Stand-up comedy is a minimalistic performing art, which has spread around the world. It is performed on many levels, from free open-mic shows at dive bars, to stadium performances with world celebrities.
Stand-up comedy is a comic style in which a comedian performs in front of a live audience, usually speaking directly to them. The performer is commonly known as a comic, stand-up comic, comedian, comedienne, stand-up comedian, or simply a stand-up. In stand-up comedy, the comedian gives the illusion that they are dialoguing, but in actuality, they are monologuing a grouping of humorous stories, jokes and one-liners, typically called a shtick, routine, or set. Some stand-up comedians use props, music or magic tricks to enhance their acts. Stand-up comedy is stated to be the “freest form of comedy writing” that is normally regarded as an “extension of” the person performing. The improvisation of stand-up is often compared to jazz music. A comedian’s process of writing is likened to the process of song writing. A comedian’s ability to tighten their material has been likened to crafting a samurai sword.
Some of the main types of humor in stand-up comedy include observational comedy, blue comedy, dark comedy, clean comedy, and cringe comedy. Alternative stand-up comedy deviates from the traditional, mainstream comedy by breaking either joke structure, performing in an untraditional scene, or breaking an audience’s expectations; this includes, but is not limited to, the use of shaggy dog stories and anti-jokes.
Stand-up comedy is often performed in corporate events, comedy clubs, bars and pubs, nightclubs, neo-burlesques, colleges and theatres (audiences will give applause breaks more often in theaters ). Outside live performance, stand-up is often distributed commercially via television, DVD, CD and the internet.
It can take an amateur comedian about 10 years to perfect the technique needed to be a professional comedian; this is a constant process of learning through failure.
As the name implies, “stand-up” comedians usually perform their material while standing, though this is not mandatory. Similar acts performed while seated can be referred to as “sit-down comedy”.
“Comedians are more likely to exhibit psychotic traits” than the average person; most comedians display “magical thinking” and are “introverted” “anhedoni”.
Stand-up comedy show
In stand-up comedy, from the time the audience enters the building, their feedback is instant and crucial for the comedian’s act. Audiences expect a stand-up comedian to provide four to six laughs per minute, and a performer is always under pressure to deliver, especially the first two minutes.
A stand-up comedy show may (rarely) be one comedian; a multi-person, showcase format; or the traditional opener, feature, and headliner. A traditional format typically features an opening act known as a host, compère (UK), master of ceremonies (MC/emcee), or simply “opener” who, for 10–12 minutes, usually warms up the crowd, interacts with audience members, makes announcements, and then introduces the other performers; this is followed by a “middle”/”feature” act that lasts 15–20 minutes but is expected to have “30 minutes of solid material”; the feature act is followed by the headliner, who performs for “an hour.” The second definition of an opener is applied when the opening act of a traveling comedian may perform a 25-minute set (the opener doubles as a feature). The “showcase” format consists of several acts who perform for roughly equal lengths of time, typical in smaller clubs such as the Comedy Cellar, or Jongleurs, or at large events where the billing of several names allows for a larger venue than the individual comedians could draw. A showcase format may still feature an MC.
Many smaller venues hold open mic events, where anyone can take the stage and perform for the audience. This offers an opportunity for amateur performers to hone their craft and perhaps to break into the profession, or for established professionals to work on their material. Industry scouts will sometimes go to watch open mics. Breaking into the business requires “10 minute” of “A” material. Roadhouses (remote clubs) start booking people for “20 minutes of ‘A’ material”. “A” material means getting a big laugh at least “75% of the 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, while others disagree. The guests usually have to pay a cover charge and there is often a minimum number of drinks that must be ordered. These shows usually have a “showcase” format. Different comedy clubs have different requirements for their bringer shows. Gotham Comedy Club in New York City, for example, usually has ten-person bringers, while Broadway Comedy Club in New York City usually has six-person bringers. In the ’90s, the New York Comedy Club had pre-shows that were bringer shows; they also had audition scams with an “accelerated pre-show program.”
This is an unpaid, five-to-ten-minute time slot (during the emcee’s time slot of a professional show) that is essentially an audition to get booked for paid gigs.
The comedian’s set
In stand-up comedy, a “canned” joke is made of a “premise…point of view” and “twist” ending. A joke contains the least amount of information necessary to be conveyed, understood, and laughed at; the setup 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. According to the founding editor of The Onion, there are eleven types of jokes. Stand-up comedians will normally deliver their jokes in the form of a typical joke structure, using comedic timing to deliver the setup and then the punch line. Stand-ups will normally frame their stories as having happened “recently.” The comedian’s delivery of a joke—the pause, inflection, “ener,” and look—is “everything”. Comedians often include taglines (dependent punchlines that follow another punchline) and toppers (independent afterthoughts that follow a punchline). Some sources may use tags, toppers, and afterthoughts as synonyms.
A jokoid is a placeholder joke, which will eventually be superseded by a funnier joke. Stock jokes are similar to jokoids (as placeholders) and are hack jokes that are for “specific situations”. A paraprosdokian is a popular method that is used by comedians, creating a surprising punchline that causes the listener to reinterpret the setup. Stand-ups will often use the rule of three. Comedians will normally include stylistic and comedic devices, such as tropes, idioms, and wordplay.
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 traditional set is made of jokes (setup and punchline), bits (a joke or “3 or 4 jokes”), and chunks (multiple bits linked by a topic that may last “10-15 minutes”). Long bits must have the biggest laugh at their endings. Once a setup is established for a bit, the proceeding “jokes” should get shorter and shorter. A segue is the link between jokes. A callback is a reference to a previous joke. Bombing refers to when a comedian has failed to get an intended laugh. The quality of a comedian’s material is more important than their persona, unless they are well known. A good comedian will create a tendentious-like tension that the audience releases with laughter. This is known as a “relief/release” laugh. A comedian’s stand-up persona/voice consists of the type of material they perform, the format of the material, the aggregate set, the comedian’s rapport with the audience, and the comedian’s “own identity.”
When a set is consistently bombing, most comedians will perform “crowd work” by communicating with audience members to save face; much of crowd work is prewritten with added improvisation. Some comedians will use small talk that directs audience members to answer “a question” that the comedian ” a topper” for. Other comedians will become more intimate with their questions until they get multiple big laughs, before moving on. The result of crowd work is often an inside joke.
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 comedians employ a mnemonic device called the method of loci (memory palace technique) to remember their jokes. Some write their jokes over and over, while others have a set list in front of them; for professionals, this may be on cue cards or a stage monitor.
Stand-up comedy in the United Kingdom began in the music halls of the 18th and 19th centuries. Notable performers who rose through the 20th century music hall circuit were Morecambe and Wise, Arthur Askey, Ken Dodd and Max Miller, who was considered to be the quintessential music-hall comedian. Until 1968, the heavy censorship regime of the Lord Chamberlain’s Office required all comedians to submit their acts for censorship. The act would be returned with unacceptable sections underlined in blue pencil (possibly giving rise to the term “blue” for a comedian whose act is considered bawdy or smutty). The comedian was then obliged not to deviate from the act in its edited form.
The rise of the post-war comedians coincided with the rise of television and radio, and the traditional music hall circuit suffered greatly as a result. By the 1970s, music hall entertainment was virtually dead. Alternative circuits had evolved, such as working men’s clubs. Some of the more successful comedians on the working men’s club circuit—including Bernard Manning, Bobby Thompson, Frank Carson and Stan Boardman — eventually made their way to television via such shows as The Wheeltappers and Shunters Social Club. The “alternative” comedy scene also began to evolve. Some of the earliest successes came from folk clubs, where performers such as Billy Connolly, Mike Harding and Jasper Carrott started as relatively straight musical acts whose between-song banter developed into complete comedy routines. The 1960s had also seen the satire boom, including the creation of the club, the Establishment, which, amongst other things, gave British audiences their first taste of extreme American stand-up comedy from Lenny Bruce. Victoria Wood launched her stand-up career in the early 1980s, which included observational conversation mixed with comedy songs. Wood was to become one of the country’s most successful comedians, in 2001 selling out the Royal Albert Hall for 15 nights in a row.
In 1979, the first American-style stand-up comedy club, the Comedy Store was opened in London by Peter Rosengard, where many alternative comedy stars of the 1980s, such as Dawn French and Jennifer Saunders, Alexei Sayle, Craig Ferguson, Rik Mayall and Ade Edmondson began their careers. The stand-up comedy circuit rapidly expanded from London across the UK. The present British stand-up comedy circuit arose from the ‘alternative’ comedy revolution of the 1980s, with political and observational humor being the prominent styles to flourish. In 1983, young drama teacher Maria Kempinska created Jongleurs Comedy Clubs, now the largest stand-up comedy chain in Europe. Stand up comedy is believed to have been performed originally as a one-man show. Lately, this type of show started to involve a group of young comedians, especially in Europe.
Although the antecedents of this genre can be traced back to the monologues of Miguel Gila in the 1950s, the rise of live comedy in Spain took a long time in comparison with the American continent. The first generalized relationship with this comic genre occurred in 1999 with the creation of the Paramount Comedy channel, which included the New Comics program as one of its flagship programs, where monologuists such as Ángel Martín, José Juan Vaquero, David Broncano, and Joaquín Reyes stood out. Also, in 1999 began the journey of the program The club of comedy, an open adaptation of the popular comic format. In its first stage (1999-2005), it underwent several chain changes and released comedians like Luis Piedrahita, Alexis Valdes or Goyo Jiménez. In its new stage, starting in 2011 in La Sexta and presented by Eva Hache, it tries to start in the genre of comic monologue media characters from different artistic fields such as: Imanol Arias, José Luis Gil, Isabel Ordaz and Santiago Segura. Special mention deserves the Buenafuente program, started in 2005. The presenter, Andreu Buenafuente, made an initial monologue of about 9 to 11 minutes where he links current issues with everyday humorous situations. This became the most famous part of the program and made him one of the most recognized comedians in Spain, for his connection with the public and his ability to improvise. On the other hand, the comedian Ignatius Farray became one of the most representative icons of this genre today.
Stand-up comedy in the United States got its start from the stump-speech monologues of minstrel shows in the early 19th century. It also has roots in various traditions of popular entertainment of the late 19th century, including vaudeville, English music hall, burlesque or early variety shows, humorist monologues by personalities such as Mark Twain, and circus clown antics. With the turn of the century and ubiquitousness of urban and industrial living, the structure, pacing and timing, and material of American humor began to change. Comedians of this era often depended on fast-paced joke delivery, slapstick, outrageous or lewd innuendo, and donned an ethnic persona—African, Scottish, German, Jewish—and built a routine based on popular stereotypes. Jokes were generally broad and material was widely shared, or in some cases, stolen. Industrialized American audiences sought entertainment as a way to escape and confront city living.
The founders of modern American stand-up comedy include Moms Mabley, Jack Benny, Bob Hope, George Burns, Fred Allen, Milton Berle and Frank Fay all of whom came from vaudeville or the Chitlin’ Circuit. They spoke directly to the audience as themselves, in front of the curtain, known as performing “in one”. Frank Fay gained acclaim as a “master of ceremonies” at New York’s Palace Theater. Vaudevillian Charlie Case (also spelled Charley Case) is often credited with the first form of stand-up comedy, performing humorous monologues without props or costumes. This had not been done before during a vaudeville show.
Nightclubs and resorts became the new breeding ground for stand-ups. Acts such as Alan King, Danny Thomas, Martin and Lewis, Don Rickles, Joan Rivers and Jack E. Leonard flourished in these new arenas.
In the 1950s and into the 1960s, stand-ups such as Mort Sahl began developing their acts in small folk clubs like San Francisco’s hungry i (owned by impresario Enrico Banducci and origin of the ubiquitous “brick wall” behind comedians) or New York’s Bitter End. These comedians added an element of social satire and expanded both the language and boundaries of stand-up, venturing into politics, race relations, and sexual humor. Lenny Bruce became known as ‘the’ obscene comic when he used language that usually led to his arrest. After Lenny Bruce, arrests for obscene language on stage nearly disappeared until George Carlin was arrested on 21 July 1972 at Milwaukee’s Summerfest after performing the routine “Seven Words You Can Never Say on Television” (the case against Carlin was eventually dismissed).
Other notable comics from this era include Woody Allen, Shelley Berman, Phyllis Diller, and Bob Newhart. Some Black American comedians such as Redd Foxx, George Kirby, Bill Cosby, and Dick Gregory began to cross over to white audiences during this time.
In the 1970s, several entertainers became major stars based on stand-up comedy performances. Richard Pryor and George Carlin followed Lenny Bruce’s acerbic style to become icons. Stand-up expanded from clubs, resorts, and coffee houses into major concerts in sports arenas and amphitheaters. Steve Martin and Bill Cosby had levels of success with gentler comic routines. The older style of stand-up comedy (no social satire) was kept alive by Rodney Dangerfield and Buddy Hackett, who enjoyed revived careers late in life. Don Rickles, whose legendary style of relentless merciless attacks on both fellow performers and audience members alike kept him a fixture on TV and in Vegas from the 1960s all the way to the 2000s, when he appeared in the wildly popular Pixar Toy Story films as Mr Potato Head, who just happened to share Don’s grouchy onstage mannerisms. Television programs such as Saturday Night Live and The Tonight Show helped publicize the careers of other stand-up comedians, including Janeane Garofalo, Bill Maher and Jay Leno.
From the 1970s to the ’90s, different styles of comedy began to emerge, from the madcap stylings of Robin Williams, to the odd observations of Jerry Seinfeld and Ellen DeGeneres, the ironic musings of Steven Wright, to the mimicry of Whoopi Goldberg, and Eddie Murphy. These comedians would serve to influence the next generation of comedians.
In terms of live comedy in Mexico, the predecessors of this comic style are:
The Tepichines are a comic duo who were predecessors of a style consisting of parodies and double senses with creativity
Miguel Galván (1957-2008) Originally from Juan Aldama, Zacatecas. He dropped out of architecture at the Universidad del Valle de México to take theater classes at the “Dimitrio Sarrás Actors Studio” for three years.
Mara Escalante, is an actress, comedian and Mexican singer. She is known for the television series María de Todos los Ángeles, in which she has two characters, including the protagonist. She began her career in the mid-1990s.
Polo Polo (1944-), whose routines are characterized by a high content of sexual references, with a touch of misogyny, relayed as a personal anecdote.
Adal Ramones (1961-) was one of the first to transport the genre to Mexico from his nocturnal program, using the comic monologue.
Evelio with V Chica (Evelio Arias Ramos, 1966-2008).
The new generation of comedians decided to use their own lives as the theme of their comedy, imitating the American style:
Héctor Suárez Gomís, son of Mexican comedian Héctor Suárez, is currently the host of the Latin American version of the comedy program Stand Up Comedy Central Presents, broadcast by Comedy Central from 2011 until 2014.
Adal Ramones since 2013 leads the program called STANDparados broadcast by Comedy District before Classic TV.
Kikis, (1980) comedian since late 2011, openly lesbian, has participated in Comedy Central Latin America as well as with Adal Ramones in STANDparados Comedy District.
Luiki Wiki (1985-) began making comedy in January 2013 in Mexico City and later moved to Monterrey NL to start the first Open Mic in Monterrey (an event in which comedians can participate to try out new material with a real audience) together with other comedians of the genre. Later they created the first collective of comedy in Monterrey called For Laughter Standup Comedy. Luiki Wiki has participated in programs such as Es de Noche and I already arrived with René Franco and as with Adal Ramones in the 3rd season of the STANDparados program aired by Comedy District.
Franco Escamilla (1981-) Comedian, musician, radio announcer and founder of “La Diablo Squad”. He is mainly known for his comedy shows, has performed throughout the Mexican Republic and Latin America, even starting his own “World Tour”, arriving to have confirmed performances in Europe and the United States, including trips to Japan and Australia. Currently known as the largest representative of Stand up Comedy in this country.
Hugo “El Cojo Felíz” (1988-), is a comedian, radio announcer, part of the devil Squad, has the radio program “La Hora Felíz” with the “Uncle Rober” and is considered the best pen in Mexico.
Roberto Andrade Cerón the “Uncle Rober” (1979-) is a comedian, writer, radio announcer and has “La Cojo Feliz” the radio program “La Hora Felíz”.
Modern stand-up comedy in India is a young artform, however Chakyar koothu was prominent in Trivandrum and southern Kerala during the 16th and 17th centuries. It had all the attributes of modern stand-up comedy and is widely considered to be the oldest known staged comedy act anywhere in the world.
Even though the history of live comedy performances in India traces its early roots back to 1980s, for a long time stand-up comedians were only given supporting/filler acts in various performances (dance or music).
In 1986, India’s Johnny Lever performed in a charity show called “Hope 86”, in front of the whole Hindi film industry as a filler and was loved by audience. His talent was recognized, and he would later be described as “the iconic comedian of his generation”.
It was not until 2005, when the TV show The Great Indian Laughter Challenge garnered huge popularity and stand-up comedy in itself started getting recognised. Thus, a lot more comedians became popular and started performing various live and TV shows. The demand for comedy content continues to increase. Some popular comedians around 2005-2008 include Raju Srivastav, Kapil Sharma, Sunil Pal etc. Most of them performed their acts in Hindi.
Raju Srivastav first appeared on the comedy talent show The Great Indian Laughter Challenge. He finished as second runner-up and then took part in the spin-off, The Great Indian Laughter Challenge — Champions, in which he won the title of “The King of Comedy”. Srivastava was a participant on season 3 of Bigg Boss. He has participated in the comedy show Comedy Ka Maha Muqabla.
Kapil Sharma is ranked no. 3 at the most admired Indian personality list by The Economic Times in 2015. Currently he is hosting the most popular Indian comedy show “The Kapil Sharma Show” after “Comedy Nights with Kapil”. Sharma had been working in the comedy show Hasde Hasande Raho on MH One, until he got his first break in The Great Indian Laughter Challenge, one of the nine reality television shows he has won. He became the winner of the show in 2007 for which he won 10 lakhs as prize money.
Sharma participated in Sony Entertainment Television’s Comedy Circus. He became the winner of all six seasons of “Comedy Circus” he participated in. He has hosted dance reality show Jhalak Dikhhla Jaa Season 6 and also hosted comedy show Chhote Miyan. Sharma also participated in the show Ustaadon Ka Ustaad.
Around the 2008-2009, two other popular comedians Papa CJ and Vir Das returned to India and started making their marks on Indian comedy scene. Both of them were exposed to UK and US comedy routines and they performed mostly in English. At the same time, a few more youngsters got inspired and started taking plunge into stand-up comedy.
Since 2011, the stand-up comedy has been getting substantial appreciation. The Comedy Store from London opened an outlet in Mumbai’s Palladium Mall where people would regularly enjoy comedians from UK. The Comedy Story also supported local comedians and helped them grow. This outlet eventually become Canvas Laugh Club in Mumbai.
Around 2011, people started organizing different comedy open mic events in Mumbai, Delhi (and Gurgaon), Bangalore. All of this happened in association with growth of a counterculture in Indian cities which catered to the appetite of younger generations for live events for comedy, poetry, storytelling, and music. Various stand up events were covered by popular news channels such NDTV / Aajtak etc. and were appreciated by millions of viewers.
As a result of these developments, plus the increasing penetration of YouTube (along with Internet/World Wide Web), Indian stand up comedy started reaching further masses. While the established comedians such as Vir Das, Papa CJ were independently growing through various corporate / international performances, other comedians such as Vipul Goyal, Biswa Kalyan Rath, Kenny Sebastian, Kanan Gill grew popular through YouTube videos. The industry, still in its early stages, now sees a lot more influx of aspiring comedians as it transforms the ecosystem around it.
New York City is considered the cradle of modern stand-up comedy. The urban decay in the 1970s and 80s brought venues of alternative culture.
Jamestown, New York – hometown of iconic comedienne and TV star Lucille Ball and also, beginning in 2018, of the National Comedy Center, a combination museum dedicated to the history of stand-up and performance venue for the annual Lucy Comedy Fest each August.
Montreal is home to the annual Just for Laughs Festival (Festival Juste pour Rire) of stand-up comedy, which takes place each July.
Quatsch Comedy Club, Original club in Berlin other venues in Hamburg, Stuttgart and Düsseldorf. A famous (they claim to be Germany’s first) comedy club that has many of its shows broadcast on TV under the same name.
Some high-end shows are available by pre-booking only. While some comedy clubs are free of charge, others are supported by tipping, or have a minimum drink policy for visitors.
Shut off your mobile phone. Audio or video recording of a comedy performance is bad manners, as comedians are careful not to spread their material.
While a drink can make you more prone to laugh, don’t get too drunk to enjoy the show.
Don’t heckle. You are likely to make the show worse for everyone. Have patience with rookies and less successful comedians; even the best comedians used to be in their shoes.
If you cannot stand a performance, leave the room silently.