Stand-up comedy

Source: Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia.
  (Redirected from Stand-up comedian)
Stand-up comedy
Jesus is coming.. Look Busy (George Carlin).jpg
George Carlin performing his stand-up comedy routine in April 2008

Stand-up comedy is a comedy performance to a live audience, addressed directly from the stage.

The performer is known as a comic, comedian, or simply stand-up.


Joan Rivers performing at Udderbelly Festival 2009

Stand-up comedy consists of one-liners, stories, observations or shtick that may incorporate props, music, magic tricks, or ventriloquism.

Stand-up comedy can be performed almost anywhere, including but not limited to clubs, festivals, bars, nightclubs, colleges or theatres.


Stand-up as a western art form has its roots in the traditions of the late 19th and early 20th centuries, from vaudeville, burlesque and English music hall.

The first documented use of stand-up as a term was in The Stage in 1911 describing a Miss Nellie Perrier delivering "'stand up' comic ditties in a chic and charming manner", describing a performance of comedy songs rather than stand-up comedy in true terms,

In the Yorkshire Evening Post of 10th November 1917, the "Stage Gossip" column described the career of Finlay Dunn. The article states Dunn played "as what he calls 'a stand-up comedian'". This usage is more convincing than the 1911 review of Nellie Perrier, as, although performing as a comedy piano act for most of his career, a favoured strand included joking about his large physical size, described as "good buffoonery in evening dress, with no accessories whatever", and, while the article was published in 1917, it refers to an earlier phase of his career. Dunn may have been a stand-up comedian in the very late part of the nineteenth century or the early twentieth century. It is also possible Dunn used the term retrospectively when recalling his past life, it is not clear exactly when his stand-up act was first performed.[1]


Stand-up has multiple genres and styles with their own formats, rules and target audience.

Bill Bailey, British musical comedian

Some of these include:

  • Observational Pokes fun at everyday life, by observing the silliness of something that society accepts as normal.[2]
  • Character Derives humour from a persona invented by a performer; often from stereotypes
  • Comedy music derived from music with or without lyrics
  • Surreal humour bizarre juxtapositions, absurd situations, and nonsense logic strung through meandering stories.
  • Satire political figures, the establishment or ideology is subject to ridicule
  • Alternative comedy a counter to the establishment entertainment figures from mainstream comedy.
  • DIY Comedy which is a "new alternative" to Alternative comedy.[3]

The Show

Phyllis Diller holds the record for most laughs per minute, at twelve.[4]

Lunt-Fontanne Theatre, Dave Chappelle - on Broadway

Taylor Goodwin, holds the Guinness World Record for most jokes told in an hour, at 550.[5]

Lee Evans sold £7 million worth of tickets for his 2011 tour in a single day.[6]

Opener, feature, headliner

The host, compere or emcee (master of ceremonies) warms up the audience, makes announcements and introduces the other performers. This is followed by the opener, the feature, then the headliner. the emcee may also double as a opener for smaller shows.[7]

Open mic

Club and small venues often run open events; these slots may be booked in advance or left for walk-ins. Comics use open mics to work on material or to show off their skills to get a opener slot.[8]

Bringer shows are open mics that require amateur performers to bring a specified number of paying guests to receive stage time. These shows are often showcase format.

The Circuit

Proven comics can get regular bookings for club chains and comedy venues. Jobbing stand-ups may perform sets at 2 or more venues in the same day


As well as being a mainstay of the circuit these festivals often also showcase up and coming acts, promoters and agents may seek out new acts for bookings.[9]


Experienced comics with a popular following may produce a special. This is usually between 1 and two hours in duration and recorded on-tour or for one night only. It may be released as an audio recording on home video or on television and on-demand services.[10]

The Set

Sara Pascoe performing at the Up the Creek Comedy Club, London

A stand-up defines their craft through the development of the routine.

The Routine

Stand-ups design their sets through the construction and revision of jokes, bits (linked jokes) and chunks (linked bits). The routine emerges from the arrangement of jokes, bits, and chunks may build an interlinked overarching theme leading to the closer.

Most jokes are the juxtaposition of two incongruous things and made up of premise, set up, and punch line. often adding a twist, topper or tagline for an intensified or extra laugh. Delivery relies on the use of intonation, inflection, attitude and timing or other stylistic devices such as the rule of three. idiom, archetypes or wordplay.[11][12] Another popular joke structure is the paraprosdokian, a surprising punchline that changes the context or meaning of the setup.[13]

Stand-ups may use the jester's privilege, to absolve themselves for breaking social conventions or feign sincerity to frame their stories as true or having happened recently. Punching up and punching down describe who should be the butt of the joke. It carries the assumption that, relative to the comedian's socio-political identity, comedy should punch up at the powerful not punch down at the marginalized.[14][15]

Joke Theft

Appropriation and plagiarism are considered social crimes by most stand-ups. There have been several high profile accusations of joke theft, some ending in lawsuit for copyright infringement. Those accused will sometimes claim cryptomnesia or parallel thinking,[16][17] however due to the idea/expression distinction it is difficult to successfully sue for joke theft.[18]

The Audience

A man dressed in a maid costume and holding a pint of Guinness shows a buttock.
Ian Cognito using the Jester's privilege in 2013.

Anna Spagnolli said "stand-up comedy audiences are both ‘co-constructors of the situation’ and ‘co-responsible for it’"[19]

Jesters Privilege

Audiences enter into an unspoken contract, suspending the normal social rules and allowing unexpected, controversial or scandalous subjects. Their ability to understand the premise and appreciate it determines whether a joke produces a laugh or scathing disapproval.

Stand-up differs from most other performing arts in that the comedian is usually the only thing on-stage, is addressing the audience directly as a combined entity or as a group of individuals, the material while pre-written should be perceived as a spontaneous conversation, the performance only fully succeeds if these interactions are correctly balanced while both discouraging heckling and creating a sense of intimacy.

Part of the appeal for an audience is in the appreciation of the skill of the comic's performance, as for most people the idea of standing on stage is extremely daunting. Similarly the shared communal experience of being part of an audience, the sense of intimacy, sharing an exclusive and unique event is a compelling and enjoyable aspect of the comedy show.

The audience is integral to the experience of live comedy, both as a foil to the comedian and as a contributing factor to the overall quality of the experience, The use of canned laughter in television comedy reveals this, with shows often seeming dry or dull without it and may be filmed in front of a live audience for the same reason. [20]



Failing to get laughs.


A reference to a joke earlier in the set,

Chew the scenery

When the comic puts an inflection on the punch line that comes before the audience reaction.

Chi-chi room

A chi-chi room may be the ritzy room of a nightclub, or a comedy venue with niche performances.[21]


Coined by Seth Meyers, a term for an audience cheering or applauding for a topic or opinion they agree with but is not funny enough to laugh at.

Corpsing / Breaking

Laughing when one is supposed to be playing it straight.

Crowd work

Talking directly with audience members through pre written bits, improvisation, or both.


A clichéd or unskilled comic.

Killing and Dying

When a stand-up does well they are killing it; if the stand-up is doing poorly, they are dying.


To pull faces to get a cheap laugh,


A member of the audience.

The Room

The space where the performance takes place. stand-ups can read the room to interpret signs from the audience or work the room interacting with the audience directly.

Smelling the road

Claiming that one can "smell the road" on a comic suggests they have compromised their originality or pandered to get laughs while touring.

Tight five

A five-minute routine that is well-rehearsed and consists of comedian's best material that reliably gets laughs. It is often used for auditions. A stepping stone to getting a paid spot.[22]


To warm up cold audiences as the opening act before the main show. Often used at the filming of television comedies in front of studio audiences.

Stand-up from other traditions

See also


  1. ^ Double, Oliver (9 Apr 2018). "The origin of the term 'stand-up comedy'". Comedy Studies. 12 #2: 235–237. doi:10.1080/2040610X.2018.1428427. S2CID 195058528 – via Taylor & Francis.
  2. ^ Quirk, Sophie (2015). Why Stand-up Matters: How Comedians Manipulate and Influence. New York: Bloomsbury Methuen Drama. p. 154. ISBN 978-1-4725-7893-8. 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.
  3. ^ Quirk, Sophie (2015). Why Stand-up Matters: How Comedians Manipulate and Influence. New York: Bloomsbury Methuen Drama. pp. 181–182. ISBN 978-1-4725-7893-8. [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’.
  4. ^ King, Susan (22 December 2006). "Diller can still pack a punch line". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved 28 March 2020. [Phyllis Diller] still holds the Guinness Book of World Records for doling out 12 punch lines a minute.
  5. ^ "Most jokes told in an hour". Guinness World Records. Archived from the original on 27 July 2015.
  6. ^ "Biggest first day sale of any British comedy tour ever". Chortle. 17 October 2010. Retrieved 4 November 2021.{{cite web}}: CS1 maint: url-status (link)
  7. ^ Seizer, Susan (2011). "On the Uses of Obscenity in Live Stand-Up Comedy". Anthropological Quarterly. The George Washington University Institute for Ethnographic Research. 84 (1): 215–216. doi:10.1353/anq.2011.0001. JSTOR 41237487. S2CID 144137009. On this 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)...
  8. ^ Oswalt, Patton (14 June 2014). "A Closed Letter to Myself About Thievery, Heckling and Rape Jokes". Patton Oswalt. Patton Oswalt. Archived from the original on 2019-03-04. Retrieved 3 February 2019. Open mikes are where, as a comedian [like Daniel Tosh and his controversy], you're supposed to be allowed to fuck up.
  9. ^ Frances-White, Deborah; Shandur, Marsha (2016). Off the Mic: The World's Best Stand-up Comedians Get Serious About Comedy. Jim Jefferies. NY, New York: Bloomsbury Publishing Plc. p. 176. ISBN 978-1-4725-2638-0. Go to festivals, because that's where you get noticed by the media ... [and] gauge [yourself against] everybody else.
  10. ^ "Top 25 Stand-Up Specials of All-Time". IMDb. 12 August 2018. Retrieved 2 November 2021.{{cite web}}: CS1 maint: url-status (link)
  11. ^ Eddie Izzard (2011). The Art of Stand-Up (TV). United Kingdom: BBC: One. Eddie Izzard states, 'it should be—establish, reaffirm, and then you kill it on the third... you can keep reaffirming before you twist.
  12. ^ Helitzer, Mel; Shatz, Mark (2005). Comedy Writing secrets: the best-selling book on how to think funny, write funny, act funny, and get paid for it (2nd ed.). Cincinnati, Ohio: Writer's Digest Books. p. 63. ISBN 978-1-58297-357-9.
  13. ^ Leighton, H. Vernon (2020). "A Theory of Humor (Abridged) and the Comic Mechanisms of John Kennedy Toole's A Confederacy of Dunces". In Marsh, Leslie (ed.). Theology and Geometry: Essays on John Kennedy Toole's A Confederacy of Dunces (Politics, Literature, & Film). United Kingdom: Lexington Books (published 29 January 2020). pp. 2–4. ISBN 978-1-4985-8547-7. Retrieved 27 March 2020. it is useful to examine the famous paraprosdokian, 'I've had a wonderful evening, but this wasn't it.'
  14. ^ Quirk, Sophie (2018). The Politics of British Stand-Up Comedy: The New Alternative. Palgrave Studies in Comedy. London, UK: palgrave macmillan. pp. 23, 29. doi:10.1007/978-3-030-01105-5. ISBN 978-3-030-01104-8. LCCN 2018956867. the comedy of the left 'punches up' at the established authorities of its time, be they governmental, cultural, or artistic. ... 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.
  15. ^ Cohen, Sascha (2014). "A Brief History of Punch-Down Comedy". Mask. Maskmag. Retrieved 6 February 2019. George Carlin echoed this sentiment, observing that 'comedy has traditionally picked on people in power.' … '[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.'{{cite web}}: CS1 maint: url-status (link)
  16. ^ Voss, Erik (4 November 2010). "Is There Ever a Justification for Joke Stealing?". Vulture: Devouring Culture. NEW YORK MEDIA LLC. Retrieved 12 March 2019.
  17. ^ Borns, Betsy (1987). Comic Lives: Inside the World of American Stand-up comedy. Abby Stein. Simon & Schuster, Inc. p. 242. ISBN 0-671-62620-5. [T]here are also cases of simple coincidence and, often in the case of observational material, parallel thinking.
  18. ^ Bailey, Jonathan (27 September 2021). "When Joke Theft Becomes Serious". Plagiarism today. Retrieved 4 November 2021.{{cite web}}: CS1 maint: url-status (link)
  19. ^ "The Interactional Context of Humor in Stand-up Comedy'". 2009: 210–230. {{cite journal}}: Cite journal requires |journal= (help)
  20. ^ Lockyear, Sharon; Myers, Lynn (November 2011). "It's About Expecting the Unexpected - Live Stand-up Comedy from the Audiences Perspective" (PDF). Participations. 8 (2): 165–188 – via on-line Database.
  21. ^ Wilde, Larry (2000) [1968]. "Shelley Berman". Great Comedians Talk About Comedy. Shelley Berman. Mechanicsburg, Pennsylvania: Executive Books. p. 86. ISBN 0-937539-51-1. Just because it is small, they call it a chi-chi room, or because they bring certain oddball forms of entertainment
  22. ^ Rosenfield, Stephen (2018). Mastering Stand-Up: The Complete Guide to Becoming a Successful Comedian. Chicago, Illinois: Chicago Review Press. p. 195. ISBN 978-1-61373-692-0. If you have an all 'A' [material] 5-minute set, you'll get paid nothing.
  23. ^ Spacey, John (5 September 2015). "4 Types of Japanese comedy". Japan Talk. Retrieved 31 October 2021.{{cite web}}: CS1 maint: url-status (link)
This page is based on the copyrighted Wikipedia article: Stand-up comedian. Articles is available under the CC BY-SA 3.0 license; additional terms may apply.