What is stand-up? A form of comedy in which the comedian performs an act – composed of relating stories or sketches – in front of an audience.
Where does Stand-up come from? Stand-up comedy in the United States can trace its theatrical roots from vaudeville theater, musical hall shows, humorous literary lectures, shows in speakeasies, and other popular entertainments.
The Beginnings of Stand-up Stand-up comedy has experienced four distinct mediums that define both the comedian and the comedy they performed. Those mediums are: Radio shows Nightclubs Comedy Albums Television
Radio Shows In the early 20 th century, radios were one of the most accessible form of entertainment, with the broadcasting of regular programs beginning in 1920. By 1935, radios could be found in 70% of American homes. With such a large audience reachable by the turn of a dial, comedians began to frequently appear on radio, hosting their own shows or as guest.
Radio Shows The first comedy show to reach national syndication was The Chase and Sanborn Hour in 1929. In 1931, comedian Eddie Cantor became the shows lead comedian. The show continued through December 1948. The song Ballyhoo was recorded during a 1931 broadcast.Ballyhoo
Radio Shows During the golden age of radio, comedians could either host their own shows, or appear as special guests. Comedians such as Abbott and Costello, Amos and Andy, Bob Hope, and Jack Benny thrived on American airwaves.
Radio Shows A Prairie Home Companion is an excellent example of an old fashioned radio shows. Some of their signature comedic sketches include: Guy Noir, Private Eye Catchup Advisory Board The Lives of the Cowboys
Nightclubs In the early 1900s, anyone who wanted to have a drink and catch a show could go to any American music hall. However, in 1920 the consumption of alcohol was banned to protect American morality and the era of Prohibition began. Once alcohol was banned, the music hall went underground and became the speakeasy, where anyone could have a drink, listen to music, and dance the night away.
Nightclubs In 1933, the 18 th Amendment was repealed by President Franklin Roosevelt and alcohol was legalized. During prohibition, speakeasies had often been a large source of income for organized crime. After 1933, the speakeasy evolved into the respectable nightclub, where one could have a drink and dance without fear of raids or arrest.
Nightclubs In 1940, the Copacabana opened in New York City and became the model nightclub for the 1940s and 1950s. Every night, the club would provide music for dancing and three floor shows a night. The floor shows would include comedians, singers, and even dancers. Nightclubs were great places for comedians to entertain a well- dressed crowd willing to laugh.
Nightclubs The duo of Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis are excellent examples of nightclub comedy. You can watch some of their bits by clicking here, here, and here.here, here.
Comedy Albums The phonograph, invented by Thomas Edison in 1887, was the first device that could play audio recordings which was widely available to the masses. Until the 1950s, the most popular comedic recordings were vaudeville bits or funny songs
Comedy Albums Fanny Brice and Spike Jones were two of the most popular recorded comedians during the 1920s through the 1940s. Some of Fannys best known songs include Second Hand Rose and Cooking Breakfast For The One I Love.Second Hand Rose Cooking Breakfast For The One I Love Jones was best known for his humerous numbers Cocktails for Two, and the Pro-America propaganda song Der Fuehrer's Face.Cocktails for TwoDer Fuehrer's Face
Comedy Albums In 1945 the long playing record debuted, with an unheard-of 45 minutes available for recording. The longer time allowed comedians to include the best portions of their act and reach even larger audiences. In 1959, Shelley Berman released his album Inside Shelly Berman, which is regarded as the first true comedy album. The following year, Bob Newhart released The Button-Down Mind of Bob Newhart which reached the top of the popular music charts. You can listen to some of his clips here, and here.here,here.
Comedy Albums During the 1960s the comedy album helped to solidify the fame of both popular, mainstream comedians, and under-the-radar or raunchy comedians. The album could help you remember the comedian you saw on TV, or attract a large group of new fans.
Comedy Albums During the 1970s, comedy albums helped to launch the careers of controversial comedians George Carlin, Richard Pryor, and Cheech and Chong. Their comedy was very provocative, but would not have been able to reach a larger audience without being recorded, as the acts wouldnt be broadcast or seen live.
Comedy Albums While comedy albums have lost popularity due to the rise of filmed performances, many comedians still record their sets and publish them to this day.
Television In 1928, the first television broadcast in America began: in a Maryland suburb outside of DC, simple motion picture silhouettes could be picked up from the station W3XK. In 1939, NBC began to continually broadcast programming from New York, which was recorded in Chicago and sent west to be broadcast there. In 1951 AT&T laid the first transcontinental coaxial cable, which easily sent signals from New York to Los Angeles without tapes or delays. This cable brought about a new age of comedy.
Television In the 1950s and 1960s, comedy could be found in two different formats; either in a situational comedy – sitcom for short – or in a variety show, which featured numerous acts in an hour.
Television Sitcoms focus around the repeated antics of one group of funny people in a particular environment, like a family home or a workplace. Sitcoms often originated from a comics existing stand up. The repetitive nature of sitcoms allowed the audience to become very invested in the characters and places they saw on their television screens, and created stars out of the shows actors.
Television Popular sitcoms include I Love Lucy, The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet, Leave it to Beaver, The Brady Bunch, Bewitched, The Addams Family, The Jeffersons, Rosanne, The Cosby Show, The Simpson, Everybody Loves Raymond, and Family Guy. Which ones have you watched?
Television Variety shows were also excellent mediums for comedians, whom could either host their own shows or perform as guests. Popular variety shows include The Colgate Comedy Hour, The Ed Sullivan Show, The Sonny and Cher Comedy Hour, and Saturday Night Live.
Television In 1972 the first pay-to-watch cable network began broadcasting. As viewers paid for the service, the Federal Communications Commission couldnt censor any of the programming. In 1975, Home Box Office [HBO] started broadcasting football games, and eventually branched out into unique programming.
Television In 1977, HBO broadcast a comedy special called On Location: George Carlin at USC, which featured Carlins act completely uncensored. From that broadcast forward, HBO featured numerous comedians in their own specials or shows, like Carlin, and musical duo Flight of the ConchordsCarlin,Flight of the Conchords
Television Voiceover work in animated films and television shows are also great avenues for comedy. Some shows originated from stand-up routines, like Bill Cosbys Fat Albert and the Cosby Kids. Some great comedic voiceovers include Robin Williams in Aladdin, Ellen Degeneres in Finding Nemo, and Peter Sallis in Wallace and Gromit.Aladdin Finding NemoWallace and Gromit
How can I become a comedian? As with any craft, becoming a stand-up comedian takes a lot of practice and dedication. The following humor hints come from Judy Carters book The Comedy Bible, a must-read guide for any aspiring comedian.
Humor Hints 1.Size yourself up. Do you like to tell stories [including the embarrassing ones] about yourself, your family, or people you know? Do you always think of funny jokes, even at serious times? Do you have opinions about everything and anything? Do you notice tiny odd details in everyday life? Do you think out of the box about what is happening and what could happen?
Humor Hints 2.Become an observer. The best way to gather material for your comedy is to observe the world around you down to the smallest detail. The best comedy comes from common experiences, so the audience can easily relate to you. After all, we all have one old aunt with lots of perfume who leaves lipstick kisses on our cheeks!
Humor Hints 3.Write everything down. Whats the point of observing the world if you dont record your thoughts? Always carry a small notebook and a working pen or pencil with you. This way, if you have a funny idea, you can write it down right away and it wont be lost. At home, you can keep your ideas in a larger notebook or on index cards. Then you can easily arrange your jokes or stories for show time!
Humor Hints 4.Find a comedy buddy and practice. A comedy buddy is someone you can practice your stand-up with. A good comedy buddy is someone whom youre not afraid of looking silly in front of, who is honest about your bits, and is willing to provide feedback suggestions. A comedy buddy will insure that your jokes are funny to everyone, versus those that are funny just to you.
Humor Hints 5.Get out there and give it a go! Doing as many comedy shows as possible is an excellent way to hone your skills as a stand-up comedian. If your school has a talent show or an open mic night, develop an act and go for it! Open mic nights in comedy clubs – when the stage is opened for anybody and everybody – are great opportunities to try out your routine without much risk.
Humor Hints 6.Look back and move forward. The best way to improve your act is to analyze a past show. What joke went over really well? What joke sunk faster than the Titanic at an iceberg convention? Did you do one thing that the audience really loved or really hated, like a particular mannerism or voice? Once you know what doesnt work, you can eliminate it from your act. Keeping the best parts, you can improv your act by working on whats left and adding new material.
Make 'em laugh! Don't you know everyone wants to laugh? Make 'em laugh! So get on out there and…