Remember going to Comedy Central to only watch South Park, stand up specials, and their roasts? Remember not watching Mind of Mencia?
I used to say Comedy Central wasn’t funny. Now I’m eating crow.
Comedy Central is finally the center of comedy. Within the past five years, the network has undergone a complete transformation. Their original series lineup that used to simply cater to their 18-34 male core demographic has now been expanded to appeal to a more diverse audience, from sitcoms like Broad City to talk shows like @Midnight to sketch shows like Key and Peele. Comedy Central has the best content in every vertical. The network now has its finger squarely on the pulse of what makes people laugh today.
All of this is with many thanks to Kent Alterman, the man at the helm of Comedy Central’s development. His approach to development is revolutionary, and begins with his unbelievable eye for talent.
If you’ve seen my work (you haven’t, it’s fine) you’ll know I believe Amy Schumer is the most important comedian to watch right now. We have Alterman and Comedy Central to thank for believing in her, as well as bona fide stars like Keegan-Michael Key, Jordan Peele, Hannibal Buress, Ilana Glazer, Abbi Jacobson, and Nathan Fielder, among others. These talents, who are all widely accepted and critically acclaimed at this point, were relatively unknown before Comedy Central got a hold of them. This is a vastly different approach from NBC, for example, where executives took a “risk” on 30 Rock despite Tina Fey accomplishing more in comedy that most people could ever dream of at that point (and then they went and passed on Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt, so, smart move, guys).
Nowhere is Comedy Central’s investment in new talent more apparent than with Hannibal Buress. From his stand-up specials, role as Lincoln on Broad City, and now new series Why? With Hannibal Buress premiering on July 8, the network saw something in him, and gave him several platforms to create.
Alterman offers the kind of support that no other network executive can offer. In an interview with The New York Times, Abbi Jacobson of Broad City says she’s often nervous to present Alterman with some of their ideas, but that he always "reassures [their] weirdness." This highlights another aspect of Alterman’s philosophy-—not only does he take risks on relative unknowns, but also he takes risks on relative unknowns who have offbeat comedic sensibility, and he encourages those differences.
The reasoning behind all of this is because he has an eye for talent that he thinks (read: knows) is going to define the conversation. In the same New York Times feature, Jordan Peele says that before they locked down the identity of the show, Comedy Central didn’t have something to hold on to. Undeterred, Alterman sought to find what made Key and Peele undeniable comedic voices. The three began talking about their personal experiences growing up. Peele recalls saying that “because of Obama, people are realizing that there’s this mixed community that has a very interesting perspective.” When Alterman heard that, Peele remembers him saying, “This is something that needs to happen, and could only happen, right now.”
That’s what is so special about Comedy Central at the moment. Their comedy isn’t garbage—it has a message. Key and Peele, Inside Amy Schumer, and Broad City are tackling important issues about race, gender, and sexuality via comedy. It’s incredibly inspiring to see a network rally behind people with important things to say, and they’re saying it right to the demographic that needs to hear it the most. They’re taking risks, getting weird, and showcasing diverse perspectives. Amongst a Hollywood landscape so full of artifice and bullshit, it’s remarkable to see a network genuinely invest so deeply in young stars and foster their talent. This network is redefining the network approach to development, all for the sake of creating content that makes a difference.
So now, a call to action—Buress’ series premiere (tomorrow!) is a reminder to us all. We as the audience need to support Comedy Central’s efforts to make quality, important content. It may not be perfect at first, and we have to let it not be perfect at first. We need to give their shows a chance to work out the kinks in their first season. If we all stop watching Comedy Central online or on actual TVs (What? Who does that?), then all of this beauty is going to stop. So please don’t mess this up for me. We have a very, very nice thing going here. Don’t make me yell, “THIS IS WHY WE CAN’T HAVE NICE THINGS” down the line if this ever comes to an end. I know I won’t have to, because you’re going to support Comedy Central if you aren't already. Because it’s running the comedy game right now. Thank you for your time.