In some ways, its never been a better time to be a comic. Stand-ups are demanding more money than ever for televised specials both Chris Rock and Ricky Gervais were reportedly paid $40 million for their 2018 Netflix specials, and who can forget Jerry Seinfelds $100 million deal the year before and the streaming service produced more than 40 original stand-up specials in English this year.
At the same time, comics made headlines for a lot of negative news this year, as well. Stand-up legend Bill Cosby was sentenced to up to 10 years in prison for sexual assault, and Louis C.K. and Aziz Ansari performed publicly again after facing sexual violence allegations.
Comics had a hard time increasing viewership for awards shows, and, in many cases, made tuning into tedious ceremonies that much more painful were looking at you Emmy hosts Colin Jost and Michael Che.
Still, there were a handful of triumphant moments in stand-up, and many of them belonged to women. Unless youve been living under a rock, you will have seen, or at the very least heard of, Hannah Gadsbys breakthrough Netflix special, Nanette. And Ali Wong, Tig Notaro and Iliza Shlesinger also starred in critically praised specials.
Below, we run through some of the highs and lows of the year in stand-up.
Some might argue its never been a more dangerous time to be a comedian, especially if you are male. The past 12 months saw #MeToo activists continue to call out men in Hollywood for sexual harassment and assault. That included names like Aziz Ansari, Andy Dick and Jeremy Piven, whose names were added to a blacklist that already included Bill Cosby and Louis C.K. Closer to home, Just For Laughs founder Gilbert Rozon was accused of sexual harassment on several counts, prompting him to step down from the Montreal-based company. As a result, JFL released an anti-harassment policy for employees ahead of its 2018 season.
For at least one male comic, rape accusations were career-ending. In April, Bill Cosby was found guilty of three counts of aggravated and indecent assault, and in September the former sitcom star was sentenced to serve a minimum of three years and a max of 10 behind bars. More than 60 women accused Cosby of rape, drugging, sexual assault, battery and misconduct dating back decades.
In late 2017, multiple women accused Louis C.K. of sexual harassment (he masturbated in front of them), and the 50-year-old comic admitted to the allegations. At the time, I said to myself that what I did was okay because I never showed a woman my dick without asking first, he responded. I also took advantage of the fact that I was widely admired in my and their community. He ended the lengthy statement by saying, I will now step back and take a long time to listen. That lasted less than a year. By August, C.K. started appearing at New Yorks Comedy Cellar, and has continued to perform unannounced sets since. At a December 2 show, a woman in the audience heckled him by yelling, Get your dick out.
C.K. wasnt the only stand-up on the comeback in 2018. Ansari was accused of forcing a woman to perform sexual acts without her consent in an article published on babe.net. For fans and many #MeToo activists, the allegations were a point of contention since the Master Of None creator had previously been outspoken on womens rights and other markers of wokeness. Ansari said he was surprised and concerned, before retreating for months. In the summer, he announced his Working Out New Material tour, which sold out two stops in Toronto in November. The tour has been extended into 2019.
Australian comic Hannah Gadsby, who identifies as lesbian and gender non-conforming, broke out of relative obscurity at least for North American audiences with her Netflix hit Nanette in June. In the hour-long set, Gadsby called out everything from straight white men and homophobia to fine art and mental illness. While those jokes flowed fine, the real shocker came about halfway through the show, when Gadsby deconstructs the jokes she told at the start, rendering them unfunny. By ultimately threatening to blow up her career in the name of staying true to her identity, she has found her greatest success.
In 2017, Ali Wong headlined Torontos JFL42, selling out multiple shows thanks to the success of her Baby Cobra special. Those of us who were lucky enough to score tickets got a sneak peak of the California-based comics next Netflix special. In May, Hard Knock Wife came out on Mothers Day. Fittingly, a big chunk of the show revels in Wongs experiences as a new mom from parenting double standards to postpartum bodies. And since her set was filmed over two shows in Toronto, spotting audience members was part of the thrill of watching the special.
Back in April, a not-so-well-conceived show called White Guys Matter took place at Yuk Yuks, inciting the ire of just about everyone. The show of all-male stand-ups hosted by Aaron Berg promised no safe space as comics took on race, religion, sexuality and sexism. Critics, mostly women in comedy, called the theme offensive, especially to Black Lives Matter activists, victims of gender-based violence and other marginalized groups. Still, the show went on, proving that white male comics really do matter.
Despite the highs and lows of international stand-up, Torontos scene has never been stronger. The Comedy Bar, a basement club on Bloor West serving up laughs seven days a week, celebrated a decade of business in November. For many Toronto stand-ups, Comedy Bar has been like a second home, a place where a diverse range of talent especially voices typically marginalized is booked regularly. Heres to another 10 years of local laughs.
A big reason for tuning into a three-hour-long TV award show is the host. Before Netlix came along, award shows were the main platform for stand-ups to shine in front of huge audiences a sign you made it. Too bad 2018 was full of duds. We mentioned Colin Jost and Michael Ches snoozefest of hosting the Emmys up top, but Seth Meyers was equally boring albeit the safe choice compared with Ricky Gervias for the Golden Globes. Jimmy Kimmel hosted the Oscars for a second time in 2018 and turned his attention to gender inequality in Hollywood while avoiding any pointed criticisms of Trump.
And Kevin Hart just stepped down from hosting the 2019 Oscars after a backlash to homophobic comments he made online nearly a decade earlier. Since then, many have suggested Hannah Gadsby should step in, but the Academy has responded by saying theyre considering not having a host at all.