The woke internet mob strikes again as “cancelled” comedians Louis C.K. and Kevin Hart have been burdened with their third and second Grammy nomination, respectively. It might come as a surprise to some that C.K., who admitted to multiple acts of sexual misconduct in 2017, quietly released an album this year. It might also surprise some that Kevin Hart could in any way claim to have been “cancelled,” as stepping away from an Oscars hosting gig didn’t slow down his stand-up or Hollywood career in the slightest. Others might be surprised that there even is a Grammy for Best Comedy Album (understandably). Is this a sign that someone as problematic as C.K. is bouncing back, or that the Grammys are so largely out of touch with the comedy world that this accolade holds no relevance anymore? Considering both men have remained wildly rich, booked and busy throughout their so-called “cancellations,” I’d venture it’s the latter.
The major entertainment arts institutions are regularly criticized by comedians for not valuing comedic works. As much as this lack of reverence shows in comedy’s absence from these papers and ceremonies, it’s just as apparent when they do get the spotlight. The sitcoms and films that catch the eye of prestige gatekeepers tend to be dramedies that lean more on the drama side, and when the Grammys look at stand-up, their gaze falls only on celebrities.
The Recording Academy nominated Lavell Crawford, Chelsea Handler, Nate Bargatze, and Lewis Black alongside Hart and C.K. for it’s only comedy award, Best Comedy Album, for the upcoming 64th Annual Grammy Awards. Bo Burnham’s Inside, arguably the most popular special of the year with both critics and fans, was not considered eligible (it was instead nominated for Best Music Film and Best Song Written for Visual Media). The Grammys offered no explanation as to why, but it is speculated to be due to its initial release via Netflix that swayed the review committee, and yet that goes for nearly all their past nominees. The Netflix association didn’t prevent Chris Rock. from securing a 2019 nomination for his special Tamborine (directed by Burnham) nor did it stop Dave Chappelle from winning the award in 2018, 2019, and 2020 for the first three specials of his ridiculously huge multi-special deal with the streamer. It’s actually quite a rarity for any nominated work to be made purely for an audio medium. The 2022 nominees are highly indicative of how the Grammys treats the genre. If you want to be considered, you have to be a household name, be over 40 years old, have millions in the bank, host a talk show, and/or star in a slew of just-ok feature films. It’s a tier that is extremely exclusive.
Despite its many contributions to the entertainment industry, stand-up comedy at its base is still a niche interest. Musical guests and acrobatic dogs get more late night gigs despite those programs being helmed by fellow comedians, and showcase shows have largely died off as Comedy Central has pushed its stand-up content mostly online. You have to be a comedy nerd and seek out new talent on your own, as the mainstream media is unlikely to help you stumble upon it. I bet the average person can only name 10 stand-up comedians, half of whom are dead, and are likely better known for their acting roles than their actual stage material. For the Grammys, their rolodex seems even smaller.
The pool of Best Comedy Album nominees is repetitive even for a major award show, as the same names pop up each year. Jim Gaffigan has found himself nominated for six albums in a row, five out of his last six for Patton Oswalt, four out of five for Rock, four in a row for Weird Al Yankovic, five in a row for Lewis Black, and, perhaps the most telling, six in a row for Kathy Griffin. While all are big names in their own right, their continued success is carried on the backs of their massive loyal fanbases. Critical reception comes in second at best, especially in the case of Griffin, who, according to the Grammys and the Grammys only, is apparently a better comedian than John Mulaney, Mitch Hedberg, Maria Bamford, Marc Maron, Kyle Kinane, and Hannibal Burress (who have all combined for a total of zero nominations).
It’s not just that the association continually snubs beloved albums and artists, it’s that they don’t seem to even know these comedians exist. For any given year, you could guess who’s been nominated for a Grammy and get it 90% right at worst as the actual albums feel superfluous to receiving a nomination. The patterns are so clear that the selection process feels more like the result of a google alert for a select collection of comedians rather than the act of listening to submissions. Going by the biggest names on the board might seem like a good shortcut, but fame and past performances only guarantee a check, not a quality special. The greats can atrophy over time just like athletes and musicians, and wealth and fame only speeds things up as they isolate them, making it harder for comedians to relate to their audience and workshop bits to an unbiased crowd.
It was only a matter of time before C.K. was hoisted onto a pedestal again. This industry has always protected abusers. It’s a system that values a facade of forgiveness over justice as the conversations always revolve around what’s next for the disgraced instead of their victims. When we ask, “how can so-and-so redeem themselves?” What we’re really asking is, “when can I openly applaud this guy again without looking like an ass?” We don’t care about anyone’s soul or some sense of peace, we care about not having to reevaluate the things we like and chasing easy money. Even someone like Bill Cosby would likely be up for a Grammy tomorrow if he ever produces another album. As much disgust as the idea generates, it’s ultimately meaningless as the Grammys aren’t much of a pedestal in reality. The only people who really care about them are those that have one. A win will do nothing more than give the man something to talk about in his next newsletter and so continues the hardships of a millionaire with slightly fewer lucrative gigs than before.
Transgressions or not, a Best Comedy Album Grammy is hardly a career-making accolade when you already have to be hugely famous to get nominated in the first place. It’s hardly a career booster when you’re on your sixth or seventh major release. The powers that be don’t care about what you’ve done or are completely oblivious to it. All they care about is how much your name pops up. It’s safe to say that as long as people like C.K., Sarah Silverman, or Jimmy Fallon are putting something out, they’ll get a nomination regardless of reputation or material. They could disappear for 10 years only to reemerge again to sell a voicemail to their doctor’s office and it would still get a nomination over the plethora of working comics dying for a televised tight five. So who is this even for?
The Grammys have consistently dropped in ratings, but that’s par for the course with award ceremonies these days—due in part to the cable-cutting habits of younger audiences, but even more so due to their seemingly out-of-touch cultural views. They’ve fallen considerably out of favor amongst musicians with their credibility waning every year. If a ceremony has lost relevance with the people it supposedly celebrates, what does that mean for a one-category genre like comedy? What kind of peer jury is even responsible for evaluating the year’s greatest achievement in jokes, and what qualifies them to do so? As much as comedy runs under the radar, if you’re going to do something you better do it right. The Grammys should save themselves the metal and stay in their lane.
Olivia Cathcart is a comedian and writer.