|Medium||Performing arts, talk radio, live action, social media|
|Ancestor arts||Monologist, humorist, clown, tummler|
|Descendant arts||Podcaster, social media influencer|
|Originating culture||the scene (geographical)|
Stand-up comedy is a comedy performance and narrative craft whereby a comedian communicates to a live audience, speaking directly to them through a microphone. The performer is commonly known as a comic, stand-up comic, comedian, comedienne, stand-up comedian, or simply a stand-up. Stand-up comedy is a dialogic monologue, or a grouping of humorous stories, jokes, and one-liners, typically called a shtick, routine, act, or set. Stand-ups may fuse props, music, magic tricks, or ventriloquism. Stand-up comedians perform quasi-autobiographical and fictionalized extensions of their offstage selves.
Stand-up comedy can be performed in comedy clubs, comedy festivals, bars, pubs, nightclubs, colleges, theatres, niche locations, etc. Stand-up is also distributed commercially via live action, audio, streaming, etc.
Just as within any art form, stand-up has multiple genres and styles, with their own formats, unwritten rules, and target audience. Some of these include:
Audiences expect a stand-up comedian to provide a constant stream of laughs, and a performer may feel pressured to deliver, especially during the first two minutes. The late Phyllis Diller holds the record for most laughs per minute, at twelve laughs per minute.
The host, compère (UK), master of ceremonies (MC or emcee), mistress of ceremonies, or opener, performs for around ten minutes, warming up the audience, interacting, making announcements, and introducing the other performers; this is followed by the middle/feature who does around thirty minutes; then, the headliner, performs for roughly an hour. An opener can also double as a feature for travelling headliners.
Showcase format has a host/MC with several other acts who perform for roughly equal lengths of time.
Bringer shows are open mics that require amateur performers to bring a specified number of paying guests to receive stage time. Some view this as exploitation. The guests pay a cover charge and there is often a minimum number of drinks that must be ordered. These shows are often "showcase" format. Different bringer-show venues have different requirements.
A five-to-ten minute, time slot.
Hosts and MCs are paid $0-$200, depending on location and the time of week (emcees average $25); showcase spots get $10-$75; features get approximately $300-$600; a headliner with no following gets $150-$1500, depending on many factors; headliners with a following or TV credits can make $1,500-$10,000 per show. The headliner makes "10 times" more money than the feature act. Famous headliners get paid from "door deals," or a percentage of the revenue, based on the number of seats sold; these comics rely on their notoriety to fill seats, which makes them more money than headliners with no following. Comics will sell merchandise after their shows; this will make up for other expenses, like traveling.
Mark Normand has stated that a set on Conan pays "a couple grand" for five minutes. In 2012, Comedy Central routinely offered $15,000 for a half-hour special. As of 2015, Comedy Central will pay comedians about $20,000 for a thirty-minute set; an hour, Comedy Central special can be up to $150,000; as of 2018, Netflix will pay comedians $26,000+ for a fifteen-minute set; Netflix pays celebrity-comedians different amounts from one another.
The cruise-circuit comedian can make up to $10,000 per week, Cruiseliners have both clean comedy and blue comedy at different times during the day, but opinionated political material is frowned upon. some $85,000 per year; and, a college-circuit comedian can make six figures per year or thousands of dollars per gig. Christian circuit comedy headliners make $1,500-$2,500 per show. Although one source states that newer comics on the national (L.A.) circuit make $1,250-$2,500 per week, another source claims that this is very inaccurate, and the amount of money one makes is closer to $20 for a spot.
Famous comedians may pay other professional comedians for jokes and hire them on as writers, but many famous comedians do not reveal this, as it is considered a taboo to admit purchasing material for stand-up comedy sets. Comedians may knowingly sell plagiarized jokes.
Stand-up comedy got its start in the 1840s from the three-act, variety show format of minstrel shows (via blackface performances of the Jim Crow character); Frederick Douglass criticized these shows for profiting from and perpetuating racism. Minstrelsy monologists performed second-act, stump-speech monologues from within minstrel shows until 1896, although traces of these racist performances continued to be used until the mid-1900s. Stand-up comedy also has roots in various traditions of popular entertainment of the late 19th century, including vaudeville (via minstrel shows, dime museums, concert saloons, freak shows, variety shows, Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus), American burlesque (via Lydia Thompson's feminization of the minstrel show, concert saloons, English music halls, and circus clown antics), and humorist monologues like those delivered by Mark Twain in his first (1866) touring show, Our Fellow Savages of the Sandwich Islands. Unadulterated, vaudeville monologuist run-times were 10-15 minutes.
The room is a colloquialism for the space where the interaction between the stand-up and the audience occurs. A comedian will read the room by interpreting signs from the audience. A stand-up will work the room in symbolically interacting with the audience, delivering signs (q.v., POV). A stand-up will walk the room when punters become so personally offended by a joke that they physically leave the room. Playing to the back of the room is an in-joke among comedians.
The quality of the room affects how the audience perceives the stand-up's performance. The flow to the room has a hot and cold cognition. The energy of the room changes with substances. Comedic genres are separated by experiences.
Comedians create psychological tensions in the room that are relieved with laughter. Comedians observe normality and social norms as a type of relatable audience fulcrum. Punching up and punching down are political terms for the direction in which a joke punches, or who should be the butt of the joke. It carries with it the assumption that, relative to the comedian's socio-political identity, comedy should punch up at the powerful rather than punch down at the marginalized.
There is no consensus among the comedy community as to which is most important for getting laughs: persona, material, or fame. A stand-up defines their craft, in part, by how they convince the audience to laugh and by their development of a persona.
Punter is a regional term for a member of the audience. The audience's feedback at a stand-up performance, even from the moment they enter the venue, is instant and crucial for the comedian's ever-changing act. Audience members, in a comedy setting that doesn't have fixed seating, are seated very close to one another.
A stand-up comedian frames the tone and mood of the room as a construct of play. Audiences license the suspension of normal social conventions. Stand-ups appeal to telling jokes for the sake of joking. Stand-ups design their sets through the construction and onstage revision of jokes.
Stand-ups use second person to address the audience. Comedians perform crowd work by communicating directly with audience members through forethought, improvisation, or some of both.  One result of crowd work is an inside joke.
In stand-up, a heckler is a person who interrupts a comedian's set. Comedians will often have a repertoire of comebacks for hecklers. Comedians rarely get into physical altercations with hecklers.
When a professional stand-up is at ease or in stage repose, they still possess the characteristics of a professional stand-up, such as being interesting, entertaining, engaging, and relatable. Mugging is to facially pose in a way that reveals one's identity and emotions (i.e., common phrase ham-/mug-/clown for the camera)(q.v., chew the scenery). Pointing is when the comic puts an inflection on the laugh-line that comes before the audience reaction.
Modern stand-up relies on narrative. Character is tied to narrative. Persona is not a character but a self-managed version of one's offstage personality that comes from onstage, audience feedback. The performer's reputation is a continuity of onstage and offstage image.
Bits (linked jokes) and chunks (linked bits) are an arrangement of interlinked thematic units from within the set or routine. A stand-up routine is a gestalt that emerges from performing interconnected jokes, bits, and chunks to a live audience. Stand-ups structure jokes, bits, and chunks to end on climactic laughter. Comedians often end their jokes with taglines, toppers, or afterthoughts for increased laughter. A segue is the link between jokes. A callback is a reference to a previous thing that was experienced by the audience during that set, designed to create an inside joke. Bombing refers to when a comedian has failed to get an intended laugh.
Stand-ups deliver canned jokes through the use of thematic narrative structure. A stand-up comedian delivers the joke through the use of timing: the setup and then the punch line, or laugh line. A joke is made of a premise, point of view, and then the reveal. The setup to a joke contains the information needed by the audience in order to understand the punchline. Most of stand-up comedy's jokes are the juxtaposition of two incongruous things. Stand-ups use jester's privilege, or comic license, to feign sincerity for maintaining a close aesthetic distance with the audience (e.g., they frame their stories as having happened "recently"). The comedian's delivery of a joke is integral to the process--the comedian's voice, pauses, intonation, inflection, attitude, energy, and other elements. Comedians often include stylistic and comedic devices, such as tropes, idioms, stop consonants, archetypes, soliloquy, expletive infixation, and wordplay. A paraprosdokian is a popular method of joke structuring by using a surprising punchline that causes the listener to reinterpret the setup. Stand-ups will often use the rule of three.
A comedian's ideas and jokes will fail nine times out of ten; this may require a comedian to write hundreds of jokes to achieve enough successful ones to fill a set. A stand-up comedian cannot know if their material has succeeded without an audience to give feedback.
A tight five is a five-minute stand-up routine that is well-rehearsed and consists of a stand-up comedian's best material that reliably gets laughs. It is often used for auditions or delivered when audience response is minimal. A tight five is the stepping stone to getting a paid spot.
Comics memorize their jokes through the use of on-stage practice/blocking. Some professional stand-ups are known to use a mnemonic device called the method of loci. Professionals may use a set list; this is generally hidden (e.g., on a cue card or a stage monitor).
A strict, limiting definition of standup comedy would describe an encounter between a single, standing performer behaving comically and/or saying funny things directly to an audience, unsupported by very much in the way of costume, prop, setting, or dramatic vehicle. Yet standup comedy's roots are ... entwined with rites, rituals, and dramatic experiences that are richer, more complex than this simple definition can embrace. We must ... include seated storytellers, comic characterizations that employ costume and prop, team acts[,] ... manifestations of standup comedy routines ... such as skits, improvisational situations, and films ... and television sitcoms ... however our definition should stress relative directness of artist/audience communication and the proportional importance of comic behavior and comic dialogue versus the development of plot and situation
[The microphone allows] comedians to speak in a 'natural register' in a manner that closely resemble[s] everyday conversation ... As a result, stand-up comics can create the 'illusion of intimacy' with a large group of people ... The intimate tone and style of address are further amplified by a context in which 'theatrical stagecraft [is kept] to a bare minimum'
[S]tand-up comedy ... cannot exist without technological advances ... what distinguishes it as a whole from other forms of verbal comedy, and where one can deduce its origins, is the advanced use of the microphone ... antecedents and forebears are suggested ranging from the court jester to Mark Twain and Will Rogers. Such suggestions of ancestry are not without merits, but as a form or, more precisely, as an emic genre with an attendant set of expectations, including the dialogic properties ... stand-up comedy, contemporary or otherwise, does not exist without amplification.
By stand-up comedy, I refer to the special genre of comedy where an individual comedian uses his or her shared culture, historical background, social assumptions, and nuances of language to provide live entertainment through a monologue, consisting of jokes, anecdotes, and sketches intended to make an audience laugh (Stevenson 2010)
To begin with, indiscriminate in address and open to every (paying) customer, stand-up comedy can be regarded as closer to public rhetoric rather than actual dialogue (see also Peters 1999, chapter 1).
it is inherent to the very nature of stand-up that they [stand-ups] convincingly perform as if they are simply being themselves and talking off the cuff
[S]tand-up is marked above all by face-to-face interaction that imitates a (mostly one-way) conversation.
[S]tand-up is not so much public speech as it is talk. Though it may be 'heavily one-sided,' it is nevertheless a dialogic form 'that allows for reaction, participation, and engagement on the part of those to whom the stand-up comedian is speaking'
A low ceiling and proximity to the stage is important because standup comedy is not a performance. It is a conversation in which the comedian does all of the talking.
[A lot of] stand-up comedy ... as a general art form ... is pre-scripted
Jerry Seinfeld explains: 'Comedy is a dialogue, not a monologue--that's what makes an act click. The laughter becomes the audience's part, and the comedian responds'
On the whole, you have to give the illusion that it's a dialogue
A comic's material about his life may have some connection to reality, but basically an act is just that, an act--it's a fictionalized account with a few actual facts thrown in to make the act believable and, perhaps, more relevant to people's lives.
[S]tand-up comedy is a dialogic form. No matter how one-sided the conversation between the performer and the audience might be, there is a required reciprocity between performer and audience.
I was demonstrating tricks eight to twelve hours a day
Stand-up comedians purport to speak autobiographically and in their own voice while engaging in apparently authentic, if not convincingly spontaneous, communication with the audience, and their punch lines typically cap extended anecdotes and observations instead of one-line jokes.
[S]tand-up comedians (often) appear 'as themselves' ... stand-up comedy is a form of theatre; it is not life ... stand-up is about the re-presentation of self as if it were everyday life
That's the goal--to become yourself.
[A stand-up's] act [is a] fictionalized account with a few actual facts thrown in to make the act believable and, perhaps more relevant to people's lives ... Every stand-up goes onstage as a character to some extent. Some may adopt a persona that's very similar to their own personality, but it's still a separate entity ... even observational comics ... use truth ... as a foundation on which to build jokes by taking the truth to its farthest [sic] extreme.
(loosely) autobiographical comedy is the dominant form of stand-up today.
I [Gary Shandling] think you can only be on stage what you are in real life.
[I]f you're not real ... people will sniff that out.
Larry Wilde: Charlie Chaplin in a Life magazine story said, 'You cannot be funny without an attitude. Being without an attitude in comedy is like something amiss in one's make-up.' What exactly is a comic attitude? ... [Johnny Carson:] Generally, it is your outlook on things. It is, in a way, an extension of your personality.
The average club seats  people
Laughter and ticket or DVD sales are, therefore, not universally considered the most important markers of success, and nor is laughter the only thing ever demanded of comedians.
How did you answer them? 'By being George Wallace, and finding out who you are as a comedian. And that takes between seven and eleven years.'
How long did it take you to figure out your individual comedic essence? 'I'd [Jerry Seinfeld] say ten years.'
A stage presence comes pretty quickly [but] how to write jokes and how to generate material and know it's going to work; [concerning these, the] first ten years are building the [base] skills
Each minute of performance is backed up by countless hour of hit-and-miss writing, editing, road-testing, and practice. While some say they do not actually 'write down' their material ... [in actuality] they run it over consistently in their heads.
Bombing is a necessary event. It's the only way one gets better, but every time it happens, it's very painful.
You've got to die to get good.
Yeah, bombing can be good ... you grow up and realize it's about continuing to work. It's about making progress.
[Chris] Rock's process involves intentionally bombing early on, so that the laughs don't interfere with his read on how the audience feels about certain topics.
[T]he 'new alternative' known as DIY comedy. It opposed the commercialist ethos that had come to dominate alternative comedy and responded to an 'increasing sense of purposelessness and loneliness among young persons in Western society'.
Observational comedy works by mocking 'normal' behaviours but, even as it does so, it often affirms and promotes a fixed idea of what 'normal' is.
Eddie Izzard observes: 'Your observations need to be something that people can relate to, for the audience to pick up on it.'
In the stand-up business, 'dirty' and 'clean' are treated as polar opposites. Swearing is the difference between the two, and bookings are based on the distinction. Club owners, event sponsors, and media executives let comics know, usually through bookers or agents, whether they will hire someone who works blue or whether they are interested in those who will refrain from uttering obscenities.
Profanity is commonplace in contemporary stand-up comedy (so much so that 'clean comedy' is a marketable commodity).
Across the UK, there are hundreds of small, informal gigs that run on enthusiasm, for little or no financial profit. It is in these that most comedians get their start. They learn their craft and gradually work their way up through larger audiences and more prestigious venues. The lucky minority come to a point where they can tour their own show, their fame perhaps fuelled by appearances on television. The very few become famous enough to graduate to the arena gigs or produce a best-selling DVD. Importantly, it is the live circuit of small-to-medium gigs which fuels the upper echelons of the comedy industry, training and nurturing the talent that big business will adopt. In this sense, those small-to-medium rooms are fundamental to all levels of stand-up production.
Obscenity and other risky material are not inherently part of stand-up comedy, but their avoidance can require a self-censoring and circumnavigation of certain topics that might not be present in conversation among intimates ... [t]ogether the performer and the audience negotiate what is appropriate and what is inappropriate.
[I]n a bar, dirty language is not out of place at all ... Audiences attending live stand-up in such night spots expect to hear speech onstage that would be otherwise, and elsewhere, unmentionable ... The easy way for a comic to meet such expectations--and here I employ a phrase commonly used in the business itself--is to tell 'dick jokes.' The phrase refers metonymically to a whole category of sex jokes in which 'dirty' words are used to refer directly to 'dirty' body parts ... as well as to acts and sexual functions ... Among insiders, comics who tell dick jokes are considered hacks, and the laughs they raise cheap. The self-respecting road comic tries to come up with original material that not only audiences but also their peers--those with whom they work and those who book their work--will appreciate
A lot of comedians just want laugh, laugh, laugh ... every, what is it, 15 seconds they say?
Comedy club audiences ... expect upwards of four laughs per minute.
If a comedian wants to generate headliner laughter levels, they need to average 4-6+ laughs per minute.
As each comic's usage of material varies (some say they use as few as two jokes a minute, other comics say they need a laugh every fifteen seconds or the act goes 'in the toilet')
The first two minutes is very important with a stand-up
I call the first two minutes, your flash. And that's where you ... go up there and ... hook them with whatever material it is, so that they know exactly what's funny about you and they trust you and they'll come along with you for everything.
If you don't make them laugh in the first two minutes, you're fucked
If you have a strong first minute ... the minutes that follow will be great, too.
[Joey Bishop:] As the unknown [comedian], you've got to make a compromise and the compromise is in the first few minutes--to get their attention. You are just a salesman then. Once you've got their attention, you can then do your type of comedy.
I [Phyllis Diller] actually got twelve laughs in one minute from an audience ... Most comics do setup, payoff, setup, payoff, in other words six jokes per minute. In my case of twelve, one setup got twelve payoffs.
Diller prided herself on keeping her jokes tightly written and boasted that she held a world record for getting 12 laughs a minute.
[Phyllis Diller] still holds the Guinness Book of World Records for doling out 12 punch lines a minute.
In comedy venues, proceedings are managed and organised throughout the performance by a compere who acts as an anchor for the evening's events in the venue. Comperes are more than just an announcer who brings on the acts. They provide continuity between acts who often have divergent styles and or different performance skills; they perform routines between acts using their own material; they pass comment on the performers; they share details of the evening itinerary, they may run a joke competition for the audience, and they encourage the audience's participation. In short, the compere acts to frame a series of performances into a single event.
On this [road comedy] circuit, shows generally consist of three to four comics: Headliner, Feature act, Opener and/or Emcee (i.e., Master of Ceremonies). The Headliner does roughly an hour of original material. The Feature act does 25-30 minutes. The Opener has a ten minute slot, and the Emcee squeezes in a joke or two between acts (if the Opener is not also acting as the Emcee) ... transitioning between ranks is usually a matter of years of practice at each stage.
[T]raditionally in American comedy clubs, there's three acts: there's an opening act ... a feature act ... and [then] a headliner
One week, I opened for a show ... I was now capable of doing two different twenty-five-minute sets per evening
The Comedy Store in London ... [is] a showcase format, with a host and five comics doing sets, with ... [a] guest thrown in from time to time.
Unlike theatre, opera or the visual arts, comedy is not supported by Arts Council England and does not receive funding from the Department for Digital, Culture, Music, and Sport (DCMS).
Friedman notes the manipulative power of the comedy scouts whose task it is to pluck talent from the great wash of Edinburgh Fringe offerings and--in a more covert function--direct those comedians towards the audience that the scout decides is the comedian's natural fit
Go to festivals, because that's where you get noticed by the media ... [and] gauge [yourself against] everybody else.
I [Buddy Morra] go to the Montreal and Aspen comedy festivals, but I haven't seen much that's knocked me out.
Jim McCue, the founder of The Boston International Comedy and Movie Festival, spoke about the role of the festival in the industry: 'A festival is a great way to get attention for someone who might not have the connections other people do. This festival is constantly looking for under-appreciated talent. Hopefully, we can do our part and let people see the next generation of comedy genius.'CS1 maint: location (link)
Open mikes are where, as a comedian [like Daniel Tosh and his controversy], you're supposed to be allowed to fuck up.
Chappelle's meta-commentary--in which he articulates stand-up comedy as a space for risk, uncertainty, and inconsistency
the next day, my friend who was also on the show ['in a theatre above a porn shop across from the Port Authority'], told me a scout from casting at Fox was in the audience and they wanted to meet with him.
it gets tarred with the brush of new-act exploitation and lumped in with less scrupulous nights and the insidious blight of pay-to-play ... [but] I, personally, have found it to be a very nice room.
In order to get stage time at [bringer shows] ... you [have to] bring ... 5 to 15 friends, each of whom must show up and agree to buy at least two drinks ... Some people think bringers are a scam, and they kind of are. They're a cash grab for club owners
Some clubs require 10 bringers/show. If you show up with 9 people, you will not get on and your friends will not get their money back.
Comedy is an amorphous craft in the sense that there are no academies, there are no formulas. There are no books on comedy that can train an aspirant to command a salary of $200,000 a year, but it is a craft and it can be learned.
[T]he concept of the 'professional' [stand-up comedian] is vague at best, making it quite difficult to say with any certainty whether a given comedian is professional. Should it be ... only those making their living primarily through stand-up comedy? Why not include stand-ups who earn their living otherwise, but regularly perform stand-up for supplementary income? Indeed, why not include stand-ups who make relatively little through stand-up, in some cases, nothing, but spend most of their evenings performing and their free-time writing stand-up? It's overly simplistic to decide who counts as a stand-up comedian based on income, time devoted to writing or performing, number of performances, or talent.
the comic whose varieties might be calculated beforehand. This we shall call the professional comic
I didn't start getting anywhere until ... five years in, financially ... even then, it was month to month [in New York City].
It took four or five years before I [Yakov Smirnoff] could make a living as a comedian.
I've [Jay Leno] always told comedians that if you can do this for seven years, I mean physically make it to the stage for seven years, you'll always make a living ... You start to get paid at the end of the fourth or fifth year--I mean paid in terms of here's $500 dollars for one night, not $15 or $20 for a set.
Early in a comic's career, you get calls from ... bookers ... I would never again take a gig where it cost me more to get there than the pay, but back then I just needed stage time.
The first paying position a comic can land is to emcee or host a show.
Stand-up comedy is a solo art form in which the individualised voice of the performer is celebrated, it proffers a level of autonomy and creative freedom of which most workers are deprived and offers its most commercially successful proponents the opportunity to amass significant wealth.
One of his main bookers nags him [the comedian] about losing the [foul] language, promising him so many more gigs ... and higher-paying ones at that, as these different kinds of gigs include corporate affairs, cruise ships, and Christian rallies.
An emcee will make usually from $10-$35 a show. It's usually $25.
I was the feature act at The Punchline Comedy Club in Sacramento, California. And ... traditionally in American comedy clubs, there's three acts: there's an opening act that makes between a hundred and two hundred [dollars] a week for nine shows, there's a feature act ... makes between four and five hundred bucks a week for nine shows, and a headliner, who can make absolutely anything depending on who they are.
At the better chains, middle acts earn a weekly salary of $600 and up; headliners, anywhere from $2000 to $10,000, plus air fare and lodging - usually at the club's 'comedy condo' in town ... The chief variable is drawing power, based on accumulated TV and movie credits.
If it's somebody starting off in the business it could be $1,500 a show. For somebody who's had some TV credits you could go from $4,500 to $7,500.
the famous comics have what's called a "door deal" and get paid based on the amount of people in the crowd.
It depends on the TV exposure of the comic, whether the comic draws and if he can command a higher ticket price.
Those T-shirts and CDs we sell are what we make our real money on ... And when we do book a paying gig? We spend most of the money on transportation to get there.
Netflix is wooing superstar comics with eight-figure deals, including Dave Chappelle (a reported $60 million), Louis C.K. ($26 million), Amy Schumer ($20 million) and Jim Gaffigan ($10 million).
Hannibal Burress was the most popular comedian in Caponera's (2009) price range of $2,000.
Keith is one of the kings of the college circuit. A few years ago, he was the most-booked college comic, playing 120 campuses. He charges $2,300 for a single performance.
Headliners can reap $1,500 to $2,500 per church comedy show
A newer comic on the national circuit can earn anywhere from $1,250 to $2,500 per week, according to one prominent touring agent; more established names can pull in anywhere from $10,000 to $100,000 in the same period.
it's very hard to make that amount even on the road ... To mislead someone with a figure that is beyond an exaggeration and just ridiculous.
Bigger name comics have been known to pay thousands for jokes and hire writers ... After a famous comic has an HBO Special, they almost always hire writers to help them pump out more material.
Comics need material badly, especially once they get to be in demand--they've got to keep coming up with the stuff ... Often, once a comic becomes successful, his requirements for material begin to exceed his ability to create it--particularly in the case of TV spots, which 'eat' it instantly.
[T]hat's another thing people do--write down jokes they see on TV, then sell them to other comics who don't realize what they're doing.
Thomas D. Rice (1808-1860) originated the Jim Crow character, inspiring the minstrel show, which evolved into one of the most popular forms of variety entertainment through the end of the century and into the first distinctly American form of theatrical entertainment ... In the 1840s and 50s, the Virginia and Christy Minstrels built upon Rice's success, formalizing a three-act structure of music and humor, variety entertainment, and scenes from plantation life (or burlesques of popular plays). Appealing across class lines, the minstrel show employed archetypal characters, created derogatory and fictitious pictures of African American males, and provided a lens through which whites viewed blacks ... Frederick Douglass described the purveyors of minstrel entertainment as 'filthy scum of white society, who have stolen from us a complexion denied to them by nature, in which to make money, and pander to the corrupt taste of their white fellow citizens.' Minstrelsy relied on the promise of presenting 'real' Southern life.
American stand-up comedy has its beginnings in the minstrel shows of the early 1800s
[T]he minstrel show was the most popular form of public amusement in the United States from the 1840s through the 1870s. It virtually ended, in its original form, by 1896, although vestiges lasted well into the twentieth century. Much humor in later comedy forms originated in minstrelsy and adapted itself to new topics and circumstances. The minstrel show also provided American burlesque and other variety forms with a prototypical three-part format. The minstrel show began with a 'walk around' with a verbal exchange between the 'end' men and the interlocutor. An 'olio,' or variety section, followed. Finally, a one-act skit completed the show.
Stand-up's early roots can also be traced back to minstrel, a variety show format based in racial stereotypes which was widely performed in America between the 1840s and the 1940s. Minstrel acts would script dedicated ad-lib moments for direct actor-audience communication: these spots often were used for telling quick jokes.
[Mark Twain] toured his first lecture, usually known as 'Our Fellow Savages of the Sandwich Islands,' for 100 performances beginning in 1866
[Mark Twain] is a reference figure for ... what we want to perceive to be the American character. As a public speaker and lecturer, indeed, the mature Mark Twain was very possibly our last performing humorist who presented himself as a 'general' personage--neither an easterner nor exactly a westerner, the embodiment ... of national regionalism, all parts equal, none predominating. This 'generic' persona, so different from Will Roger's lariat-twirling actor, is equally remote from the ethnic shtick of Woody Allen and Richard Pryor or the urban neurosis of Joan Rivers and David Brenner. He has no direct, obvious successors, only his impersonators; the humor of our contemporary nightclubs is fragmented and typecast. The foe of humbug, explicitly rebelling against outworn Romantic forms and themes, he detested high airs and smug complacency--putting him in the progression that has led to the stand-up insults of W.C. Fields as well as Lenny Bruce ... Among other feats, he contrived his public persona so as to convey the impression of (feigned) laziness, lack of erudition, easy success ... Mark Twain endures because he is greater than any of his possible classifications--crackerbarrel philosopher, literary comedian ... vernacular humorist, after-dinner speaker
The popular burlesque show of the 1870s though the 1920s referred to a raucous, somewhat bawdy style of variety theater. It was inspired by Lydia Thompson and her troupe, the British Blondes, who first appeared in the United States in the 1860s, and also by early 'leg' shows such as 'The Black Crook' (1866). Its form, humor, and aesthetic traditions were largely derived from the minstrel show. One of the first burlesque troupes was the Rentz-Santley Novelty and Burlesque Company, created in 1870 by M.B. Leavitt, who had earlier feminized the minstrel show with her group Madame Rentz's Female Minstrels. Burlesque rapidly adapted the minstrel show's tripartite structure: part one was composed of songs and dances rendered by a female company, interspersed with low comedy from male comedians. Part two was an 'olio' of short specialties in which the women did not appear. The show's finish was a grand finale. The popular burlesque show of this period eventually evolved into the strip tease which became the dominant ingredient of burlesque by the 1930s.
The pure vaudeville monologue, which was defined as a humorous talk spoken by one person, possesses unity of character, is not combined with any other entertainment form, is marked by compression [word economy], follows a definite form of construction, and usually requires from ten to fifteen minutes for delivery. Humor is its most notable characteristic; unity of the character delivering it, or of its 'hero,' is its second most important requirement. Each point, or gag, is so compressed that to take away or add even one word would spoil its effect; each is expressed so vividly that the action seems to take place before the eyes of the audience. Finally, every point leads out of the preceding point so naturally, and blends into the following point so inevitably, that the entire monologue is a smooth and perfect whole.
The term 'room' means more than just the physical space in which the performance takes place; it is the term used to summarise a combination of factors which include the nature of the space, the way that space is set up, the character of the audience and more.
All writers on stand-up comedy, without exception, specifically emphasize that a stand-up comedian is on a stage talking with an audience. Stand-up comedy is neither a series of narratives nor a series of jokes: it is a form of small talk
For, while abstract space remains an arena of practical action, it is also an ensemble of images, signs and symbols. It is unlimited, because it is empty, yet at the same time it is full of juxtapositions, of proximities ('proxemics'), of emotional distances and limits. ... the same abstract space may serve profit
[S]ocial space becomes a force of production itself (Lefebvre, 1979; Harvey, 1982; Swyngedouw, 1991, 1992), representing simultaneously a network of exchange and a flow of commodities, communication, energy and resources.
Stand-ups need the audience to know what's funny, what's interesting, what they think. In exchange for their vulnerability, they get connection.
In the heat of real-time performance ... comics can 'read the room' through jokes that are optimal for gauging their interlocutors' intellectual, moral, emotional, or other boundaries and preferences, e.g., through lowbrow, strategically ambiguous, or perhaps seemingly offensive bits.
Semiology is also the source of the claim that space is susceptible of a 'reading,' and hence the legitimate object of a practice (reading/writing). The space of the city is said to embody a discourse, a language.
The consideration of geographic space or landscape as a text (Duncan 1992; Spirn 1998) is also an instance of semiotic approach.
Messages can be constructed on the basis of single signs or, more often than not, as combinations of them. The latter are known as texts. A text constitutes, in effect, a specific 'weaving together' of signs in order to communicate something. The signs that go into the make-up of texts belong to specific codes.
'Read the room.' His meaning: assess client reactions as ideas are presented and adjust ... They scan faces for confusion, comprehension, and delight. They study eyes and body language. ... The process of reading the room is like comprehending the difference between a wink and a blink (Geertz 1973:6-7). It requires contextual understanding: knowing the psychology of the participants, the strength of the creative work
From a semiotic perspective--that is, the investigation of its meaning-making potential--the human face has been equated with a display board upon which interacting individuals can read and interpret each others' moods and intentions.
Comedians start their routines by 'working the room' and asking the audience rapid-fire questions (which can result in insults or quick punch lines) to verify whether both parties share the same values, thus contributing to setting the mood of the show (Mintz, 1985: 78-79)
All signs have points of view built into them. ...As I mentioned in chapter 4, the interpretant is responding to and reflexive of the sign.
Semiotic construction makes (re-designs) the artefacts surrounding the organism. This means that sign processes not only permanently re-design our concepts but they also, and simultaneously, redesign our surrounding matter.
In his refusal to 'feel bad' about what he says on stage, Chappelle suggests that his first responsibility is to his craft. He acknowledges, however, that such a responsibility may end up creating discomfort for audience members and himself. ... Chappelle suggests that offended audience members should also blame themselves because they have 'got to remember' that he is only saying these things because they are [audience-tested] funny.
A good room can implicitly invite the 'right kind' of audience, and tell that audience how to behave and how to respond to the comedian's material. It can orchestrate the physical arrangement of the audience within the space, such that the performer is faced with minimal competition for audience attention. It can work on the audience's confidence, allowing each audience member to feel part of a homogenised group and creating acoustics which allow each laugh to fuel the next. The room can also send the message that the event is exciting; a success of which the audience are part. A good gig is not founded on the hope that a comedian can battle through any circumstance, but is rather a matter of creating, proactively, that fine balance between numerous factors which will allow for the best possible interaction.
[L]ighting techniques could also have a 'psychological effect,' creating 'reassuring' and 'less formal' spaces--characteristics typically expected of the domestic environment. Color choice, Kelly advised, also affected the mood or psychological conditions of the interior.
Semiotics became useful for analyzing stage lighting and the communication between the performer and the audience and to identify lighting signs associated with productions (Moran 2007).
Deleuze and Guattari's ontology of a book is useful for framing the relationship of other cultural forms to their exterior conditions. Arguing that '[t]here is no longer a tripartite division between a field of reality [e.g. social world], a field of representation [e.g. the performance], and a field of subjectivity [e.g. the individual comic]' (Deleuze and Guattari, 1987:23), the concept of assemblage is meant to demonstrate empirically [connections, viz., social world, the performance, and the individual comic].
The first comic on stage carries the burden of 'building the energy in the room'. The comedians who follow in the line-up have to sustain it. Should someone fail at doing this and leave the audience 'cold', the next comic has to 'bring the energy back up' ... Ideally [the comedians] arrive at a venue when the show starts in order to 'read' the audience. Reading the audience is a visual practice (What are the demographics?[)]...and an affective practice (How are they responding to the comic on stage?[)]...At the very least, comics will show up a few acts ahead of their own for that purpose. They have to know the energy of the room in order to work the crowd right.
Whether empty or full, absolute space is therefore a highly activated space, a receptacle for, and stimulant to, both social energies and natural forces.
Hot cognition is a less conscious, quick, and automatic descision [sic] process often operationalized as emotion while cold cognition is regarded as fact-based conscious processing, operationalized as cognition (Ask & Granhag, 2007; Hammond, 1996; Madrigal, 2008; Metcalfe & Mischel, 1999).
[T]he red end of the scale remains associated with warmth, energy, salience and foregrounding, and the blue end with cold, calm, distance, and backgrounding.
A further feature that almost all stand-up comedy venues have in common is a licence to sell alcohol. Most comedians and promoters agree that running a successful gig without alcohol would be very difficult, if not impossible...Alcohol is usually not only offered to the audience, but its consumption actively encouraged.
[B]ecause stand-up comedy is performed almost exclusively in venues where alcohol is present, comedians rick physical harm before they even step on stage.
Drunk audiences are...more prone to unpredictable outbursts, than sober audiences.
My approach to genre is in line with that of Hanks (1987:668), itself largely inspired by Bakhtin's theory of genre and Pierre Bourdieu's theory of practice. According to Hanks, genre consists of 'historically specific elements of social practice' shaped by sociohistorical acts, groups, and ideologies, which also shape the social environment in which the genre itself gets inserted. A genre is intrinsically relational, as it creates indexical connections that extend beyond the setting of the production and reception of performances (Briggs & Bauman 1992).
Native American stand-up comedy teases the audience, relies on self-deprecation for much of its humor, incorporates stories 'built on the oral tradition,' and as a form of public discourse goes beyond entertainment into the persuasive realm of epideictic rhetoric by arguing for Native peoples' inherent right to survival and sovereignty in the twenty-first century (Don Kelly qtd. in Taylor 62).
In fiction, there is a close relation between genre and character. ... This stands in stark contrast to our notion of character in real life. In real life, someone 'cannot know that his brave friends will not flinch in unforseen circumstances...just because there is no fact of the matter ' (143). The fictionalizing tendency, then, is to impose genre on life in a dangerous way--in a way that leads to a distortion of the notion of character. ... we seek narrative closure where it cannot be found
In this alternative comedy universe, Christian stand-up comedians are stars in their own holy stratosphere.
The immediate feedback and sensing of energy that is available in a show room is absent with a television audience. With the lack of immediate response, performers lose the opportunity to turn the show around if a bit falls flat
The relief theory of humor describes laughter as a release of excess energy (Smuts, 2009). The relief theory, according to Sigmund Freud, is based on the argument that there are three distinct sources of laughter: joking, humor, and the comic ... they all share the commonality of energy being dispelled from the body through the act of laughter ... The shortcoming of the relief theory is in its inability to distinguish humorous laughter from non-humorous laughter (Smuts, 2009). That is to say, the relief theory only says that an audience will laugh; it does not specify whether it will be because something is comical or because the audience is relieved.
The classic theorist would be Freud. Tendentious jokes ... a difficult or edgy subject is going to create a certain tension in the audience, and having created the tension, if your punchline is funny, the laugh is bigger.
A good standup creates a tension in the room, which the audience wants to break with laughter. If you can do this, any punch line will work as a release valve.
Every time you start a joke, you create some tension ... If the joke works, then all that stored is released at the punchline in the form of laughter.
I would call that a relief laugh ... like release laugh.
I find the notion that there is usually a 'butt of the joke' [to be] fairly uncontroversial. Most cultures have a minority that forms the shorthand for stupid outsider -- 'in many French jokes, Belgians are depicted as whitless underdogs; in the United States the imbeciles are the Poles; and their place is taken by the Portuguese in Brazil and the Irish in England' (Chiaro 1992:78).
The limits of acceptable bad taste depend on the audience and the setting, as well as the stage character that the comedian has established.
I don't think there's an opinion that exists in this country [USA], that is not represented by a comedy club, by somebody. Each and every one of you [as audience members] has a champion in 'the room'. We watch you guys fight, but when we're [stand-ups] together, we talk it out. I know comics that are very racist, and I watch them on stage, and everyone's laughing, and I'm like, 'hmm, that motherfucker means that shit'. Don't get mad at them. Don't hate them. We go upstairs and have a beer and sometimes I even appreciate the artistry that they paint their racist opinions with. Man, it's not that serious.
Roberts, Coltrane, Dubus, Allen, and Goldsmith each offer the same, fairly simple mechanism for defining right-wing comedy: the comedy of the right is that which supports the status quo; the comedy of the left 'punches up' at the established authorities of its time, be they governmental, cultural, or artistic. ... [Roy] Brown's comments are typical of the mind-set that his 'old school' tribe brought to the justification of their work: a joke is a joke, not a political act, and the ability to say what you like in the context of joking is held sacred.
To be sure, spectators respond differently to performances partly on the basis of their cultural position with regard to race, class, gender, and similar social discriminations. ... Simulation, for many cognitive psychologists, is synonymous with empathy.
George Carlin echoed this sentiment, observing that 'comedy has traditionally picked on people in power.' ... Eddie Murphy, Sam Kinison, and Andrew Dice Clay delighted crowds with inflammatory material that explicitly singled out gay men as predatory disease-vectors. ... They [Chappelle and Gervais] have done daring and subversive work on other topics, like race and religion, respectively, but punching down at an essentially powerless minority group is pure hack, and makes these men look like, in millennial parlance, out-of-touch 'edgelords' stuck in a bygone era. ... it's lazy to keep picking on the easiest target
[P]ersonality is far more important than material
[W]hat's more important, material or delivery? I had to say it's the material.
when the material is good, you can overlook anything
We argue that using the name of someone who people consider funny generates an expectancy of humour when hearing a joke.
[Johnny Carson:] You can take the funniest man in the world who is unknown and put him in front of an audience that has not yet accepted him because they don't know him ... it makes a big difference in the reaction he's gonna get. I'm accepted now much more than I was five years ago, because I've had tremendous exposure on television
[Woody Allen:] It isn't the jokes that do it ... It's the individual himself. When I first started ... the same jokes I did at that time that got nothing for me [in terms of laughter], now will get roars, and not because I am more known. It's the funny-character emergence that does it. You can take the worst material in the world and give it to W.C. Fields or Groucho Marx and there's just something that will come out funny. I'm not saying you won't get laughs, but the audience doesn't go away with anything [that leaves a lasting impression].
I [Irvin Arthur] firmly believe that it's the persona first, and then the material.
Andrea Greenbaum (1999), in the International Journal of Humor Research, says that 'stand-up comedy is an inherently rhetorical discourse; it strives not only to entertain, but to persuade, and stand-up comics can only be successful in their craft when they can convince an audience to look at the world through their comic vision' ... Stand-up comedy is not about simply convincing an audience that you are funny, although that is necessary; it is also about teaching the audience that there is a different way to think about things
To become successful[,] comedians must possess...the ability to estimate correctly audience reactions to deviant speech and behavior.
Although comics rarely use the term 'manipulation,' when Eyre describes [Maria] Bamford as a 'strong performer,' he means that she possesses the ability to manipulate an audience. Comedians typically refer to this manipulation 'in terms such as 'craft,' 'skill,' and 'technique
The process of individuation is frequently captured by stand-up comics in genre specific terms of crafting or 'finding' one's stage persona ... Ultimately an outcome of numerous performative reiterations, fashioning of typifiable stage persona is generally regarded as the number one goal for aspiring stand-ups, emphasized on courses and manuals of the genre.
pushing the audience still involves finding an affective edge, 'reading the energy' in the room, and sensing how much the particular group of people present can handle with regards to obscenity, hostility, etcetera ... When a comedy set works, that is, when the audience responds to a comic's jokes with repeated out-loud laughter, the affective dynamic between the comic on stage and the audience has a rhythm or pulse to it that feels like a loop, a circular flow. It's an energy flow from the comedian to the audience, where the audience returns that flow of energy in the form of laughter. The laughter, in turn, feeds the comic's next outpouring of energy. Ideally, with each loop, the overall energy in the room rises and ends at a euphoric pitch ... the comic's job is to ride that wave of energy.
When a competent comedian tells a 'truth' onstage, the laugh is the priority, not the truth. Art favors verisimilitude, not authenticity. The only essential goal of comedy is to elicit laughter by exploiting the cognitive entities that make up a comedy audience.
What distinguishes the skillset of the professional from that of the amateur is an understanding of audiences
The gag plays on one of the standard questions which comedians ask punters whilst working the room: 'What do you do?' This well-established ploy allows the comic to comment on the nature of the punter's job, often in the form of a ritual insult.
Not only are stand-ups positioned in a communicative context that presupposes on accommodating and managing the attention and viewpoint of one's interlocutors, they are subjected under several overlapping modes of evaluation and typification directed at their 'competence in performance' (Briggs 1988), their relatability, sense of humor, individuality, here-and-now presence, and outer appearance, all of which can be reflexively acknowledged and reappropriated in performance.
A show begins the moment the audience walk into a venue.
The wall that cuts the front and back regions off from the outside obviously has a function to play in the performance staged and presented in these regions, but the outside decorations of the building must in part be seen as an aspect of another show
No laughter? Out then. Tim [Allen]'s willingness to change his act to suit his audience ... The difference between Tim's censoring of material and a poet's censoring is elusive. Tim's goal is to make money, that's one of his desires, but not his primary motivating desire. His drive as a comedian is to make people laugh.
Stand-up comedy is a unique form of performance in that the reaction of the audience is an integral part of the success or failure of each individual performance.
When an audience enters a comedy gig, they are entering an environment in which everything works together to make them more responsive.
In the context of the performing arts, authenticity can broadly be defined as 'a form of truth within the performing arts event.' ... whether or not an experience is considered authentic is based on the perception of the consumer (Arnould and Price, 2000; Grayson and Martinec, 2004).
As individuals, we're more likely to laugh if surrounded by others who are laughing, but on the peripheries of a large audience we're less likely to be surrounded.
When a comedy club audience is small and spread out around the room, the manager will often encourage everyone to sit close together, front and center. He does this to maximize the communication potential not only with other receivers, but also with the source.
[E]xpectancy violations theory is not particular to humor; it is a contemporary communication theory that can be applied to rhetorical situations. Expectancy violations theory is heavily based on the studies of personal space and proxemics, or the study of people's use of space (Griffin, 2009). The key to the expectancy violations theory is the argument that when our expectations are violated, we have the choice of responding negatively or positively. A comic's goal is to persuade his or her audience to respond positively to a violation of personal space or any other previously set expectation
Tightly arranged seating within the comedy room created physical discomfort for audience members ... Yet audience members often talked about how much they enjoyed 'the feeling of a full house' ... Conversely, when shows were not sold out and audience members had more room to spread out among empty tables and chairs, audience members were less likely to relate their experiences as one of entertainment or enjoyment.
Corroborating the communal reputation of the genre, stand-up trades on interpersonal resonance or what is called 'involvement' in sociolinguistics (Tannen 2007), where audience will (ideally) 'coauthor' the speech act by ritualized collective laughter (Duranti 1986).
To produce laughter, an audience needs not only energy but also confidence. To laugh is pleasant, but can also be risky; to be caught laughing heartily when other audience members are silent could be embarrassing. Bergson describes the importance of camaraderie in laughter...It is therefore important that, as Brook intimates, the energy that causes laughter flows freely and easily between people.
Respondents expressed that they enjoy the limited [spatial] distance between the audience and the stand-up comedian...Such explanations support Bennett's observation that the 'lessening of distance leads to fuller engagement with the spectator' (1997: 15). Although this reduced distance is important in all live performances, closeness and intimacy is especially important in standup comedy.
Stand-up is weird, as artforms go, because you have to write in front of people. I've interviewed around 150 comedians, and all of them write in some capacity onstage, including Mulaney.
On TV, every single joke kills. That's not what happens with stand-up. You have to earn every laugh. Another thing is that there's no room for interpretation in stand-up ... with stand-up, it's all about getting that noise -- getting that laugh. And it has to come for everyone at the same time. Everyone has to think the same thing at the same time.
Comedians who have done well with an audience say that they have 'killed'; those that have done badly say they have 'died'.
Killing, in comics' terms, is synonymous with an exceptional performance
A comedian who does well 'kills' the audience; a comedian who fares badly 'dies'.
'I,' 'my,' 'me' as the comedian versus 'you' as the audience directly engages the audience in a dialogue.
I have a list of three or four [comebacks] ... and the rest will be off the cuff
physical violence is rare in stand-up
The old fashioned term for this is 'stage repose', which means a quality of ease, assurance and control ... Johnny Carson has a neat definition: 'When you stand there doing nothing and it's funny, that's repose.'
[C]onfidence is key...The reason you should be confident is primarily because you're Will Smith...I've been watching you for years; you're actually a funny dude. I've spoken to you before, you're a great conversationalist...What else do you really need?... Number Two, pick the right shit to talk about...[Number three] You are one of those comedians who think you have to be funny all the time. You don't. But, you have to be interesting all the time.
[Nanjiani:] What I learned, coming to [the] New York [Alternative comedy scene], and watching people like Eugene [Mirman] and John [Hodgman], was that their comedy wasn't...any sort of specific thing, there was no...cadence to it, there were no...types of things you talk about, you could kind of do anything: you could talk about your day...you could kind of do anything, and as long as it was interesting or entertaining...I think it has to be at least entertaining--[Hodgman:] It has to be. It has to be entertaining. It has to be funny...[Nanjiani:] It has to be engaging, and that's comedy.
Something else to be recognized in the field of stand-up comedy is that a comedian needs to be able to command the attention of his or her audience ... Due to the mainly humorous nature of the content a comedian will be delivering, this control has to be taken gently, almost without the audience realizing it. A comedian's audience should feel as if they are part of the sketch [a.k.a. routine], not just responding to it [as though it were a monologue].
'mugging,' a term used by stand-up comics as 'an elegant shorthand for expressing who you are and what you feel' (Allen, 2002, p. 30).
MUGGING.--A contortion of the features to win laughter, irrespective of its consistency with the lines or actions.
Willie Howard...[stated that ']Mugging...you must trick it with an absurd facial expression[']
Richard Belzer rejects the word 'force' and says it's the term 'win an audience' that is apt: 'I don't think you can mug an audience into liking you or your material. They have to trust and like you.'
A gag is the vaudeville term for any joke or pun ... A point is the laugh-line of a gag, or the funny observation of a monologue.
[I]n the 1930s comics made a distinction between timing and 'pointing.' 'Pointing a joke,' Morton Minsky wrote, 'means emphasizing the right word by giving a certain inflection so that it becomes funny'
[T]he stand-up comedian speaks more often in the first person than in the third person ... [f]irst-person narratives have an explicit connection between the narrator and the protagonist: the convention is that they are one and the same. The narrator is the narrative's referent, and events refer to his or her history or worldview ... the stand-up's 'truth' requires the contrast of the fictive and, possibly, fanciful: something akin to tall tales.
personal narratives in oral face-to-face settings afford for gesturally visualizing one's experience in the space shared by performer and audience. Intricate in their chronotopic details and indexical orientations, such enactments depend on the narrator's ability to manage the relations and communicate movements between various spatiotemporal frames--i.e., narrated and speech events with their associated participant structures--and speaker roles--i.e., narrator, interlocutor, and character (Haviland 2004, 15; Kendon 1997; Koven 2002; Lindfors 2018; Silverstein 2005; Wortham 2001)
Modern stand-up reflects greater emphasis, relative to the vaudeville and post-vaudeville periods, on comedic narrative; that is, on longer, thematically linked routines that displace the former reliance on discrete jokes. The narrative content is linked, moreover, to the individual comedian's point of view, manifested as a comedic character which bears particular traits and remains fixed throughout the performance (although it may shift over the course of a comedian's career).
[Antiquated comedic archetypes] lack that which is essential to the nature of personhood in modern, western society: interiority, point-of-view, empathy, individual character, the ability for ego-identification ... accountability ... [and more c]rucially ... 'the ability to tell a story' and simultaneously be a character in the story while being the storyteller ( ... the central narrative feature of all stand-up comedy).
[S]tand-ups often aim for the allegorical, designated by folklore and narrative scholar Amy Shuman (2005, 73) as the trope for balancing the personal with the shared and enabling narrators such as stand-up comics 'to speak as if from personal experience but always in reference to the purportedly comparable experiences' of one's interlocutors
Recalling the AngloAmerican narratological distinction between showing and telling (Booth 1969), stand-up could be construed as a mixture of mimetic, dramatic comedy constituted by play-acted enactments, and narrative, oratorical comedy (a distinction that echoes the Platonic dichotomy between mimesis and diegesis).
the comedy of situation is akin to the comedy of character ... [t]o penetrate too far into the personality, to couple the outer effect with causes that are too deep-seated, would mean to endanger, and in the end to sacrifice all that was laughable in the effect ... character [is] ... invisible to its actual owner, for the comic ever partakes of the unconscious, but visible to everybody else, so that it may call forth general laughter
There's something that occurs so regularly in stand-up that anybody who has spent time watching it will recognise it. The comic is telling a gag, recalling an anecdote, talking about a particular person or describing a fantasy, and in the course of this, he or she lapses into acting it out. ... an instant transition from narrator to character, achieved through tone of voice, posture or facial expression.
I want to argue that Dreyfus and Heidegger are right in claiming that when I am fully absorbed in the activity with which I am engaged, there is no 'subject' engaging with a [sic] 'object' or 'mental content' but simply Dasein pre-reflexively engaging with activities which matter to it. ... As Critchley argues, the telling of a joke necessarily presupposes a shared world (Critchley 2002:4)
In any stand-up act that presents a clearly fictional and absurd character, the creator of that character will be a discernible and important presence within the act. If we can identify the creator and share his attitude towards the character, we can laugh comfortably. This dual presence is one of the defining features of a character act.
Stand-up comedians are characters in their own narrative, of their own making. They profess to have had certain experiences and express certain opinions not merely in front of but to an audience.
Every stand-up goes onstage as a character to some extent. Some may adopt a persona that's very similar to their own personality, but it's still a separate entity--a person telling jokes as opposed to telling the truth, which no 'real' person does. Even observational comics, who base their material in reality, use the truth not as an end but as a foundation on which to build jokes by taking the truth to its farthest [sic] extreme.
Central to this process is the creation of a comic 'character' who establishes and maintains the tone of interaction between performer and audience. This character is similar to, if not the same as, what [Steve] Martin calls the comedian's 'personality' ... This personality is not a direct reflection of the comedian's true self, but a character that is shaped and developed in order to create a comedic dynamic in which individual jokes work.
Notwithstanding how 'truthfully' the persona that is presented onstage might be understood as reflecting aspects of the comedian's self offstage, the subjectifying mode of footing here refers to the practice of stylizing a coherent self with supposedly token (personal) experiences, (unique) insights, and (individual) character ... Indeed, it might be described as one of the tensions comically staged by stand-up that being a recognizable 'character' or persona necessarily implies two things at once: that one is both a unique personality but also somehow typical, or at least an 'intersection' of abstract typical traits (also Fishelov 1990).
I'm not being a character ... [but am being] a heightened [me]--it's me amped up...So, that guy on stage is just [an onstage version of] me...I'm putting on a show. But, there are times where I'm doing a [complete] character and then people don't understand
The CSP [comic stage persona] incorporates elements including gestures, looks, vocal inflections, and all manner of attitudes, dispositions, and non-verbal communications.
'Persona' is used to describe and attribute distinctive aspects of personality, character, and point-of-view to a comedian's routines. It is a unique character attribute but it is not fictional; often it is an exaggerated version of their 'real life' self. It is an intrapersonal view of self: oneself seen from the position of another [the audience].
this persona is typically understood having an indexical (also described by Charles S. Peirce as 'real' or 'existential') connection and relation with one's self and social person offstage (CP 2.287; CP 2.243; cited in Nakassis 2018, 282). That is, stage persona is not perceived by stand-ups as a distinct character but as a public or 'heightened' social role one has developed for this specific purpose
A persona not only helps to make a comedian's jokes funnier but also simultaneously reveals his or her personality and worldview.
The process of individuation is frequently captured by stand-up comics in genre specific terms of crafting or 'finding' one's stage persona, or as phrased by Joni Koivuniemi, presenting one's 'world': 'When they [the audience] know how you behave in your world, you don't need to explain everything. You turn into a cartoon that one can count on.' (See also Silvio 2010, 430-431.) Ultimately an outcome of numerous performative reiterations, fashioning of typifiable stage persona is generally regarded as the number one goal for aspiring stand-ups, emphasized on courses and manuals of the genre. The process itself can be either very much instinctive, as Robert Pettersson describes it. Or it can be the result of purposive deliberation, as when Antti Haapala describes his stage persona as being 'very close to himself,' but with 'all the negativity stripped off and replaced with positive energy,' adding further that this persona develops as 'one develops himself.'
[C]omic personas are unlike theatrical personae. They are not masks for stage but increasingly, for modern stand-up comedians, drawn from their own biographies and personalities. But they, still, are not direct performances of personalities; they remain either heightened versions of self, or exaggerations of parts...[and] is a form of autobiographical lyric poetry ... autobiography in stand-up is far from an escaping of tropes, it is an embracing of them; the self becomes the basis for tropes
[Gary Delaney:] You start off, and you want to be like your heroes ... you start out under the naive belief that you get to choose your style ... [but] your style of comedy chooses you ... it's a misnomer when people say you need to think about your persona ... its all bollocks about persona and timing. I didn't set out to be a one-liner comic, but I was shit at everything else.
This persona is enacted on stage, developed over time ... The comic persona is the stand-up comedian's projection of a character who is, simultaneously, meant to be identical to his or her 'real' self.
No comic persona can accurately and fully represent the person who exists offstage, nor can any character act divorce completely from the real-life performer. Double has suggested that there is a spectrum of types of persona, ranging from the 'naked self' to the character comedian. For different points on the spectrum, the persona will bear different relationships to the offstage personality. Some comedians see the stage persona as a genuine part of themselves exaggerated.
[Clive] Barker also makes a separation between the performer's 'image', which is 'the residual memory of a performer outside of the performance', and the persona, which is the representation that the audience encounter on the night [of that particular set]. Image and persona have different functions, because 'the image attracts an audience to a theatre. The performance persona is what sends them home happy. As Barker further notes: 'The image or persona is a fabrication. It is a part played as consciously as the actor assumes his role'.
Backstage ... back region tends to be defined as ... all places out of range of 'live' microphones ... One of the most interesting times to observe impression management is the moment when a performer leaves the back region and enters the place where the audience is to be found ... for at these moments one can detect a wonderful putting on and taking off of character.
If Edelman is right about memory, Carlson's notion of spectators' discovering an 'identity' between a past and present moment in performance is an illusion. Audiences may think they are comparing a present image with a stable representation of a past image stored in their minds, but they are actually constructing this identity, not discovering it.
A one-person show has a story line. While a stand-up comic focuses on getting an immediate reaction from the audience after every joke, a person doing a solo show takes the audience on a journey.
A one-person show is not just an hour of stand-up. It has to be dramatic and funny.
Though there have been one-person shows for ages, the first comedian to do a one-person show in a big way was Lily Tomlin ... However, it wasn't until the '90s, correlating with the rise of storytelling, that the stand-up one-person show really blew up ... for the shows that consisted of thematically stringing funny stories together, it was always hard to decide what exactly made them one-man shows and not stand-up acts.
A theatrical genre that is closely related to stand-up comedy is the one-man show, although the latter may or may not make use of humour or imply an interaction with the audience. In a sense, every stand-up comedy show is a one-man show, but not every one-man show is a stand-up comedy show.
Each unit, 'chunk,' or 'bit' is inexorably linked with the others in the routine
small bits of information and consolidates them into a larger, more complex form that neuropsychologists call a 'chunk.' Cowan, for example, writes: 'I will define the term chunk as a collection of concepts that have associations to one another.' ... a chunk is not a rigid set of memories. It remains dynamic: open to the integration of new material and the elimination of [the] old
Comedy on the burlesque stage was built around a three- to ten-minute comedy scene called a 'bit.' ... The term 'bit' referred to everything from a one-joke blackout to a complex scene that involved the entire cast ... Bits were extremely malleable and most developed out of earlier ones. They were constantly being taken apart and recombined in different ways ... A bit might be as simple as a shrug of the shoulders or as complicated as a routine.
Stand-up comedians do not...tell jokes in the sense of a series of discrete units, with an explicit set-up which culminates in a punch line. Instead, they interweave material into a routine, which may run from five minutes to over two hours. Each unit, or 'bit,' is inexorably linked with the others in the routine, the performance venue, composition of the audience, the perceived relationship between the teller and the audience, the technological medium (beyond amplification) in which it is being transmitted, and the personality of the comedian herself.
When stand-up comics begin to tell their audiences a story or 'bit,' as it is technically named, they are proposing some kind of intellectual challenge with which the audience must keep up. When the bit has ended, the audience experiences relief in the knowledge that they have successfully solved the challenge.
a bit, 3 or 4 jokes in and around one central theme or idea ... [and then] 10-15 minutes, we call that a chunk
A 'bit,' Reiser explains, 'is a group of words used to incorporate a premise and all variations thereof'
Routine--the entire monologue; but more often used to suggest its arrangement and construction. A monologue with its gags and points arranged in a certain order is one routine; a different routine is used when the gags or points are arranged in a different order. Thus routine means arrangement. The word is also used to describe the arrangement of other stage offerings--for instance, a dance: the same steps arranged in a different order make a new 'dance routine.'
In particular, such [emotional] distancing is an effect of scriptedness and intense reiteration, for stand-up routines are always practiced and rehearsed in subsequent performances (true to the genre, this fact is also frequently troped upon by comics themselves onstage).
As Fleming and Lempert (2014:488) explain, 'as it draws attention to message form over larger stretches of discourse, parallelism can also, at a higher order, help put the whole event-inprogress in sharp relief, like a gestalt erupting from the background of 'ordinary' communication.'
Cognitive psychologists have discovered that most people can only integrate about seven pieces (or 'chunks') of information in a single conscious gestalt, and only about four if those chunks are in motion.
The pre-established pattern of action which is unfolded during a performance and which may be presented or played through on other occasions may be called a 'part' or 'routine.'
Like speeches, sets of jokes work better if there is a strong conclusion
[Phyllis Diller:] set-up, pay-off ... The funny word must be at the end of the sentence.
If you have a long bit, the biggest laugh has to be at the end. It has to be. It can't be in the middle or the beginning.
Since the setup has already been established, the second, third, and fourth jokes are short, shorter, shortest.
Taglines are ... very short [jokes that are] ... delivered right as the original laughter from the punchline is dying down.
If all the jokes do not correlate, a comedian needs to be able to incorporate flawless transitions into his or her routine, even if these transitions are based off of audience responses.
A performance that 'bombs' is one where the comic is unable to connect and make the audience laugh....When a comedian's performed material engages the audience in repeated and sustained big laughter, the comic is said to 'kill'.
Carefully placed between opening, hook and punch line are perfectly sculpted layers of words, chosen, discarded and re-chosen night after night, according to the whims of the paying jury [the audience], until they [the jokes] have been polished to the final sentence, phrase and syllable.
A canned joke is a generally short narrative ending in a punchline ... [that] the speaker has memorized.
A joke can be said to be a formula in that it, too, is a 'prefabricated utterance'--one specifically designed to elicit laughter from a listener or an audience. Jokes are tied to certain 'themes'--subject matters that have proven humorous potential. Some use of these themes are timeless; others go in and out of style.
Sarah Silverman, a popular female stand-up, said in regards to the delivery of material, 'It's not really off the top of our [stand-up comics] heads' (2010) ... As Sankey (1998) says, what 'separates the men and women from the boys and girls is the ability to deliver a joke for the six-hundredth time and still make it look fresh and dewy' (p. 11).
The writing of a joke is not the whole act of creation. Joking is a social process, existing only in interaction with a hearer; as Zijderveld points out, 'a joke [...] is only meaningful in the interaction between human beings. It is also in this interaction that the joke is born.' Thus the act of performance is an integral part of the joke's creation and involves a great deal of creative skill, even if the gag has been performed many times previously.
[J]okes aren't necessarily someone saying something funny; they're intricate devices, built according to rigid specifications, and set to explode in a precise manner at an exact time.
[W]hat makes a comedian funny is much more his or her ability to tell a joke than the ability to actually write one[.]
[Phyllis Diller:] I teach them [my joke editors] that a one-liner or a gag is not the same as a joke. A gag or a one-liner is a set-up, pause, pay-off. That's the simplest form.
Your delivery can save you if the material isn't up to par.
[T]he Universal Joke Formula: Premise + Point of View + Twist = Joke
we can craft a joke just by creating and then defeating that specific expectation ... introduction, validation, violation
What makes a joke a joke, in other words, is that the listener (and the collector) can make it wholly independent from a specific performer and treat it as an isolatable or discrete unit. It is not based in personal but in collective worldview. Were one to incorporate wholesale someone else's joke into one's own repertoire, one would still need common ground with the original teller in order to effect a similar interpretation and reaction. The greater the manipulation required for the listener to abstract it, or the more inextricably the specific performer weaves it into their repertoire, the less one can successfully transfer it across repertoires.
[Johnny] Carson: ... You can take a very common situation and your point of view or your attitude toward it and what you see in it may be completely different from what somebody else sees in it. They will comment on it one way, you may take a completely different approach to it, and this is where the humor comes out--your specific look at something the audience hasn't thought of.
The key to a joke is not the idea, but the 'complex, creative choices about expression.'
Comedy's all surprise ... [S]ometimes you can tell...a joke is not as personal and I [Nate Bargatze] think POV and personality is[,] like[,] a very big part of what attracts people to comics versus someone else can do a joke that's just very like, anybody could tell that joke. And you want to be telling a joke that like no one else can tell. Like you can tell it and then, if someone else tried, they can't.
One way to try and ensure a successfully humorous grounding is for the comedian to 'set up' the relevant background knowledge for the audience within the performance itself and further teach them, or at least guide them, in how to use it.
The setup is the essential information the audience needs in order to get the punchline
A joke ... must have all the information implicit in the setup, so ... the punchline ... makes sense.
It's the first half of the joke ... It's the first part ... I've seen it said that it's the part that gives all the information you need, so that people understand the joke, but I would take it a step a little bit to the side of that ... [the setup] is whatever is needed to make the joke work.
A setup is the information a person needs to get the joke.
a joke is a context-free and self-contained unit of humor that carries within itself all the information needed for it to be understood and enjoyed.
Unlike superiority theory, incongruity theory seems to cover almost all cases of humor, not just those in which feelings of triumph are present (Smuts, 2009). Incongruity theory works much like Judee Burgoon's expectancy violations theory. Much as the name of Burgoon's theory suggests, expectancy violations theory deals with what happens to our communication when what we think will happen does not (Littlejohn & Foss, 2009) ... Incongruity theory is also described through the experience of finding surprising connections between ideas (Monro, 1988) ... 'Everyone has that thought. Comedians learn to grab it' (Foxworthy, 2010).
It seems like 99% of comedy comes from juxtaposing two things that don't seem to go together
You turn it into a juxtaposition of two ideas and create jokes.
Incongruity has been and remains the most influential approach to the study of humour even though superiority predates it by approximately two thousand years.
At its core, humor seems to be all about incongruity.
Comedy can be said to constitute and be constituted by a series of reversals, which set up mutually defined opposites and relate them to each other.
The concept of 'stance' is invoked in both analyses. Stance-taking, which can be marked verbally as well as by body posture, facial expression, and gesture (Matoesian 2005:168), is elemental in how we...assign value to objects of interest. By assuming stances we also position ourselves with regard to the 'stance objects,' align or realign with other subjects, and simultaneously invoke or mobilize presupposed systems of sociocultural value (Du Bois 2007:139, 143, 169).
The basis of comedic burlesque is an incongruity between style and subject, which juxtaposes high and low.
The Element of Incongruity. 'The essence of all humor,' it has been said, 'is incongruity,' and in the monologue there is no one thing that brings better laugh-results than the incongruous.
Richard Schechner captures the theatrical crux of the matter well when he writes: '[T]he technical mastery of performing is knowing how to do certain things, achieve levels of skills, pull off tricks. But no matter how phony the show, an audience responds to sincerity, and there is as much sincerity involved in tricking as there is in so-called truth-telling. To perform excellently is to master whatever the craft is: telling the truth, telling lies.'
The question of plausibility in comedic analysis of social realities, as in 'how social bonds and normality are preserved', rests upon the perceived verisimilitude of persona.
[C]omedians will often say that something happened to them recently when it really happened years ago--or may have never happened at all.
The primary purpose of comedy is laughter and mirth. All else is, therefore, secondary--including factual truth.
[P]erformers tend to foster the impression that their current performance of their routine and their relationship to their current audience have something special and unique about them.
'Verisimilitude' is ... expressly subjective but implies a recognizable truthfulness therein. The comedian is judged relevant by the audience in part by the accuracy of the worldview presented: it needs to be credible. Even though they are trying for laughter, comedians often honestly render representations of a particular moment and place in time.
The reasonings at which we laugh ... counterfeit true reasoning just sufficiently to deceive a mind dropping off to sleep. There is still an element of logic in them ... but it is a logic lacking in tension and, for that very reason, affording us relief from intellectual effort.
[Mintz states that t]he comedian will then establish his own comic persona, a process that 'allows the audience to accept that comedian's marginal status and to establish that the mood of comic license is operative.'
[A] comic's artistic license onstage (his [sic] ability to say anything to anyone)
[W]e might look for an ethos which places the joker's privilege to exercise comic license over the imperative for equality.
There's skill involved in presenting the self to a live audience, and it's a skill which can take time to learn. Comedians tend to call this process 'finding your voice'. Richard Pryor said that it can take 15 years for a comedian to find his or her voice. ... Comics must be able to generate energy in the audience, or they will receive no energy in return, and [if so,] there will be nothing to fuel their performance.
Rutter (1997) described the use of 'intonation' as a 'striking and omnipresent characteristic' of stand-up comedy, noting how comedians utilize change of pitch 'to signpost the completion of jokes and create an invitation to laugh'
in this common usage, the term [attitude] refers less to what a person will do and more to what sort of a state he is in ... thus [we] catch something of his feelings, his sensitivities, and his point of view.
[Poetic meter/rhythm] is palpably recognizable in stand-up, typically constituted and marked by pauses, expletives, prosody (accent, intonation), and other paralinguistic features rather than by strict metric (syllabic, phonetic, and so forth) rules per se. Superficially stylized as conversational, an ostensibly free flow of discourse, stand-up as discursive production is to a high degree structurally constrained rhythmically and interactionally, proceeding through sequential chunks of discourse (ideally) partitioned by laughter.
Seinfeld adds, 'any k sound is good--it's a very strong letter that impinges on people.'
The history of standup comedy in America reveals some interesting continuities and changes ... the Wise Fool, our most important comic archetype, is always around
it is useful to examine the famous paraprosdokian, 'I've had a perfectly wonderful evening, but this wasn't it.' ... Within the cognitive incongruity aspect of humor ... Comedians often rely on shared knowledge with the audience to provide the second interpretation toward which the joke will pivot ... As the paraprosdokian above illustrates, in some humor events, the brain begins tentatively to assign the event of one interpretation but then is forced in surprise to reassign the event to a second interpretation.
One of the seemingly self-evident features of humor and comedy is that there is an element of surprise: a situation is set up and there is an outcome that is unanticipated, although it 'makes sense' in retrospect.
Simon Amstell states, 'I transcribed a couple of the tapes just to figure out what he [Eddie Izzard] was doing cause it just seemed so (pause) It wasn't like setup-punch. I would sort of underline words ... is that the rule of three? I don't know what that is.' Eddie Izzard states, 'it should be--establish, reaffirm, and then you kill it on the third ... you can keep reaffirming before you twist.
They have a parades department. New Orleans police department has a parades department. There's homicide, there's narcotics, and there's parades. There's other departments too, but you know, rule of three, for comedy.
[Three is the] cadence [that makes] it the most important number in comedy.
For every ten jokes you tell, nine will be trash ... you'll need hundreds and hundreds of failed jokes to build a decent body of work.
failure is the road to being a great comic ... failure is not succeeding in the moment
For every ten jokes written, only one might be acceptable
The development of comic material from idea to fully formed gag involves an onerous process of writing, road-testing, and rewriting (Zinoman, 2012).
How does a comedian know if something is funny? The audience tells [the stand-up comedian through a call and response with laughter].
[S]tand-up represents a three part relation in the aesthetic completion of the comedic exchange: attempted joke, laughter, confirmed joke.
Stand-up is the art of self relating to self in the presence of others.
It is the audience's cooperation which allows the act to succeed and they retain the right to undermine the interaction by withdrawing that cooperation
After deciding to become a stand-up ... Cathy Ladman worked to develop 'five decent minutes'
'tight five' --five minutes of solid go-to jokes that show who you are and reliably get laughs.
A tight 5 minutes of stand-up comedy material generates an average 4-6+ collective audience laughs each performing minute.
If you have an all 'A' [material] 5-minute set, you'll get paid nothing.
Fran Capo [states that] ... an audition is usually five minutes.
To avoid going blank on stage, use the Memory Palace.
I'm currently using memory palaces or I think the loci method
I will put a set list on the stage monitor
Larry Wilde: There is an economic and cultural distinction between the people who frequent the off-beat, so called chi-chi rooms like the Hungry I (San Francisco), Mr. Kelly's (Chicago), and the Blue Angel (New York), than those who go to the Copacabana (New York), the American Hotel (New York), or the Fontainebleau Hotel (Miami Beach) ... [Shelley Berman:] ... Listen those chi-chi rooms are just as commercial as any room ... There's no such thing as a chi-chi room. A night club is a night club. Just because it is small, they call it a chi-chi room, or because they bring certain oddball forms of entertainment ... Wilde: Then what they will laugh at in a club in Pennsylvania, they should laugh at in a chi-chi room and vice-versa
Chi-chi room in the hotel, which is a standard for showbiz names
The two acts on the bill are tailored for this chi-chi room.
A chi-chi room, separated from the club, has the superb Jose Meles and Billy Taylor
Applause is a validation for something other than the humorous: it validates that what has been said is 'true' and ought to be affirmed as such.
[Dan] Atkinson argues that audiences do not applaud only because they hear an idea that they like, but rather when the linguistic packaging of the utterance tells them that it is time to do so.
Comedians who rely ... on generic joke telling, rather than comic monologue, are derided as 'hacks.' Originality is prized--indeed, it is arguably the first criterion by which comedians judge other comedians--and stealing is condemned.
One definition of hack is that you [the stand-up comedian] are thinking about what the audience wants instead of what you think is funny ... as opposed to being the artist that comes up with something new.
'Hacks' are those who opt for 'dick jokes,' using bad words in ways that continue to exploit their referential meanings
Staying onstage longer than their allotted time is, along with joke stealing, one of the most grievous offense a stand-up can commit.
[T]he spirit of modern stand-up comedy...is focused on originality.
[T]here are also cases of simple coincidence and, often in the case of observational material, parallel thinking.
George Calfa, who feels that he's been forced to downplay the degree of real creativity in his act in order to pander to road crowds and bookers