Stand-up comedy is a style of comedy where the performer speaks directly to the audience, with the absence of the theatrical "fourth wall". A person who performs stand-up comedy is known as a stand-up comic, stand-up comedian or more informally stand up. It is usually performed by a single comedian, with the aid of a hand-held microphone (sometimes, however, the comic will opt to keep the microphone in the stand so he or she may use both hands for visual effect, as is the case of Ron White). The comedian usually recites a fast-paced succession of humorous stories, short jokes (called "bits"), and one-liners, which comprise what is typically called a monologue, routine or act. Some stand-up comedians use props, music or magic tricks to enhance their acts. Stand-up comedy is often performed in comedy clubs, bars, colleges and theaters. However, there is no real restriction on where the craft can be performed. Many smaller venues hold "open mic" events, where amateur comedians perform comedy before a live audience, offering a way for such performers to hone their craft and possibly break into the business. In North America, many comedy clubs feature the now-iconic brick wall as the backdrop for stand-up performances.
Many stand-up routines are similar to one-man shows, with the main difference being the expectations of the audience, who, in the case of stand-up, expect a relatively steady stream of "laughs". This in turn affects the aims of the performer, who is under great pressure to deliver those laughs. If the performer cannot coax laughs out of the crowd, sometimes the crowd will poke fun at the comedian, a practice known as heckling.
Stand-up comedy is difficult to master partly because the performer is at the mercy of the audience, which is an integral element of the act. An adept stand-up comedian must nimbly play off the mood and tastes of any particular audience, and adjust his or her routine accordingly. Stand-up is an art form that is openly devoted to getting laughs from an audience above all else (unlike theatrical comedy, which creates comedy within the structure of a play and with character and situation). The skills attributed to stand-up are diverse; it is often necessary for a stand-up comic to simultaneously assume the roles of a writer, editor, performer, promoter, producer and technician.
One hallmark of a master stand-up comedian is the ability to not only face down a "heckler", but win over and entertain the rest of the crowd with a witty retort. Many stand-up comedians work for years to develop 45 minutes of material, and usually perform their bits repeatedly, slowly perfecting them over time. Actor-comedian Will Ferrell has called stand-up comedy hard, lonely and vicious.
Stand-up comedy has its roots in various traditions of popular entertainment of the late 19th century including vaudeville, English Music Halls, Minstrel shows, humorist monologues (by personalities such as Mark Twain, a notable master), and circus clown antics. Comedians of this era often donned an ethnic persona (African, Scottish, German, Jewish, etc) and built a routine based on popular stereotypes. Jokes were generally broad and material was widely shared.
The fathers of modern American stand-up comedy, Jack Benny, Bob Hope, Fred Allen, Milton Berle, and Frank Fay all came from vaudeville. They spoke directly to the audience, in front of the curtain, known as performing "in one." Frank Fay gained acclaim as a "masters of ceremonies" at New York's Palace Theater and is credited with creating the style of 20th century stand-up.
In the 1950s and into the 1960s, led by Mort Sahl, stand-ups began developing their acts in small folk clubs (like San Francisco's hungry i 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 a "sick" comic when he used language that sometimes led to his arrest. Other notable comics from this era include Woody Allen, Shelley Berman, and Bob Newhart. Also some African-American comedians such as Redd Foxx, George Kirby, Bill Cosby, and Dick Gregory began to cross over to white audiences during this time.
Stand-up in the 1970s saw several entertainers becoming 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. Television programs such as Saturday Night Live and The Tonight Show launched the careers of other stand-up comedians.
By the 1980s, the rising popularity of stand-up led to a boom in stand-up comedy venues for locally-based and touring comics. It seemed that every major and minor city in the United States had at least one "comedy club" that each week featured an MC, middle act, and a headliner. Robin Williams, Eddie Murphy, Jerry Seinfeld, Sam Kinison, and Billy Crystal tested their comic skills with live stand-up comedy appearances.
By the 1990s, the glut of stand-up comedy clubs led to an inevitable decline, as the market became somewhat flooded with comedians of varying talent levels. Established stand-up comedians still commanded top ticket prices but less famous acts often struggled to find audiences. This was a difficult time for many comics in the US. The 1990s also saw the rise of alternative comedy in Los Angeles at venues including the Un-Cabaret and the Diamond Club featured performers like Beth Lapides, Bob Odenkirk, Janeane Garofalo, Patton Oswald, David Cross and Paul F. Tompkins who 'de-constructed' formal comedy and embraced the personal rants and visceral storytelling tradition of Lenny Bruce. One of the most influential comic of this period was Bill Hicks, who earned most of his popularity posthumously, after interest in stand-up comedy rebounded. Dennis Miller was the first comic to utilize this technique to great success.
As the cable network Comedy Central grew tremendously in popularity into the mid-90s, stand-up comics once again had an opportunity to gain mainstream exposure. Shows like Premium Blend and The A-List focused on young, upcoming comics, while Lounge Lizards and later Comedy Central Presents offered original half-hour specials.
Many observers believe that Chris Rock's stand-up career and popular HBO special Bring the Pain,(1996) was instrumental to stand-up comedy's revival during the late 1990s.
By the 2000s, comedy had enjoyed a resurgence, not only because of Rock's popularity, but because of newer media outlets such as the internet, television channels like Comedy Central and various comedy schools, troupes, and improv groups nurturing new talent through workshops and classes. In the new century stand-up continues to flourish with new stars such as Doug Stanhope, Artie Lange, Jim Norton, Louis C.K., Sarah Silverman and Mitch Hedberg.
In New York City's Greenwich Village, comedy flourishes outside of the stand-up club circuit as well. Theaters that are more known for sketch comedy, such as the Upright Citizens Brigade Theater (UCB), as well as cabarets that do not exclusively offer comedy, like Rififi, hold weekly comedy shows.
Some would say that these places are helping to breed a style closer to alternative comedy, perhaps characterized by more character-based, surreal, or absurd humor as opposed to observations of everyday life or more polemical themes. A growing number of comics (Demetri Martin, Will Franken) do not strictly tell jokes on stage, opting to play music or perform sketches, making their performances more vaudevillian than traditional stand-up.
Canadian comedy is largely influenced by American comedy trends. The success of many Canadian comics in the United States might be attributed to their "outsider's perspectives".
British stand-up comedy began in the music halls of the 18th and 19th centuries. Notable performers who rose through the music hall circuit were Morecambe and Wise, Arthur Askey and Max Miller, who was considered to be the quintessential music-hall comedian. 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.
At the end of World War II, many members of the Armed Forces who had developed a taste for comedy (stand-up or otherwise) in wartime concert parties, and moved into professional entertainment. Eric Sykes, Peter Sellers and the other Goons, and Tommy Cooper all began their careers this way. The rise of the postwar comedians coincided with the rise of television and radio, and the traditional music hall circuit suffered greatly as a result. Whereas a music hall performer could work for years using just one act, television exposure created a constant demand for new material, although this may have also been responsible for the cessation of theatrical censorship in 1968.
By the 1970s, music hall entertainment was virtually dead. Alternative circuits had evolved, such as Working Mens' 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 Establishment (club), which, amongst other things, gave British audiences their first taste of extreme American stand-up comedy from Lenny Bruce.
In 1979, the first American-style stand-up comedy club, the Comedy Store, London was opened in London by Peter Rosengard, where many alternative comedy stars of the 1980s, such as Dawn French and Jennifer Saunders, Alexei Sayle, Lee Evans, Rik Mayall and Adrian Edmondson began their careers. The stand-up comedy circuit rapidly expanded from London into the provinces. The present British stand-up comedy circuit arose from the 'alternative' comedy revolution of the 1980s, with political and observational humour 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.
The UK is often considered the stand-up centre of the world, due to the ease with which a comic can make a living. In America or Canada, cities are either situated too far apart, or comedy clubs too few in number for a comedian to make a proper living solely from stand-up. In the UK, however, a city typically has at least three or four venues where comedy is regularly performed, and travel between each city is not very arduous. The appeal of the UK as a base for international comics is evident by a huge increase in the number shows at the Edinburgh Fringe festival, which this year hosted over 700 comedy shows.
Some of Australia's most famous stand-up comedians in the past have included Steady Eddie, and 'blue' comedian Rodney Rude. More recently, comedians such as Dave Hughes,Tahir Bilgic, and Adam Hills have come to the fore. A more extensive listing of notable Australian comedians can be found in the article list of stand-up comedians.
Each year, the City of Melbourne, Victoria hosts the Melbourne International Comedy Festival, one of the largest of its kind in the world. According to its official website, the festival aims to showcase local talent, bring international comedians to Australian audiences and nurture and develop new performers. The festival holds events such as Raw Comedy, a prestigious open mic competition for amateur comedians, as well as MICF Class Clowns, an event for aspiring comedians who are between the ages of 14 and 17 A number of smaller festivals are also held around the country.
Several comedians who began their careers in stand-up went on to achieve fame in other media, such as film, radio and television. Notable successes include Rove McManus (television), Eric Bana (film), Jimeoin (film and television), Tahir Bilgic (television), Wil Anderson (radio & television) and Adam Hills (television).
Michael Hui is said to be the first famous Hong Kong performer similar to a stand-up comedian. But it was actually Dayo Wong who started doing stand-up as a complete two hour show. The popularity of Hong Kong stand-up has been on the rise, thanks to more than a decade of effort by various performers. Stand-up acts can now be seen in Mainland China, especially by those who understand Cantonese.
Some people believe Tung Tuk Shiau is not a new performance art in China, but rather an alternate form of Xiangsheng. But Xiangsheng focuses on making people laugh without delivering an in-depth message behind the humour.
Each October, Hong Kong hosts an annual comedy festival, the HK International Comedy Festival.
Cabaret, as it is known in Holland, is based on what is called a "conference", which is comparable to a stand-up routine except that it is generally one or two hours long and might contain songs, music and other diversions. (The star performer is commonly called a "cabaretier"). There is a decades-long tradition of New Year's Eve "conferences", a custom started by Wim Kan. Other famous former cabaretiers include Toon Hermans and Wim Sonneveld. The most famous cabaretier today is Freek de Jonge, who, in the tradition of Wim Kan, makes it a point to ridicule politicians. In 2006, he held a political conference the night before the national elections.
Stand-up comedy has brought forward a number of very famous younger "cabaretiers", such as Hans Teeuwen, Theo Maassen, Hans Sibbel and Najib Amhali, amongst many others. In 2007, a new comedy collective was founded by the Comedytrain, known as The Amsterdam Underground Comedy Collective, which was established to allow and train Dutch comedians to perform in English. The AUCC will have its first major gig during the Edinburgh Fringe Festival in the Tron.
Many of the earliest vaudeville-era stand-ups gained their greater recognition on radio. They often opened their programs with topical monologues, characterized by ad-libs and discussions about anything from the latest films to a missed birthday. Each program tended to be divided into the opening monologue, musical number, followed by a skit or story routine. Their guests were varied and included other comedians, including Burns and Allen. A "feud" between Fred Allen and Jack Benny was used as comic material for nearly a decade.
Continuing that tradition, most modern stand-up comedians use television or motion pictures to reach a level of success and recognition unattainable in the comedy club circuit alone. Examples of such performers include Woody Allen, Jerry Seinfeld, Bob Newhart, Bill Cosby, Martin Lawrence, Eddie Murphy, Chris Rock, Ellen DeGeneres, Robin Williams, Jim Carrey, Jon Stewart, Kathy Griffin, Ray Romano, Dave Chappelle, and Jeff Dunham.
Examples in the UK include Billy Connolly, Eddie Izzard, Lenny Henry, Peter Cook, Jack Dee, Dawn French, Jennifer Saunders, Rowan Atkinson, Victoria Wood, Peter Kay, Vic and Bob, Ross Noble, Dylan Moran, Frankie Boyle, Mark Watson, Tommy Cooper, and Bill Bailey.
With the rise of the web 2.0 online video sharing site Youtube, stand-up comedy has also developed into a dominant genre on the Internet. Many stand-up performances of famous comedians can be viewed through online video's. The genre attracts million of viewers online every day. Also unknown users have gained fame and recognition, through their online stand-up comedy performances on Youtube. The open mike and competitive nature of online video web 2.0 sites, make them a place where users can stand up and prove themselves as a comedy performer. Examples are internet celebrities and stand-up persona's Kevin Wu, better known as KevJumba and the ninja from the Ask a ninja series on Youtube.