They're not the Oscars, but the Comedy Awards are no joke. Sure, a ceremony that honors standups as well as the actors, writers, and directors who make audiences laugh is silly, self-congratulatory, and self-mocking -- and that is precisely why it's poised to become a more important part of the comedy community.
Casey Patterson, executive vice president of event production, talent, and studio relations for Viacom Entertainment Group and co-executive producer of the Comedy Awards, told Back Stage that from its earliest stages of development, the production has involved input from a board of directors that includes comedians, writers, directors, agents, managers, and club owners. Their intent is to make an awards show by comedians, for comedians.
As proof of its commitment to comedians, the Comedy Awards has again partnered with the Entertainment Industry Foundation (EIF) to endow the American Comedy Fund, a charity that is dedicated to supporting comics in need who may not have access to housing, health insurance, or other social services. The Fund was created to coincide with the first Comedy Awards last year, in an effort to serve these entertainers who are not protected by a performers' union like SAG-AFTRA. The Actors Fund and Motion Picture & Television Fund are also supporters.
And to incorporate not only the industry but also the fans, the Comedy Awards added new viewers choice categories this year. Online voters chose their favorite comedy podcast and app, the best viral video, and the funniest comic on Twitter, celebrating the ways that comics can create and distribute content online. Many of these rising talents have not had any TV exposure, so they are finding their comedic voice in other mediums.
"We want to honor comedy across the board," Patterson said. One way of improving on that goal is to recognize the working standups who spend most of their time in comedy clubs. These are the performers who will become the next comedy stars of film and TV, Patterson said, so it made sense to add an award specifically for them.
Hannibal Buress, one of Back Stage’s "10 Comics to Watch" in 2011, beat equally hot standups Kumail Nanjiani, Chelsea Peretti, Pete Holmes, Amy Schumer, Anthony Jeselnik, and others to win the newly added award for club comic. In addition to a successful standup career, Buress is writing a comedy pilot for Fox, executive produced by Jonah Hill. His Comedy Central special "Hannibal Buress: Animal Furnace" premieres in May, and the comic will also appear in the upcoming "The Eric Andre Show" on Adult Swim this summer.
Louis C.K. won best sketch/alternative series and best directing for his FX show "Louie," as well as standup tour and comedy special of the year for "Louis C.K.: Live at the Beacon Theater." He was nominated for best actor in a TV series but lost in that category to Ty Burrell of "Modern Family."
In its two seasons on FX, "Louie" has earned both acclaim and jealousy from other comics who covet the so-called "Louie deal" that gives C.K. full creative control over the project. And when he released "Live at the Beacon Theater" directly to fans on his website last year, C.K. created a distribution model that fellow comics Aziz Ansari and Jim Gaffigan quickly appropriated.
In the press room during the ceremony, Back Stage asked C.K. if he saw his awards sweep as a statement of support for the ways he has taken ownership over not only his performance but also his business. "Well, I don't know," he said. "I mean, you can't take one sign. I'd be crazy if I left here and said, 'Now there's no stopping me!' "
The Comedy Awards airs May 6 on Comedy Central. For the complete list of winners and nominees, visit backstage.com.