Standup comedy has changed immensely since the eras of Richard Pryor, Sam Kinison and Freddie Prinze at The Comedy Store. Comedians are no longer regularly trying to secure TV shows on the stage, instead focusing their powers on podcasts and freeform pursuits. This approach was nontraditional at first, but it quickly became crucial during COVID-19 for comedians such as Annie Lederman and many of her peers.
Speaking exclusively with PopCulture.com, Lederman reflected upon her time building up the Meanspiration podcast, as well as returning to the stage for the first time since comedy clubs across the country shut down due to coronavirus. The "Queen of the 'Tine" recently headed to Whitney Cummings' house and took part in a safe evening of comedy with some of her peers. She passed a coronavirus test and then helped raise awareness for hydrocephalus, a build-up of fluid in the cavities deep within the brain.
"Well, Whitney may as well be Jesus at this point to me," Lederman told PopCulture. "I cannot believe what she's put on over there. It's like heaven, she's an angel. It really is one of these amazing perks of this weird, forced time off, that we've all slowed down so much that we're all bonding so well. And all of the people that are more successful than the others are kind of using their — I don't want to say privilege because they earned it — but their earnings to kind of bring everyone else up. It's really amazing. If you see what [Dave] Chappelle is doing [in Ohio]. Whitney is doing a very similar thing.
"[...] We were doing this benefit and that was amazing," Lederman continued. "And everyone was doing their newer jokes, but they were a little bit more polished because Whitney was also giving us kind of these open mic nights, where we would come over, we all get tested. As soon as we get the results back, the mic is out in her backyard, the invitations are out. She just invites [around] 10 people and we workshop jokes."
Her time at the backyard shows helped prepare Lederman for a night opening for Rob Schneider at a drive-in theater, but there is also another benefit. She said that all of the comedians helped each other out to refine their sets. This approach and time working on the craft will most likely create a series of impressive sets once clubs began to open up fully, but this will take place sometime in the future. For now, Lederman will continue to work on her own projects.
Lederman is one of many comedians embracing digital platforms in the modern era of comedy. It's not that she is avoiding Hollywood; she worked on Showtime's Who is America and Borat Subsequent Moviefilm: Delivery of Prodigious Bribe to American Regime for Make Benefit Once Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan. She also acted in The Long Dumb Road. However, standup-focused Lederman recognizes that the industry is rapidly changing as her peers find success with The Joe Rogan Experience, Two Bears, One Cave and other popular podcasts.
"There's so much opportunity that wasn't there before. And I think we're in a place where, even if you look at just socially, not even in comedy, what's happening with social justice and stuff where things are evolving," Lederman explained. "[...] You see the young kids are coming in and they're changing the way things are going. They're changing things with gender and how we talk to people and everything. And then the older people are going like, 'Wait, that's not how we do it.' And then they're sort of just like, we're evolving, we're changing, we're growing, we're turning into a new thing.
"That's kind of what's happening with comedy and how Hollywood's changing too, where it's just like, there's the old school guys that are like, 'You have to have a very clean set, you have to do all these specific things. And these are the rules and you do this and you're nice to this person and you act this way.' Now it's like, those people don't even... Not that they don't have jobs, but it's like, what's the future of television even at this point?"
Lederman and other comedians touch on the changing comedy landscape as part of Showtime's five-part documentary series, The Comedy Store. Mike Binder spoke with a stacked list of comedians and actors about the iconic comedy club on the Sunset Strip. People such as Jay Leno, David Letterman, Tom Segura, Bill Burr, Cummings and Iliza Shlesinger dove deep into the history of the club, as well as the transition to podcasts as opposed to traditional TV shows.
The first episode of The Comedy Store premieres Sunday at 10 p.m. ET. The early episodes focus on former club owner Mitzi Shore, the wild moments and the tragic deaths of popular comedians. Lederman contributes throughout the series, but Episode 4 puts her story on full display.