Funny business

By MIKE MILIARD  |  May 8, 2008

Oswalt says the symbiotic relationship between comedians and bands stands to reason. “We share similar interests. We share similar lives and schedules. So we’re definitely gonna overlap. I’m a big fan of theirs, and I’m always flattered to find out that they’re a fan of me. They listen to me on their tour bus.”

Wired to explode
One big thing the two camps have in common is the importance of the Web in effecting indie music and indie comedy’s recent resurgences. Just as music was moribund in the nü-metal nightmare years of the late ’90s and early ’00s — only to see a rebirth of sorts thanks to sites such as PitchforkI Love Music, and the blog aggregator The Hype Machine — so does alternative comedy owe much of its recent ubiquity to Internet-driven promulgation.

The Web is a boon to audiences and comedians because its promise is threefold: it allows for the easy discovery of new talent; it offers the opportunity to check out comedians’ acts via YouTube or iTunes samples before plunking down $15 to see them live or buy their albums; and it fosters the development of fan communities, which can bond over shared affinities, and proselytize to others online.

Take a site like aspecialthing.com, which started as a Tenacious D message board but soon morphed into an all-purpose comedy free-for-all, a place for fans to compare notes, hype new discoveries, root, rant, and recap. Oswalt has an account there, and since 2004, he’s been engaging in a running dialogue — archived in two separate Q&A threads — with the site’s members, answering questions about the business and craft of comedy, the forebears he admires (Bob Newhart, Jonathan Winters), the works of H.P. Lovecraft, and the delights of five-star dining.

Then there are the podcasts, like the excellent The Sound of Young America (find it on iTunes or, more recently, on Public Radio International), which offer in-depth and informative interviews with comics of all stripes: Chris Elliott, Michael Cera, the guys behind Aqua Teen Hunger Force, and cartoonist Tony Millionaire, to name just a few.

The Web has opened a whole new avenue for comedy: online video. Sites like Super DeluxeCollege Humor, and Funny or Die offer multitudinous riches — if you know where to look. Yes, as wired.com opined recently, a lot of what’s on offer is “quantity over quality . . . countless two-minute videos that are more fungal than viral.” But there’s tons of great stuff out there. Seek the shorts from the criminally underexposed sketch troupe Variety SHAC, or Derek Waters’s dumb/brilliant Drunk History clips, or Fatal Farm’s twisted re-imagined TV credit sequences, or David Wain’s wickedly funny Wainy Days series.

“The Internet is a huge part of it,” says Mirman, who regularly puts videos on YouTube. “You can post something on MySpace, and in a random city a few hundred people who know about you will come.” A lot of the power to self-advertise has been decentralized, he says. “Although it’s clearly still helpful to be on television, this is sort of very American. You can make yourself a star.”

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Related: A User’s Guide to AltCom 2008, Interview: Eugene Mirman, Comic belief, More more >
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