December 29, 2005
Transmedia's Effects on Comedy

Mark Oppenheimer's article "The Fall of Standup" in last Friday's Wall Street Journal raises an interesting point to me. While it may be debatable whether standup is a media that rich for narrativity as compared to other forms of storytelling, Andy Kaufman has raised some degree of question as to whether standup can be used as a way to further narratives in other media forms, through his Tony Clifton/Andy Kaufman performances.

In this particular article, though, Oppenheimer points out that the movement of comics like Jerry Seinfeld and Jay Leno to television weakened the stand-up world becuase more talented comedians opted to skip the stand-up route and go straight to television writing.

This raises an interesting point in transmedia storytelling and likely provides one of the reasons why some companies are resistant to transmedia opportunities. If you know a genre well, you have control of your product. If you try to branch your product out into other storytelling forms, there is some danger in damaging the original media of the story by trying to spread it into areas that take the power more out of the hands of the "creator."

For instance, what happens when comic books inspire movies but the movie franchise becomes much more popular than the comic book. On the one hand, it may make the particular comic book more popular as fans of the films start buying the comic series. Or, is it possible that certain comic book heroes will come to be seen more as film heroes? Sure, DC or Marvel will still pocket most of the money in a situation like this, but there has to be some concern from breaking away from the medium that you've most clearly established yourself in in the first place.

I believe that transmedia done correctly will always be successful, but I wonder if this type of fear--this fear of losing the art of standup somewhere in the late night talk show or the sitcom--might be one of the reasons some companies who could benefit from transmedia storytelling have not embraced it