Proving that artists can work with major entertainment brands while maintaining creative control, Louis C.K., the unofficial leader of the direct-to-fan model of distribution, will film his next stand-up special for HBO. "I am doing a stand-up special for HBO," C.K. tweeted Nov. 12. "It will be avail on louisck.com a few months after HBO, globally, $5 no dmr. [sic]"
C.K. started a revolution of sorts, spurring other well-established comedians to adopt a more DIY method of production and distribution after he released his Emmy-winning special Live at the Beacon Theatre late last year exclusively through his website. Aziz Ansari and Jim Gaffigan were the first to follow the veteran comedian's lead, releasing Dangerously Delicious and Mr. Universe respectively through their official websites.
Eventually, it became clear C.K. had not ruled out working with networks, as long as it was on his terms. In May, an edited version of Beacon made its television debut on FX, the network that carries his Emmy-winning series Louie. On May 11, the day before the television premiere of Beacon, he announced that he would release an audio version of his 2007 HBO special Shameless, previously only available on DVD.
"I asked HBO to let me offer it on this site and they agreed," C.K. said in May. "They also agreed to let me offer it, the same as the rest, DRM free, for five dollars. Obviously I'll be sharing the Shameless money with HBO but I think it's pretty cool that they're letting this be out there unprotected like this."
Like C.K., who had found success in this hybrid strategy, Gaffigan struck a deal with Netflix to release Mr. Universe through their streaming service; the special also had a television debut on Comedy Central, who later released a proper album version: Image Entertainment released the DVD. Ansari debuted a televised version of Dangerously Delicious on Comedy Central, who then put out the corresponding album.
And the trend of avoiding complete dependence on traditional avenues of distribution and marketing is only growing more popular. Comedian Rob Delaney recently self-released his first stand-up special through his site and had Comedy Central release the album version. Comedians Tom Rhodes, Moshe Kasher and Todd Glass just released new specials exclusively through Netflix. And Maria Bamford announced last week that she'll be releasing her newest stand-up special through Chill.com, a social media site; she filmed it in her living room with her parents as the only audience members.
Shortly after C.K. proved the viability of his model, having raked in more than $1 million in just a few days, comedy watchers across the country were wondering what this meant for the suits in control of the historically traditional avenues of comedy dissemination. Would Comedy Central, Showtime, HBO et al. languish under the thumb of the artists? Would their services no longer be needed? Would comedians visit the headquarters of every relevant television network and burn that shit to the ground?
Nearly a year after C.K.'s experiment (and two years after Brian Regan did the same, albeit to no fanfare), it seems that both artists and suits can coexist peacefully. It's boring, I know. But for now, it's true.