How the New York alternative comedy scene has exploded | Sam Morrison welcomes the expanding landscape

How the New York alternative comedy scene has exploded

Sam Morrison welcomes the expanding landscape

In the five years since I started comedy in New York, the alternative comedy scene has exploded.

Especially from the point of view of a gay man, the landscape looks completely different. In 2017, there seemed to be just a tight knit handful of us that clubs tokenised in lineups. Now, there’s what appears to be an army of a million young queer comedians producing shows in Brooklyn doing characters, dance, storytelling, singing, and basically anything but traditional stand-up.

Queer comedians are leading the way and the whole scene has changed because of it. What was considered alternative five years ago already seems outdated and hack. Comedians are breaking the form more than ever and the specials that are coming out now are signaling a cultural shift at large in American comedy.

As someone who’s favourite comic growing up was Mike Birbiglia, I can tell you the solo show movement has been getting more and more popular and more and more vulnerable for decades, but where we’re headed is different - whatever direction Jerrod Carmichael’s Rothaniel and Bo Burnham’s Inside are pushing us toward.

Club bookers, late night, and road work were the path forward for most comedians I started comedy with. In this world, all that matters is the audience reaction and it doesn’t matter what they’re laughing at. Laughs are laughs are laughs. I’ve always rejected a rigid rule that fewer laughs = worse comedian. Burnham and Carmichael  are chasing something else. It’s wildly vulnerable. It’s meaningful. It’s exciting and opening the door for more.

I have been writing grief material  as a coping mechanism since my partner passed away from Covid in February last year, and I decided to do an hour about it, called Sugar Daddy, at the 2022 Edinburgh Festival.

In 2019 I found a safe haven in Edinburgh to experiment with the form - to attempt combine my love for theatre and stand-up. This year, I’m grateful for the space to work through my grief. I’m also grateful to be performing at a unique time where a deeply personal and vulnerable show like mine has a shot at commercial success, even in the States.

Whatever it was: Nanette, the pandemic, streamers taking more risks, more diverse voices, identity obsessed millennials, etc… there’s more space now for comedians experimenting with the form, especially with vulnerability.

I love traditional stand-up, and rest assured, it is not under attack, but half the specials coming out today, I can’t imagine would have been  on Comedy Central in 2017. These specials have inspired my current show and reimagined how far it can go.

Sam Morrison: Sugar Daddy is on at the Gilded Balloon at 6.20pm during the Edinburgh Fringe

Published: 1 Aug 2022

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