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Jamie Kennedy: Pandemic has changed comedy 'forever'

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Comedian Jamie Kennedy said he would be open to reprising his iconic role as Randy in the "Scream" franchise, so long as the character's resurrection was handled in a way that conforms to "the most hardcore horror nerd's rule book." Photo courtesy of Bryan Adams/Comedy Dynamics
Comedian Jamie Kennedy said he would be open to reprising his iconic role as Randy in the "Scream" franchise, so long as the character's resurrection was handled in a way that conforms to "the most hardcore horror nerd's rule book." Photo courtesy of Bryan Adams/Comedy Dynamics

June 2 (UPI) -- Comedian Jamie Kennedy, host of the new season of stand-up showcase show Coming to the Stage, said the coronavirus crisis is likely to have far-reaching effects on how stand-up comedy is performed and consumed.

Kennedy, 50, who rose to fame in the 1990s and early 2000s with roles in films that include Scream, Scream 2 and Malibu's Most Wanted, is the latest stand-up veteran to take the reins of hosting Coming to the Stage, which premieres its eighth season Tuesday on Pluto TV.

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Performers George Wallace, Tom Green and Andy Kindler have helmed previous seasons.

Kennedy told UPI in a recent interview that part of the appeal of hosting a show like Coming to the Stage is the opportunity to help lesser-established performers reach an international audience.

"I do it because I love comedy and I love hosting stuff, but definitely it is the way for younger comedians to get their first or second TV credit, and for them to show the world what they're made of," he said. "It is nice to be a part of that."

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Comedy in quarantine

The veteran performer, whose latest comedy special, Stoopid Smart, premiered May 25 on streaming service Tubi, said the COVID-19 pandemic is changing the way stand-up comedians practice their craft.

Kennedy is one of several performers who have been holding livestream shows via video chat apps, including Zoom, which he admitted is "a little more difficult than a real crowd."

"You can't act everything out as easily -- I mean, you can try, but you've got to be in the right space, you've got to make sure you have a wireless mic, you've got to have your headphones in ... so technically you've got to get it right, and then you've got to wait for the laugh, because their windows are open, and then you've got to hope they're not talking on their window," he said.

"It's a definite different thing, but it can work."

He said he expects to see more new technologies as lockdown measures are extended and live performance venues remain closed.

"I think VR is coming, it's already been here, I think mixed reality is coming, and I think with the threats of these viruses and people not knowing what it is and how long it's going to last, a lot of people are going to stay home," he said.

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Kennedy said he believes the way stand-up comedians interact with their fans has changed "forever," and the industry will see pivots continue long after the virus has subsided.

"Some people will like it more. Some people are anti-social. And you also can do a show in your house and still reach people in Idaho if you live in Cleveland," he said.

Virtual performance spaces are the "next wave of evolution" for the performing arts, Kennedy said.

"The business is going to have to pivot, Hollywood is going to have to pivot, the world is going to have to pivot," he said. "Just like TV disrupted films, and then the Internet disrupted TV, I think this is going to disrupt live performances."

Kennedy said that while he expects live performance always will play a large role in stand-up comedy, some performers might find virtual platforms to be an appealing alternative.

"I'm lucky, I've traveled a lot, but I don't want to wait in an airport for three hours and I don't want to risk stuff. If I can do it from the comfort of my own home, then why not? I think you're going to see some people become virtual-only performers, whether it's singing, comedy or otherwise, and I think a lot of people won't mind that," he said.

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More heckling

Heckler, Kennedy's 2008 documentary, unintentionally "opened the door" for more heckling at his comedy shows, he said. He also noticed in the ensuing years a shift in how people interacted with his material.

"People don't heckle me as much as you would think, because I made that movie, but people definitely feel like they can talk to me," he said. "My crowds just feel like I'm actually talking to them and asking them a question, and they will actually participate, which is good -- and frustrating, at times."

Heckler also dealt with Kennedy's often-contentious relationship with professional critics, both as a comedic actor and as a stand-up performer. Kennedy said he still has "mixed emotions" about professional criticism.

"There should always be constructive criticism, because it is constructive. But if you get up there and you're killing, and then some guy from a local gazette says, 'This guy's not funny,' that's his opinion, and he's entitled to it. But it's not like the person [he's] reviewing made his money as a plumber.

"At some point, you have to say, 'He's not funny for me, I never got it, this is why I don't think he's funny, but clearly he's successful, so he's doing something where people think he is," he said.

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Kennedy said he does think "fair" criticism in comedy is justified.

"For me to eat a souffle and say 'That doesn't taste good,' I might not have that curated palate. But that doesn't mean it shouldn't have criticism. It just should have informed criticism," he said.

"There have been times where I've read pieces, and man, they have been dead on about me. But I was in a good place, and I could take their criticism, and it was honest."

Another Scream

Scream, the blockbuster horror franchise that made Kennedy a movie star with his turn as Randy Meeks in the first two installments, was recently announced to be returning for a fifth film, with some original stars rumored to be back.

Randy, the series' expert on the rules of surviving a horror movie, met an untimely demise in Scream 2, returning for a brief cameo with a videotaped message in Scream 3. Kennedy said he would be "very into" the idea of reprising the character, but only if Randy's return was handled properly.

"I always tell people, that's what makes Scream so good. They kill the characters you care about and they don't bring them back," Kennedy said. "Since people are so mad about the death of Randy ... they would have to bring him back in the only way that he could have ever survived."

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Kennedy did not offer any suggestions on what that "only way" might be, but he said it would have to be a page out of "the most hardcore horror nerd's rule book."

The actor said he "definitely" would be interested in hearing ideas from the filmmakers.

"I think the people really want to see [Randy] again. But, again, I'm dead. Dot, dot, dot -- or am I?"

Season 8 of Coming to the Stage premieres Tuesday on streaming service Pluto TV, and will be available soon on other platforms via the Comedy Dynamics network.

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