A Year In Piffany: 2021
Thanks to everyone who read and subscribed to my Substack this year
What a year. What a Dickensian clusterfart of a year, what with the best of times at times both personally and professionally, counterbalanced by the worst of times as our nation continues to careen into chaos despite a pandemic that should unite humanity. But I didn’t need to tell any of you that. You lived through 2021, too.
Here’s what I can tell many of you, though — since many of you only joined me here on Piffany over these past four months, and I am so very grateful to you for joining me here! And if you’ve only just arrived here thanks to this post, then welcome! Cue the obligatory pitch button…
Piffany is a reader-supported publication. To receive new posts and support my work, consider becoming a free or paid subscriber.
Perhaps you’re receiving my newsletter because my mother asked you to (I see you, OG subscribers!) back in 2019, when I first fiddled with the idea of Substack. It wasn’t until the pandemic, when in addition to all of the atrocities and tragedies you’re all too aware of already, the bottom fell out of digital advertising for niche websites such as my longstanding site about comedy, The Comic’s Comic. Live comedy itself almost died in 2020, too. Whereas my freelance work for Decider and The New York Times has remained steady (for the most part), the pandemic also has given me and you and everyone else more than ample chances to reflect on what we’ve been doing and how we’ve been living and what’s the best use of our time and resources moving forward?
While helping my parents relocate across the country in September 2020, I unexpectedly received an inquiry from a major mainstream print publication, followed by a delightful phone interview, for a brand-new columnist gig that sadly never came to fruition (for me or for anyone else, so no tears shed). That process allowed me to reconsider what I write about and why, and once I learned that gig wouldn’t materialize, I decided to put these newfound ideas and goals to good use right here on Piffany. One of my ideas I’d pitched back in September 2020 actually ended up in a trade publication in December 2021, and no, I’m not telling you that idea or the publications in question, because you never know where our paths may lead in the future. Speaking of which…
I still have so many essays, investigations and musings that are in varying stages of fruition, so I’m looking so very forward to 2022. I hope you are, too.
But first, let’s catch up on the ideas I did publish in 2021. Seeing as most of you have only joined recently, they may still be new to you now…
You know how the Super Bowl reminds us how much we love commercials? For me, this annual pastime reminded me of some of the worst TV ads that gnaw at me anytime I see them. And by worst, I mean advertising that doesn’t even make any sense. Just plain Badvertising.
When Hulu aired The New York Times Presents Framing Britney Spears, the documentary forced me to take a tough look back on my albeit brief time as a tabloid newspaperman working for The New York Daily News in 2007.
Zack Snyder’s Justice League, brought back to life as an HBO Max series thanks to (or blame) the fans, inspired a bunch of random thoughts about the DC Universe and more.
I don’t know if you’ve noticed this, but every year like clockwork, the fast-food industry starts peddling fish in late winter. Why, oh why? It’s Lent, obviously! Separation of church and capitalism is not a thing just yet…
In August, I really kicked this Substack into a higher gear. I predicted the whole cast of Saturday Night Live would return (and got it right more than anyone else, really?!?) because Lorne Michaels wants to coast into his 50th anniversary swan song celebration without worrying about replacing his biggest stars. Pretty much.
Also in August, I chastised the media for calling Louis CK’s new tour a “comeback” because well, that’s not what happened. That he received a Grammy nomination later in the year and released his SECOND hour special during the pandemic only further negated the media’s preferred narrative. (In my year-end podcast with NYT comedy critic Jason Zinoman, we also talked about CK’s new special and how not-new it felt and sounded!)
My most viral piece of 2021 came at the end of August, when I somehow became the ONLY media outlet to report on a superspreader comedy contest — called, unironically, The Clean Comedy Challenge — which resulted in three of the comedians (all unvaccinated) dying in the ensuing month from COVID-19.
The Just For Laughs comedy festival, based in Montreal, went virtual in 2021 and brought back New Faces, but had them all perform in Los Angeles at Dynasty Typewriter, beaming the shows via livestream for industry who attended the festival. Again, somehow nobody else in the media decided to report on New Faces or JFL, despite the fact that the festival has become the PRIMARY SOURCE of talent for Saturday Night Live.
I charted the connections here…
And wouldn’t you know it, all three of SNL’s new cast additions this fall had been New Faces either this summer (Sarah Sherman and Aristotle Athari) or back in 2017 (SNL breakout rookie James Austin Johnson).
I wrote about how the pandemic has played with our perceptions of what’s good, safe and moral policy…
The tragic loss of comedians this summer from accidental fentanyl or other accidents got me thinking about addiction, recovery and dealing with the losses of loved ones or friends who don’t get the chance to recover…
Shane Gillis, a New Face who got fired from SNL before he could ever prove his worth, came out with his own stand-up special on YouTube, and it’s pretty good! Can you get a second chance at a first impression?
I wrote about Jay Johnston, who most definitely stormed the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021, and most definitely hasn’t been arrested yet (although he was banned from future voiceover appearances on Bob’s Burgers, for what that’s worth?)
I celebrated The Amber Ruffin Show, which should’ve won the Emmy for best late-night talk show this year.
I interviewed a guy who’s been producing or executive producing America’s Got Talent since it first aired in 2006 (when Kim Kardashian worked on the show behind the scenes?!?!) to talk about the history of stand-up comedians on AGT, and why none of them have won, but that’s OK?
I compared Dave Chappelle to Lenny Bruce. Not in a good way.
I had a think about Critical Race Theory.
I noticed lots of big-budget movies have found refuge in Norway the past few years!
Marvel’s The Eternals only made me realize that Captain Marvel is the only true superhero for the universe as THE UNIVERSE, and not just obsessed with little ol’ Earth like the rest of us.
And over Thanksgiving weekend, I was the first journalist to report about the fight that broke out between Spotify and Spoken Giants over royalty payments for comedians for their writing.
I reported on one of the biggest TikTok dance trends, which exposed a split in the comedy duo who launched the trend in one of their old comedy sketches.
I got beef with West Side Story and Romeo and Juliet, too, for that matter.
And last but not least, I did some stats tallying to tell you which comedians have raked in the biggest ticket sales over the past year (or two)! What pandemic?
Thanks again for subscribing to Piffany. Here’s to a bigger, better 2022 for all of us!