Humor is one of the most fundamental affinities that unite people across time, age, and language. Its no coincidence that ancient Greeks believed humors were bodily fluids that needed to be balanced to control health and emotion. Throughout history comedy has developed, improved, and continually changed with events of the current time period. And since the dawn of television uniting us across time and distance, this technological advancement opened a new portal for endless comedic possibilities. With the beginning of cable creating inexorable fragmentation of niche audiences across the hundreds television channels we have today, Comedy Central has consistently appealed to its main audience market throughout its history of consistent programming and creative content; and through these devices create trends that encourage regular audience engagement.
Conceived in 1990 by Time Warner Cable, The Comedy Channel, as it was called then, set out to do what no other cable channel attempted to do – to be exclusively comedy, 24 hours a day (MediaWiki). In the first couple years as a channel, The Comedy Channel competed with Viacom’s Network Ha!. During this time The Comedy Channel focused on material that was generally low-budget, original and unusual series, such as Mystery Science Theater 3000, a wacky cult show featuring a man trapped in a space station by an evil scientist, or casual variety talk shows such as The Sweet Life with Rachel Sweet, or Night After Night with Allan Havey, whereas Ha’s Network focused mostly on re-runs of sitcoms and sketch comedy, as well as full length showings of Saturday Night Live (Boone). After two short years, Viacom bought out Time Warner, merging the two networks, and recreating their image to become Comedy Central as we know and love today (MediaWiki).
But before we get into the trends of the network, we must first discuss Comedy Central’s audience and the key demographic for television. In terms of general television, most key demographic group lie within the age range of 18 – 49 (Weinman), where the primary audience is between 24-30, and the secondary target being 18-69 (Buttry). Meaning, the audience that a network is aiming to appeal to is typically young adults who “have been TV’s target demographic for decades, because they’re thought to have less brand loyalty and more disposable income” (Weinman). Comedy Central takes it one step further, focusing generally on middle class adults, specifically males (MediaWiki). They have consistently captured this key demographic throughout their time as a cable network through creating their brand via content and not until recently, social media.
Their appeal to white, middle class men, an age 18-49 is apparent through their programming. Though women account for approximately 40% of the demographics that make up the audience, it’s the remaining 60% of the male population that the programming predominantly appeals to (NY Interconnect). Just watch several of the shows on Comedy Central and the trend becomes apparent. The programming is overrun by crude, audacious, irreverent humor, which is consistent throughout the networks entire history. One such example is the loud, sexually charged, stereotypically masculine spectacle, The Man Show, hosted by Jimmy Kimmel and Adam Carolla (Comedy Central 1999-2004), where they feature attractive women in revealing clothes as the “Juggy Dance Squad” at the beginning of every show. There is an excess of other examples throughout the network’s show history, but other notables include South Park, which is one of the most popular shows to run on Comedy Central. First created in 1997, South Park is considered the show that put Comedy Central as a leading cable network into the 21st century (Comedy Central). The obscene, dark, and immaturely hilarious cartoon captured the network’s key demographic, while additionally achieving the highest rating at a 3.8 in its first season (Carter). South Park is still a top show on the network today, continually creating adventures for the characters based off of humor of current events.
Though young white males aren’t particularly distinctive for marketing purposes, this largest “niche audience” is a great target for Comedy Central. The network assumes that men are obsessed with offensive, sexual, and immature material, which allows their shows to be more overt, speaking to that particular demographic that is likely to agree with them, and more often than not, find the content of programs funny (Zimdars). This is how the trend of “male oriented” material is created, and why it continues to be reinforced through current shows as well.
Shows featured on Comedy Central today included the likes of Tosh.O, Workaholics, and Bro-Dependent, all of which are obviously marketed toward the key male demographic. Between the shamelessly articulated rape jokes on Tosh.O, and Adam and Ders being “fully torqued” on Workaholics (S1E9, 2011), to the very obvious appeal of “two yoked and tanned best bros” on Bro-Dependent, one can see that the content does not carry major differentiation when it comes to diverging from audience appeal.
Though the network continues to trend as a male-oriented content provider, in the past decade Comedy Central has seen in increase in women-featured shows as well. Shows such as The Sarah Silverman Program, or more recently, Inside Amy Schumer, take on issues of abortion, racism, sex, and relationships, but do so through a tomboyish, backward way. One would think incorporating women in the show line up would signal turn toward a more equalitarian marketing direction, these women-featured shows aren’t actually women oriented at all. Both Sarah Silverman and Amy Schumer are traditionally attractive women who will hold a male’s gaze, but still are unafraid of dropping “F*** bombs” or using obscene humor. Since the second season renewal of Inside Amy Schumer, it has been considered “one of Comedy Central’s highest rated shows – particularly with young men, a demographic TV has the hardest time reaching” (Zurawik). Regardless, though these shows feature women as main characters, they still tailor their shows to the male audience.
Throughout its time as a cable channel, Comedy Central has reliably offered programming that appeals to the key media demographic of the young white male. With fragmentation of television, offering content tailored to this niche audience, it creates a trend that can be tracked across the network’s program history. Early shows such Mystery Science Theater 3000, and The Man Show, to today’s programs like Tosh.O, and Workaholics, Comedy Central consistently uses the same “boyish” comedy through new and innovative types of content and programming, while still retaining its primary audience as the main supporter of the network.
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