Historically, the comedy industry has been helmed by gatekeeper institutions; those generally over 25 years old, well known even among those who are not industry insiders, and with a proven record of propelling people towards success. By examining the impact that the rising popularity of digital user-generated comedy content (UGC) has had on existing industry structure, this study addresses two research questions: 1) How has the rise of UGC affected comedy gatekeepers’ power to shape aspiring comedians’ content and careers? 2) Has digital media democratized comedy, or only created new areas and talent for gatekeepers to exploit?
To attempt to answer these questions, nineteen aspiring and practicing comedians, ranging in age from early 20s to mid 50s, were interviewed. Questions were drawn from three categories: 1) comedic aspirations of interviewees over time; 2) perspectives on industry gatekeepers and the democratizing power of the internet; and 3) how these perspectives changed the way interviewees perceive a path to comedic success.
Findings suggest that validation from gatekeepers is still considered a feather in one’s cap and a nod to one’s talent, while taking classes at a prolific comedy theater is a common starting point for aspiring comedians. They also suggest that many comedians use digital content as a means to an end. Finally, they imply that social media and the rise of UGC comedy demonstrate that gatekeepers no longer hold the weight they used to: that the playing-field has been, if not completely leveled, then significantly altered to benefit UGC creators.