JB Smoove, Roseanne Barr, Keenen Ivory Wayans and Russell Peters of "Last Comic Standing" (NBC/Ben Cohen)

"Last Comic Standing" is TV's best showcase for diversity in comedy

After a four-year hiatus, the reality competition show returns with a colorful cast of new comics

Neil Drumming
May 21, 2014 8:00PM (UTC)

NBC's "Last Comic Standing" returns tomorrow night after a four-year hiatus. You may or may not remember all of the reality competition show's previous winners. If you have seen the show, you may or may not remember laughing particularly hard. With the exception of a few standout stand-ups who have moved on to the kind of unheralded but infinitely watchable comedy specials you find on Netflix -- Alonzon Bodden, Iliza Shlesinger -- none of "LCS's" contestants have ended up in the top tier of comedians like Louis C.K. or Kevin Hart. (There is always still a chance; take Season 5 contestant Amy Schumer.) Looking back over its first seven seasons, however, one thing can be said about "Last Comic Standing": It has been and continues to be an impressive showcase for diversity on television. The show's first season winner was Vietnamese comic Dat Phan. Its most recent was Felipe Esparza, who jokes that he defies the stereotype that all Mexicans are hardworking.

A quick survey of the superstars of stand-up comedy would lead you to believe that the field is already pretty diverse. From Hart to Chris Rock to Aziz Ansari to Kathy Griffin to Sarah Silverman to blazing up-and-comers like Hannibal Buress and Kumail Nanjiani, people of color and women seem to be well represented. But there will always be some difficulty for certain acts when it comes to breaking into established institutions that typically foster a particular kind of -- white and male -- talent. Last year's uproar over hiring black female players and writers on "Saturday Night Live" is clearly evidence of that persistent problem. While "Last Comic Standing" is nowhere near the influential powerhouse that "SNL" is, it's reassuring to know that a comedian like this season's Zainab has an additional outlet for national exposure. Wanda Sykes will serve as a mentor this season. And the show's host, JB Smoove, and panel of judges further demonstrate some sort of commitment to a wider range of perspective.


Neil Drumming

Neil Drumming is a staff writer for Salon. Follow him on Twitter @Neil_Salon.

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