April 22, 2013 -- Beginning today, Monday, April 22, Comedy Central is hosting #ComedyFest, a five-day event where a slew of comedians will share their material on Twitter using the #ComedyFest hashtag. More than a simple collection of puns and pithy observations on cat videos, the festival will also include funny Vines, as well as a Monday night livestream of a panel discussion at LA's Paley Center for Media featuring Mel Brooks, Carl Reiner, and host Judd Apatow.
And while there's a very valid argument to be had that comedians already spend a lot of time sharing one-liners and funny short videos on Twitter, #ComedyFest is just the tip of the iceberg where Comedy Central's attempts to create a meaningful relationship to mobile and social media are concerned. As the channel's senior vice president for prgramming and multiplatform strategy tells The New York Times, "One of these days we will be ambivalent about where people watch Comedy Central." To that end, Comedy Central is developing a new app, called CC: Stand-Up, which aims to help users discover comedians and routines based on a recommended algorithm. And while the need to offer content beyond television exists for a variety of networks and programs, humor lends itself to this expansion rather beautifully -- from Punch and Judy shows to The Canterbury Tales to your uncle's holiday dinner table routines, comedy has always been "multi-platform."
Of course, Twitter has already proven itself a useful vehicle for comedy-related media as well as for individual comedians, sketch groups, and improv troupes, but there is still the question of whether using a hashtag, as this event does, can prove an organized way of connecting an audience to a group of comedians rather than the individual entertainers they already like and follow. After all, anyone can jump in on a hashtag, and any major trending topic can and will result in a lot of junk and unnecessary commentary from the peanut gallery, which will usually Lo0k sUmthng lyk tHis #smh.
As more and more artists carve out innovative ways to share their work with their audience -- whether in the form of the YouTube collective JASH or Louis CK's decision to offer a show to fans directly, without cable as a middleman -- the challenge will be to share quality content in a way that makes sense for fans without bombarding them with a lot of extra noise. Because audiences now have more than a click of the remote to register their boredom or dissatisfaction -- they have literally dozens of ways to tune you out if your joke doesn't land. Not to mention dozens of ways to tell you, directly, how much you suck.
As for #ComedyFest -- comedians are clearly already doing their thing on Twitter. Comedy Central isn't providing them with a new platform by any stretch of the imagination. But it is heartening to see a network realize and act on the knowledge that TV is just one, tiny facet of its audience's entertainment experience.