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What is Stand up Comedy?

By Garry Crystal
Updated May 23, 2024
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Stand up comedy has often been described as one of the hardest acts to pull off. It basically consists of one person standing in front of an audience and trying to make them laugh. Many professionals say that sit can be harsh and lonely. This may be where the phrase, I died up there, first originated.

Unlike an actor, a stand up comedian fails or succeeds on his or her own talent. An actor usually has a script to fall back on and a team of other actors to rely on. Stand up comedy is only a single, hopefully talented person with either a very likable personality or an arsenal of jokes.

Stand up comedy can take many forms. It can consist of a monologue of amusing incidents that may form a story. It can be a string of stinging one-liners, or simply a succession of jokes. It can also be performed almost anywhere – clubs, bars or parties.

The art of this type of performance has gone through many changes. Gone are the slapstick days of vaudeville and the old time gag performers such as George Burns, Bob Hope and Jack Benny. The 1960s and 70s brought new performers with a different approach. The new comedy was subversive, message comedy. It used political and topical content to raise social questions and change the public's thinking.

Comedians such as Lenny Bruce and Bill Hicks got in your face and into your brain as they broke comedy barriers. Lenny Bruce was arrested many times for his particular brand of comedy. These stand up comics challenged mainstream comedy to a fight and then wiped the floor with it.

The 1980s kicked off a comedy style known as observational humor that looked at everyday incidents through a skewed eye. Comedian Jerry Seinfeld was a master of this type of comedy. Many stand up comedians have moved on to starring in their own television shows and films. Stars such as Robin Williams, Richard Pryor, Eddie Murphy and Steve Martin all made their debut in stand up comedy.

One of the greatest skills a stand up comedian can have is knowing how to deal with the heckler. The best comedians have been known to use the heckler and to incorporate the heckle into the act, but a cutting remark from an audience member can sometimes kill a performer's act.

If you think you have what it takes to enter the world of stand up comedy, many comedy clubs hold open mic nights. Complete beginners can stand in front of an audience and try their best to make them laugh. It takes a very talented and brave person to pull this off successfully.

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Discussion Comments
By anon275323 — On Jun 17, 2012

Stand up is full of heartless tossers who just know how to offend people. Most people who go to stand up are there to have a good time and will just laugh at the rubbish the wannabe comedian is saying.

Lots of comedians who do stand up are just not funny and I wonder why they are even there, especially the ones you keep making fun out of lesbians and their lack of humour when the comedian has a real dull sense of humour. I find funnier people I work with than at stand up.

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