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STAND-UP: COMEDY WITH A BITE By Alleen and Don Nilsen 1.

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Presentation on theme: "STAND-UP: COMEDY WITH A BITE By Alleen and Don Nilsen 1."— Presentation transcript:

1 STAND-UP: COMEDY WITH A BITE By Alleen and Don Nilsen 1

2 Stand-Up Has a Long History Royal jesters, in motley clothes and carrying fake scepters, were actually a kind of stand-up comedian. They had special identification because they were the only ones allowed to criticize the King. Some jesters spoke through scepters (made from pig bladders), as when today’s ventriloquists speak through their puppets. It was a way of “distancing” themselves from criticism. For today’s comedians, microphones work as their symbol of authority. 2


4 Mark Twain Might Be Considered America’s First Standup Comedian He was forced into touring the U. S. and sharing his most humorous stories, along with his cryptic observations, during the late 1800s because when he went into business as his own publisher, he lost money. The tours were a way to recoup. Starting in the 1960s, Hal Holbrook, a talented performer, began recreating Twain’s “lectures.” We saw Holbrook at the State University of New York in Oswego in 1965 and still have a vivid memory of his retelling of Twain’s “The Celebrated Jumping Frog of Calaveras County.” 4

5 George Carlin’s “I’m a Modern Man”: 5

6 6 Defining AmericanStand-Up Comedy Bob Hope, Jack Benny, George Burns, Fred Allen, Milton Berle, Henny Youngman, Alan King, and Frank Fay are said to exemplify a pure form of stand- up comedy. They stood before an audience and managed to develop the kind of rapport that allowed them to speak—and laugh—with strangers who had suddenly become “friends.” Performance comedy is more theatrical, more scripted, more elaborate, and more fully developed. Performers use costumes, props, and stage settings as do most of our contemporary late night TV hosts.


8 8 STAND-UP IS COLLABORATIVE Jason Rutter says that “Like conversation, stand-up is a collaborative production … made possible by the active involvement of those that make up the interaction.” Paul McIlvenny says that “Working the room” consists of figuring out the homogeneity of the group because laughter is an expression of shared values. Comedians quiz club owners for key pieces of information with which the audience can identify. They look for community names and ways of contrasting local socio-economic classes in the particular region.

9 James Corden: 9

10 The Marx Brothers Although the four brothers were most famous for acting in films, Groucho was a true off-the-cuff comedian. In You Bet Your Life (beginning on radio in 1947 and television from 1951 to 1959), he engaged in hilarious conversations with contestants who had been carefully chosen. But to protect spontaneity Groucho would not meet them until show time. He was a genius at getting them to say funny things. 10


12 12 Abbot and Costello protected their spontaneity by never starting in the same place when they did their famous “Who’s on First?” piece.

13 We would assume that a male would wear the left hat while a female would wear the right hat, but comedians—who are always looking for surprise—might go the other way. 13

14 Chelsea Handler: 14

15 Comedians Are Eager to Find an Identifying Mark Groucho Marx had his glasses, his cigar, and his moustache (an idea borrowed from Charlie Chaplin). Phyllis Diller had her long cigarette holder. Dave Chappelle dresses in Army fatigues. Even in real life, Don finds that if he wears a funny tie, people assume he wants to joke with them. 15

16 THE VOICE AS A COSTUME AND AS A PROP Jason Rutter says that when worn as a costume, “the voice is used by the comedian to create a character which they play for the entirety of a narrative sequence.” At other times, the comedian may use the voice as a prop for a limited time, as either a “quotation” from a character, or as a caricature by itself. 16

17 Mary Maxwell’s Deadpan Prayer: 17

18 Early on, comedians sought to identify themselves with ethnicities These went way beyond African American, Hispanic, and Asian communities. Scotch, Welsh, German, Norwegian, Jewish, and Irish were all fodder for joking—both from inside and outside the groups. Still today we see comedians desperate to stand out from the crowd. 18


20 “Hot topics” in the 1960s and 70s, were politics, race relations, and sex. Alan King, Danny Thomas, Don Rickles, Joan Rivers, and Jack Leonard became popular at nightclubs and resorts, while Woody Allen, Shelley Berman, Phyllis Diller, and Bob Newhart became famous on television. African American comedians Redd Foxx, George Kirby, Bill Cosby, and Dick Gregory developed white audiences. Lenny Bruce was known as ‘the’ obscene comic, while George Carlin was arrested in July of 1972 after performing his still famous “Seven Words You Can Never Say on Television.” 20


22 In the 1980s and 90s there was a wide variety of comedy. Stand-up expanded from nightclubs into major concerts with huge audiences. Bill Cosby and Steve Martin were “gentle” comedians, while Robin Williams was frenetic. Richard Pryor used an acerbic style, while Rodney Dangerfield and Buddy Hackett stuck with the old style, avoiding social satire. Saturday Night Live and The Tonight Show brought stand-up comedy to the whole country. One newspaper editor suggested that stand-up comedians were the new “heroes” in our society. 22


24 Comedians, not doctors, are the ones who “practice.” When Chris Rock was recently interviewed by Jon Stewart, they talked about changes in stand-up. Rock resents people taking pictures and sending copies out to their friends. This is because when he does stand-up in clubs, he’s “practicing” and getting new ideas. He wants time to ponder and refine before going national. 24

25 Chris Rock: 25

26 Most Comedians, Even TV Stars, Take Time Off to Go On Tour Jerry Seinfeld has gone on record saying that a comedian’s skills are best honed in stand-up. The challenge in stand-up is that the audience expects to participate. George Schultz, owner of the famous Pips Club in Brooklyn tells about forcing a comedian to go on even though there were only four guests in the club. He taped the man’s “performance,” and afterwards both Schultz and the exhausted comedian discovered that in the course of his show, he had created 20 new jokes because he had interrelated with his audience. 26

27 27 Who Creates the Jokes? Is it the Writer or the Comedian? Audiences are increasingly asking “Whose joke is that?” Does it belong to the comedian or a writer? Some critics think they can distinguish between comedians telling their own jokes vs. when they are telling jokes created by someone else. Everyone agrees that, at least, the comedian needs to feel “ownership” even in something like Jay Leno showing in-print mistakes that viewers have sent in. One story supporting the idea that comedians are inherently funny is about Milton Berle visiting the dying comedian Jim Backus and telling old jokes for two hours. As he got up to leave, Berle said, “I hope you get better.” Backus replied, “You too.”

28 Are These Jokes Likely to Be Used by a Stand- Up Comedian? Why or Why Not? A bicycle cannot stand alone. It is two tired. When you’ve seen one shopping center, you’ve seen a mall. A sign on the lawn at a drug rehab center said: KEEP OFF THE GRASS! DON’T JOIN DANGEROUS CULTS: PRACTICE SAFE SECTS. 28

29 Is Stand-Up Overdone? Here is Dave Chapelle performing stand-up at the Laugh Factory The Laugh Factory is editing its recordings in preparation for making them available online, much like music. How can newcomers compete against smoothly edited TV performances? Some open-mike clubs will no longer accept amateurs because their audiences are “spoiled” by the “perfection” on TV. 29

30 Do Comedians Just Naturally See the World Differently? Comedian Mitch Hedberg If you were a teacher, would you have wanted Hedberg as a student? When Hedberg was warned that he was blocking a fire exit, he responded, “As though if there was a fire, I wasn’t going to run. If you are flammable and have legs, you are never blocking a fire exit.” 30

31 Mitch Hedberg: 31

32 32 In the 1990s, while Jerry Seinfeld and Ellen DeGeneres made odd observations, Steven Wright was known for his ironic musings, e. g. He claimed to have the world’s largest collection of sea shells, which he stores on beaches around the world. He also said he has a microwave fireplace that he lies in front of every evening for eight minutes. He used to work in a fire hydrant factory, but could never find a place to park. One night a burglar broke into his apartment and stole all of his furniture, and replaced it with exact duplicates.

33 Censorship and Stand-up In the days of vaudeville, performers would look over their audience to see if anyone looked like a government agent waiting to arrest them for “corrupting morals.” Mae West developed her coyness and skill at innuendo as a way of outwitting such censors. Belle Barth would slip into yiddish, when she came to a sensitive point. Her audiences were mostly Jewish New Yorkers vacationing in the Catskills. Lenny Bruce in the late 1950s and 60s was more interested in changing public attitudes toward censorship and so each time he was arrested he used the situation to bring attention to what he thought were “foolish” proscriptions. 33


35 The Contributions of HBO HBO was the first network to produce comedians without censoring them. This was partly because patrons paid for their services and so expected more. HBO produced 14 comedy specials starring George Carlin and his campaign against censorship. A new generation of comedians including Bill Burr, David Cross, Hannibal Buress, Chelsea Handler, Dave Foley, Todd Glass, Sara Silverman, and Demetri Martin do not have to worry about censorship of the kind that caused the Smothers Brothers to lose their show because of mildly criticizing the Vietnam war, or caused Jack Paar to walk off his show to protest his network’s censoring of an old British story about a confusion over whether W.C. stood for Wayside Chapel or Water Closet. 35

36 36 HERE IS A SCALE USED TO RANK COMEDIANS from 1 to 10 on various categories. Try filling it out for three or four of your favorites. The problem is that to predict success, even if you find where a comedian stands, you also need to know where the audience stands in its preferences. Cultural Savvy______ Cynicism_______ Deadpan_______ Energy_______ Ethnicity_______ Insightful_______ Interactive ______ Invective_______ Irony_______ Political Savvy_______ Redneck_______ Risk Taking_______ Sarcasm_______ Sophistication_______ Spontaneity_______ Wit _______

37 So Where Is Stand-Up Today? Actually It’s On Its Way to Becoming Sit-Down. The late night news stories have borrowed techniques both from “traditional” stand-up and from sit-coms. Like the sit-coms, the shows start and end with the same set, music, and introductions so that viewers feel comfortable. Like the stand-up comedians, the hosts use lots of “old” jokes, but they seem fresh because they tie them in with current events and celebrities. The hosts choose eccentric guests and set them up to do a kind of Improv so that they have spontaneity, which is also helped by their live audiences. 37


39 Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert: America’s New Style of Comedian Greg Beato wrote in an article, “Amusing Us to Depth,” that multiple surveys by the Pew Research Center and the Annenberg Public Policy Center have found that viewers of The Daily Show and The Colbert Report are among America’s most informed citizens. 39

40 All Comedians Have Dreams. Here’s our Prediction of Their Bucket Lists To Play Las Vegas To Have a Sitcom To Write a Best Seller To Host a Comedy Talk Show To Star in a Movie To Win the Mark Twain Award To Be a Winner at a Comedy Festival To Emcee the Oscars 40

41 Welsh Comedian and his lost luggage in Australia: 41

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