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Basic Networks Try Stand-Up Routine

Several basic-cable networks are embracing stand-up comedy and creating series that offer new twists on the genre.

From competition series to shows that combine scripted segments and traditional stand-up routines, networks such as Comedy Central, AXS TV and Aspire are hearking back to a genre that had its heyday in the late 1980s and early ’90s with such popular offerings as HBO’s Def Comedy Jam, BET’s Comic View and Comedy Central Presents.

The explosion of the Web — where young comics often post their routines first — has hurt the genre on TV, executives said. But viewers are again turning to comedy for relief and escapism during difficult economic times.

“We’re in turbulent times, and that’s given voice to a lot of young comics that have something to say,” Jonas Larsen, senior vice president of specials and talent for Comedy Central, said. “Comedy has been dormant for some time, but the embers had been burning and now it’s is back in a big way.”

Comedy Central will offer at least seven stand-up comedy series in 2014 along with its lineup of more than 20 original one-hour specials. In 2013, the network’s standup programming posted a 16% ratings increase among the network’s target demo of adults 18 to 49 demo and a 21% increase among men 18 to 34.

Shows like Adam Devine’s House Party and Mash Up have revitalized the genre by mixing traditional stand-up performances with scripted sketches and sketch-comedy shorts, Larsen said. Another series, The Meltdown With Jonah and Kumail, will be shot in documentary style, depicting comedians on-stage and behind the scenes at Meltdown Comics in Los Angeles.

AXS TV is looking to literally liven up the genre with two original, live series, Tom Green Live and Gotham Comedy Live. The real-time nature of the two series is drawing viewers to the entertainment and sports-centric network, said veteran comic Jim Breuer, host and consulting producer of Gotham Comedy Live.

“The future of standup comedy will be live and uncut content,” he said.

Upstart Aspire TV is mixing onstage performances with reality content in its new original series Laff Mobb’s We Got Next, which launched Feb. 18. Produced by Def Comedy Jam co-executive producer Bob Sumner, the series will profile 32 comedians offering clean, non-profanity-laced performances to determine who will be the next big star.

The future of the genre lies in building up new, young comedic talent that young viewers can identify with and will tune in to watch on a week-toweek basis, Sumner told Multichannel News.