I love the most are not the most loved by the majority of the public. That’s just the way it is. It doesn’t help that we all scream “hack!” and “sell-out!” whenever a band or comic we love moves beyond the indie scene into mass acceptance. We like what we like, and we, the “cutting edge” (or whatever less pretentious term you use), have to realize that most of the people in the world, in our country, and in our community don’t give a shit. Just the way it is.

    We should be happy that the current technological innovations have allowed us to see things on Funny or Die, or on YouTube, or Twitter, or Bandcamp, or whatever. No one cares, but at least it’s cheaper and easier to make things we love.

    Jeff Dunham is going to sell every ticket to every show for the next couple of years, and that’s ok. I don’t know how to like him, but most people seem to. We have to realize that we, the comedy nerds, (or music nerds, or film nerds, whatever) are still in the MASSIVE minority. And that’s good. I wouldn’t want it any other way.

  • I stopped caring about award shows a long time ago, just because I want to be able to enjoy what I like without being told it’s cool or uncool to like something. I think if you enjoy a certain type of comedy, that’s great and you should be to do so without someone saying it’s stupid or uncool or whatever. There are a lot of opinions out there, but the only one you should really care about is your own. Sounds sappy, but it’s also very true.

  • The Emmys were lazy with giving Modern Family the house- it CAN be funny, but last season was really uneven. But, since it’s beloved by millions (damn you Nielsens!) and it’s a family comedy– the voters took the easy way out. Louie CK’s show is so different and fresh (aside from Community) it’s the most original take on a sitcom. Even when you’re not laughing, it’s making you think.

  • You know that cant let him feel even an ounce of legitimacy. That would allow for other creative people to make great productions in their own vision.
    And then what would we do with all the unemployed networks executives? What then?
    Billy, why do you and Louie CK hate America?

  • I hate that Louie CK didn’t win a single emmy. That man is a legend and he is basically putting that entire show together single handed and it looks GREAT. I mean he edits it on his freggen mac book lol.

    I just feel like it would have allowed him to feel, even for a bit, that his show was legitimized. Oh well :(

    - Billy