Back on Top
Though it had fallen out of favor in the early 1990s, stand-up comedy was back on an upswing by the end of the decade. By 2000, stand-up was back on top. "Packaged" stand-up tours like The Original Kings of Comedy (featuring, among others, the late Bernie Mac) began selling out theaters and playing to packed houses, going on to become the most successful comedy tour of all time (and eventually becoming a documentary/concert film directed by Spike Lee). Chris Rock continued to build upon the success he found in the late '90s, transforming himself into one of the biggest and best stand-ups of all time. Comedy clubs and improvisational theater troupes (like Second City) began to resurface on from coast to coast. Comedy was cool again.
Comedy on Computers and Cable
A major boon for the comedy world was the explosion of the internet. By the early 2000s, countless websites had become devoted to showcasing comedy; video and clip-sharing sites like YouTube allowed audiences new access to stand-up, sketch and improvisational comedy. Networking sites such as MySpace and Facebook allowed thousands of comedians a new venue for exposure and promotion, and new communities of comedy fans began to develop.
The cable network Comedy Central, which had been around since the '90s, was also instrumental in securing the success of stand-up in the 2000s. The network, which once had primarily shown reruns of past comedy shows (like Saturday Night Live, The Kids in the Hall, Whose Line is it Anyway? and The Ben Stiller Show) began to develop more and more original programming based around stand-up comedians. Programs like Comedy Central Presents, Premium Blend and Live at Gotham all offered showcases for stand-up comedians, and new original programs were developed around comedians from Sarah Silverman to Lewis Black. Fans of comedy could now see a number of their favorite performers nearly 24 hours a day.
Another boost to the stand-up scene in the 2000s was the phenomenal rise of comedian Dane Cook. Perhaps more than any other comic of the new millennium, Cook used the internet to build his celebrity and create a name for himself -- eventually racking up 2.3 million "friends" on his MySpace profile. He also became the first comedian since Steve Martin in the 1970s to have an album debut in the Top 10 of the Billboard 200. Cook became the biggest name in stand-up, selling out stadiums across the country, creating legions of new comedy fans and bringing new attention to stand-up comedy.
More Voices of the Millennium
In addition to Cook, a number of comic voices found an audience in the 2000s. Alternative comedy continued to thrive and broke through to the mainstream, with comics like Patton Oswalt and Sarah Silverman becoming some of the most recognizable and successful comedians working.
Comedian Jeff Foxworthy also helped launch a new comedy franchise, "Blue Collar comedy," in the 2000s. Appealing to a totally different audience than the alternative comics or the Original Kings of Comedy, the Blue Collar comics became their own phenomenon. In addition to the massively successful Blue Collar Comedy Tour, several concert films and their own channel on SIRIUS Satellite Radio, the Blue Collar comics helped bring sketch comedy back to prime time television with their own weekly series, Blue Collar TV.
Not Going Away
Stand-up comedy seemed to finally find its niche in the 2000s. In many ways, it had regained much of the cool cache it garnered in the 1970s, but still remained visible in the mainstream. From clubs to TV to the internet, audiences had more opportunities of finding stand-up than ever before. It had taken a long time to get there, but comedy was finally here to stay.
Having regained its popularity and viability as an art form, stand-up continued to change and evolve into the next decade. Though the 2000s had laid a lot of the groundwork for the face of contemporary stand-up comedy, the years after 2010 brought about even more change.