Patton Oswalt was asked to give the keynote at this year’s Just For Laughs festival. His plan of attack was to read two letters, one to comedians and one to the gatekeepers. The one to comedians focused on the present day’s paradigm shift as it compares to the other great comedy paradigm shift of his career:
Up until [Johnny Carson’s last show], the way you made it in comedy was very clear, simple, straightforward. You went on Carson, you killed, you got called over to the couch, and the next day you had your sitcom and your mansion, and you’re made. Just ask Drew Carey and Jerry Seinfeld and Ellen DeGeneres. And Bill Clinton. That’s how you did it.But now, Johnny was gone and he wasn’t coming back.
Now the shift is to comedians being more empowered. As he put it: “Not being lucky and not being given are no longer going to define your career as a comedian and as an artist.” Patton argued that comedians have more opportuntities than ever to reach a wide audience; however, in turn they can no longer expect to be handed anything on a platter, silver or otherwise.
His message to the industry was the flipside to this:
Comedians are getting more and more comfortable with the idea that if we’re not successful, it’s not because we haven’t gotten our foot in the door, or nobody’s given us a hand up. We can do that ourselves now. Every single day we can do more and more without you and depend on you less and less.If we work with you in the future, it’s going to be because we like your product and your choices and your commitment to pushing boundaries and ability to protect the new and difficult.
Patton’s example was he doesn’t plan on using the industry notes he was given on a pilot he’s working on with Phil Rosenthal because as Phil put it: “We’re living in a post-Louie world, and these notes are from a pre-According to Jim world.”
You can read both letters in their entirety here. The overall message was that the times have already changed and if they’re too demanding, too scary, too volatile to a comedian or executive, maybe she or he should just watch According to Jim and ponder a new career path.