Where did all the male comedy TV stars go?

This year, there are remarkably few credible nominees--Ricky Gervais?--for a category that once felt overstuffed

Topics: Ricky Gervais, Derek, The Emmys,

Where did all the male comedy TV stars go?Ricky Gervais in "Derek" (Credit: Netflix)

The best actor in a comedy category at the Emmys has honored some of the great TV icons: Alan Alda in “M*A*S*H,” Carroll O’Connor in “All in the Family,” Kelsey Grammer in “Frasier,” Alec Baldwin in “30 Rock.” And this year, it could potentially go to the little-liked star of an online series about a simple-minded nursing home employee. How did TV’s biggest prize for funny men go from the Ricky Gervais of “Extras” to the Ricky Gervais of “Derek”?

Gervais’s “Derek” nomination was perhaps the biggest stunner of nomination morning. The series, which streams stateside on Netflix, has come in for serious criticism. (New York magazine’s Matt Zoller Seitz said parts of the show “veer toward ‘empathy’ rather than empathy, as if the main goal is to convince people that the storytellers are good and kind people,” while the A.V. Club’s Phil Dyess-Nugent said the show “has all the creative ambition” of an online critter video.) More urgently, Gervais has matured — or the opposite — into one of the least likable figures in contemporary entertainment. Even before “Derek,” in which Gervais’ title character has some unnamed mental deficiency, Gervais has made a habit of punching down — his flatly mean-spirited Golden Globes jokes were one thing, but his nasty “mong” jokes are quite another. In general, a person’s persona doesn’t necessarily mean they should be ineligible for awards consideration, but “Derek” is queasily of a piece with the joy Gervais takes in finding fun in disability. And with its low profile, it would’ve been easy to ignore at the Emmys.

Except … would it? There are remarkably few credible nominees for a category that a decade ago felt overstuffed. To fill out a field of six, the Emmys tapped every nominee from last year who was still eligible — that’d be “The Big Bang Theory’s” Jim Parsons (already a three-time winner), “Louie’s” Louis C.K., “Episodes’” Matt LeBlanc, and “House of Lies’” Don Cheadle (he’s on TV?!). That’s only four, so William H. Macy of “Shameless” joined Gervais among the newbies, despite the show being barely a comedy at all — until this year, the Emmys counted it as a drama.

This is thin gruel, and it’s the way things have been for years: Both LeBlanc and Cheadle are on their third nominations for their respective Showtime series. It’s not that they or their shows are bad; it’s that honoring them so generously, as well as tossing a nomination Macy’s way, feels a bit strange, given how little heat Showtime’s comedy lineup has in the culture. But it’s hard to think of who else would feel better-suited to academy recognition. Andy Samberg is very funny, if doing little in the way of heavy lifting, in “Brooklyn Nine-Nine,” a show the academy clearly thinks needs more time to cook; Jon Cryer of “Two and a Half Men” won this category recently, though the show’s aging rapidly; Michael J. Fox’s eponymous sitcom was a ratings bomb, but people really love him. None of these absences feel, exactly, like “snubs.”  Maybe in picking famous people — Cheadle, LeBlanc, Gervais — the Emmy voters were doing their best.

By contrast, the best actress in a comedy field this year honors the stars of four innovative and much-loved shows — “Veep,” “Girls,” “Parks and Recreation” and “Orange Is the New Black” — as well as TV icon Edie Falco of “Nurse Jackie” and all-around superstar Melissa McCarthy of “Mike & Molly.” And there’s been, for years, a deep bench: The field is this crowded even after last year’s nominees Tina Fey and Laura Dern became ineligible.

It’d seem, using the deeply unscientific method of “which category’s nominees feel less random,” that the heat in TV comedy is with women. Perhaps it’s a consequence of the much-vaunted “antihero” boom, whereby TV drama has, more and more, become about the darkness in the hearts of deeply serious men. Men on TV are grave and beset with crises while women get to have the fun. If a consequence of more and more Julia Louis-Dreyfuses and Lena Dunhams getting to be at the center of stories is that there’s less room for Emmy-worthy men, that’s a small price to pay.

Daniel D'Addario is a staff reporter for Salon's entertainment section. Follow him on Twitter @DPD_

More Related Stories

Featured Slide Shows

  • Share on Twitter
  • Share on Facebook
  • 1 of 17
  • Close
  • Fullscreen
  • Thumbnails
    John Stanmeyer

    Overdevelopment, Overpopulation, Overshoot

    Container City: Shipping containers, indispensable tool of the globalized consumer economy, reflect the skyline in Singapore, one of the world’s busiest ports.

    Lu Guang

    Overdevelopment, Overpopulation, Overshoot

    Man Covering His Mouth: A shepherd by the Yellow River cannot stand the smell, Inner Mongolia, China

    Carolyn Cole/LATimes

    Overdevelopment, Overpopulation, Overshoot

    Angry Crowd: People jostle for food relief distribution following the 2010 earthquake in Haiti

    Darin Oswald/Idaho Statesman

    Overdevelopment, Overpopulation, Overshoot

    “Black Friday” Shoppers: Aggressive bargain hunters push through the front doors of the Boise Towne Square mall as they are opened at 1 a.m. Friday, Nov. 24, 2007, Boise, Idaho, USA

    Google Earth/NOAA, U.S. Navy, NGA, GEBCO

    Overdevelopment, Overpopulation, Overshoot

    Suburban Sprawl: aerial view of landscape outside Miami, Florida, shows 13 golf courses amongst track homes on the edge of the Everglades.

    Garth Lentz

    Overdevelopment, Overpopulation, Overshoot

    Toxic Landscape: Aerial view of the tar sands region, where mining operations and tailings ponds are so vast they can be seen from outer space; Alberta, Canada

    Cotton Coulson/Keenpress

    Overdevelopment, Overpopulation, Overshoot

    Ice Waterfall: In both the Arctic and Antarctic regions, ice is retreating. Melting water on icecap, North East Land, Svalbard, Norway

    Yann Arthus-Bertrand

    Overdevelopment, Overpopulation, Overshoot

    Satellite Dishes: The rooftops of Aleppo, Syria, one of the world’s oldest cities, are covered with satellite dishes, linking residents to a globalized consumer culture.

    Stephanie Sinclair

    Overdevelopment, Overpopulation, Overshoot

    Child Brides: Tahani, 8, is seen with her husband Majed, 27, and her former classmate Ghada, 8, and her husband in Hajjah, Yemen, July 26, 2010.

    Mike Hedge

    Overdevelopment, Overpopulation, Overshoot

    Megalopolis: Shanghai, China, a sprawling megacity of 24 Million

    Google Earth/ 2014 Digital Globe

    Overdevelopment, Overpopulation, Overshoot

    Big Hole: The Mir Mine in Russia is the world’s largest diamond mine.

    Daniel Dancer

    Overdevelopment, Overpopulation, Overshoot

    Clear-cut: Industrial forestry degrading public lands, Willamette National Forest, Oregon

    Peter Essick

    Overdevelopment, Overpopulation, Overshoot

    Computer Dump: Massive quantities of waste from obsolete computers and other electronics are typically shipped to the developing world for sorting and/or disposal. Photo from Accra, Ghana.

    Daniel Beltra

    Overdevelopment, Overpopulation, Overshoot

    Oil Spill Fire: Aerial view of an oil fire following the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil disaster, Gulf of Mexico

    Ian Wylie

    Overdevelopment, Overpopulation, Overshoot

    Slide 13

    Airplane Contrails: Globalized transportation networks, especially commercial aviation, are a major contributor of air pollution and greenhouse gas emissions. Photo of contrails in the west London sky over the River Thames, London, England.

    R.J. Sangosti/Denver Post

    Overdevelopment, Overpopulation, Overshoot

    Fire: More frequent and more intense wildfires (such as this one in Colorado, USA) are another consequence of a warming planet.

  • Recent Slide Shows


Loading Comments...