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08/03/14

Laugh factory: Why some comedians can't churn out sitcom gold

No one is going to argue the point that the late George Carlin is one of the most revered, influential and intelligent stand up comedians of all time. You could say that about others of that same ilk, namely Bill Cosby and Jerry Seinfeld.
As much as these comedians are iconic and the standard bearer in terms of writing ability, talent and longevity in their careers, there is one glaring thing they don't share in common.
Sitcom success.
A long standing television tradition is finding a wondrous and remarkable stand up comedian with a red hot act and finding a vehicle for him to star on a major television or cable network. Cosby had the long running and aptly titled "Cosby Show" that took the loveable Cosby himself and essentially transformed his stage act into a television series that was a sure fire winner.
Seinfeld also is a prime example of an entire show built around an act that also included outstanding writing and a cast that was tailor made for what Seinfeld and co creator Larry David had in mind as their vision for a sitcom about "nothing."

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What truly is something is how other superstar stand up acts tried and failed miserably when it comes to making the transition from stage to screen. As successful as Carlin was with his HBO specials and touring the world and imparting his unique wisdom on the masses, his "George Carlin Show" on Fox bombed.
The network took Carlin, an R rated act on stage, and watered down his humor with bad writing and jokes that didn't feel as though they were coming from Carlin himself, much different than what we got from Seinfeld and Cosby with their respective shows.
And that truly is the difference maker when networks start combing the country for up and coming comedians to build shows around each and every season. A guy like Kevin James had a comedy act that appealed to the masses and was tremendously universal in its content and delivery, which made "King of Queens" a ratings hit for almost a decade.
You can't pluck a guy like Eddie Murphy, Richard Pryor or Carlin off the stage and start turning them into PG mockeries and parodies of what made them elite in their original craft and field. That mentality isn't iron clad by any means as newcomer Chris D'Elia is seeing decent success with his "Undateable" show on NBC, even though his act hardly would be described as child friendly or fit for prime time.
For his sake, maybe the rules won't apply, and he'll be the exception to what history has proven to be a tough road for some comedians when it comes to how well they do on television.

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