The Comedy Awards and the Problem with Award Shows

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With most big award shows, the comedians who show up as presenters are generally the highlights of the evening, injecting some humor into a format that is by definition self-serious and full of unnecessary pomp. Comedians show up and point out how absurd the whole thing is, keeping a televised celebration of celebrities patting each other on the back from becoming completely unwatchable. But what about when the comedians are the ones patting each other on the back?

Well, it’s tough to escape the awkwardness that comes from self-congratulation, it turns out. The Comedy Awards, which aired last night on Comedy Central and a number of other Viacom networks, had much funnier presentations and acceptance speeches than, say, the Oscars or the Golden Globes. There were lots of funny people on stage being funny! It was great to see a show that celebrated comedy! But in the end, it still felt like a forced celebration. It was telling that a lot of the jokes that hit the hardest came at the expense of the show itself. When Louis CK accepted the award for best stand-up special, he told the audience that winning the award was the only bright spot of a night that he hated literally every other aspect of. And Tina Fey seemed to sum it up best when she said, “All awards shows are bullshit made up clubs where people decide to give each other prizes. So, I want to thank Comedy Central for saying, ‘we could do that, we could give each other prizes.’”

For all the entertaining bits, like Stephen Colbert dismissing the value of his writing team, you also had overly-long montages, awkwardly sincere acceptance speeches, and a plea to donate to a charity for comedians (instead of, say, Japan or anyone else truly in need). So, essentially, all the trappings of a traditional awards show. And I am all for celebrating comedy, obviously, but the awards show format just didn’t feel quite right. Normally, you’d want to see a comedian get up there and tear the artifice of the whole thing apart, much like Ricky Gervais famously did at the most recent Golden Globes. But the “controversy” surrounding that appearance was telling as to why it was so funny and notable. While most people watching loved Gervais’ barbs at the expense of the famous millionaires in attendance, said famous millionaires were less amused. They were there to be celebrated, not mocked!

But with an audience filled with self-aware people used to making fun of such things for a living, making fun of themselves and the ceremony wasn’t a shock, it was expected. And by removing that tension and blurring the line between truth-telling jokester and deserving target of ridicule, the whole evening just felt a little…awkward. In the end, the one thing that both those being awarded and those watching the awards from home can agree on is that it’s much more satisfying for all involved for comedians be funny on their own terms. Self-congratulation just doesn’t suit them.