Since 2014 is drawing to a close, I thought it would be the perfect time to reflect back on the year that was. And when it comes to comedy, there were lots of changes on the landscape, both nationally and within our own little improv universe.
When you look back at all of the massive changes that comedy underwent this past year, it’s pretty exciting. It feels like there has been a big shift this year from the comedy of the past to a new, different kind of comedy era. For once, I’m really excited about the future.
And now, here it is. My top 12 changes in comedy from 2014:
1. WE SAW BIG CHANGES IN LATE LIGHT TALK SHOWS
The late night landscape experienced an entire revolution, with Jimmy Fallon taking over for Jay Leno on The Tonight Show, iO alum Seth Meyers taking over for Jimmy, and Craig Ferguson exiting to make room for James Corden (we didn’t see that coming?). And we’re all anticipating how Colbert will fill Letterman’s shoes, as he transitions from his blowhard, pompous character to an honest-to-goodness host. We think Colbert will pull it off and make the late night wars interesting again.
2. SNL ADDRESSED ITS DIVERSITY ISSUE
Back in 2013, Kenan Thompson told TV Guide that the lack of black women on SNL prevented the show from spoofing pop culture icons like Michelle Obama, Beyonce, Oprah, etc. — but that neither he nor Jay Pharoh were going to play women anymore. In the end, the heat about SNL’s lack of black women got so intense that the show was forced to change. And here we are, a year later, with two black women and three black men in SNL’s cast – it’s baby steps, but we like the direction they are going in.
3. WE LOST A WHOLE LOT OF COMEDY LEGENDS
It was a hard year for the comedy community. From improv genius Robin Williams to Second City alums like Joan Rivers, Mike Nichols, Sheldon Patinkin and Dick Schall, we lost many of the greats that put improv on the map. And then, of course, we had the controversy around Bill Cosby. In the words of Chris Rock, “We lost Robin, we lost Joan, and we kind of lost Cosby.”
4. iO-CHICAGO MOVED TO A NEW LOCATION
Charna Halpern moved her improv theater to a new location — one that’s more than twice as big as the old location. They added a really cool bar and two more theaters, including one run by the legendary TJ and Dave, called The Mission. My only regret: I was out of town for the star-studded opening.
5. UCB GOT ANOTHER COOLER, BIGGER SPACE
UCB opened a brand-spanking new facility on Sunset Blvd in Los Angeles, proving that improv and sketch may still have more room to grow. Or that the improv bubble will be bursting soon. Either way, they have come a very long way in a short period of time.
6. THE SECOND CITY TRAINING CENTER ANNOUNCED EXPANSIONS
Not to be outdone by Charna or UCB in LA, Second City also put its stake in the ground, launching a brand new Film, TV and Digital department to help improv students learn how to master comedy’s new medium – the web series. The comedy school also announced plans to add 25,000 square feet of classroom and theater space to its already university-sized training center some time next year.
7. COMEDY WEB SERIES STARTED TO BE TAKEN SERIOUSLY
No longer a place for cat videos or guys getting hit in the nuts, the web proved itself in 2014 to be a lucrative platform for comedians. Creators of web series stated to finally get the respect they deserved by getting their projects distributed, and getting paid to do them. In 2014, past Improv Nerd guests Broad City premiered their show on Comedy Central, and High Maintenance became Vimeo’s first program on the Vimeo On Demand platform. Big things are on the horizon from the YouTube generation.
8. TRANSPARENT BROKE TV BARRIERS
Leave it to The Annoyance’s Jill Solloway to make her own experiences into an incredible work of art. In this critically acclaimed series on Amazon, Solloway takes a story from her own life about a parent making the transition from one gender to another and turns it into comedic gold. If all she did was push our understanding of the gender binary, that would be enough — but this show is constantly going to areas where no other show has gone before.
9. MUSICAL IMPROV WENT TO BROADWAY
Improv Boston’s musical genius Michael Decouteaux took musical improv to whole new level this year with Blank the Musical, which was co-produced by the UCB and had a successful run off Broadway last fall. Nobody has more passion for musical improv than Mike does, and it would not surprise me if he has something even bigger in the works for 2015.
10. THE INDY IMPROV SCENE CAUGHT ON
While the improv institutions were growing exponentially in scope and size, the independent improv moment also saw a huge resurgence. Independent teams and groups are filling a necessary void. Not only are more people striking out and creating their own spaces and performance venues, but also improv teachers like Miles Stroth, Dina Facklis, Bill Arnett and Kevin Mullaney have started their own, independent programs. It’s a trend we hope continues.
11. ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY JUMPED THE SHARK
Entertainment Weekly used to be a publication that made you feel like an insider in the entertainment industry. It had great writing and great reporting, and it was something I used to look forward to getting every week in the mail. Well, all that changed as the old timers left the building and a bunch of dopey kids took over the reins. The last two issues have featured celebrity gift guides — I mean, can you say “lame”?
12. IMPROV NERD REACHED A MILESTONE
Yes, I’m putting my own podcast on the list, but I don’t care. With more than 100 episodes and nearly 400,000 downloads, this podcast is being used as a master class for improvisers all over the world. Unfortunately, it still hasn’t done anything to help with my self-esteem.
Want to study with Jimmy Carrane? His next Art of Slow Comedy Class, Level 1, begins Jan. 7 and runs on Wednesdays from 6-8 p.m. Or take his one-day workshop, the Two-Person Scene Tune-Up, on Saturday, Jan. 3. Register today!