How has Stand Up Comedy Stood the Test of Time?

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Answered by: Katherine, An Expert in the Today's Comedians Category
In spite of the fact that the evolution of media has caused us to take our entertainment in varying forms, the technology and production required for stand up comedy have virtually remained the same throughout its history.

Broken down to its essentials, the comedian goes on stage and gives a speech. The audience watches, with no participation expected from them apart from laughter. The success of the speech is dependent on how much the audience laughs. Once the exchange of jokes for laughter is done, they part ways, both feeling satisfied. And even though the method of telling those jokes may vary, such as the one-liners of Steven Wright, the rants of George Carlin, the absurdist vulgarity of Dave Attell, or the stories of Mike Birbiglia, or a combination of all, that simple transaction is the bare bones of comedy.

All other variables of entertainment need not apply: all the special visual and sound effects of Hollywood do nothing to improve the quality of a good comedian. No commentators or announcers, no assistants, soundtracks, dance numbers or big prizes waiting under your seats. In fact, all the gimmicks would merely distract and slow down the entertainment process.

However, those gimmicks of the entertainment world are not entirely excluded from stand up comedy. It is merely supplemental, an accessory to the craft of comedy, but not an essential tool. If you walk into a comedy club or a bar that features “open mic night,” the majority of stand-up comedians, the ones that return every week and endure the routine of bombing, recovering, killing, then bombing the next day, they become the star comedians that we have all come to recognize. And while many of them developed and adopted some combination of those accessories such as soundtracks and assistants, it is only after they have developed the fundamental muscle, perfecting that basic exchange of jokes for laughs, that assures us: yes, they really are funny.

Patton Oswalt, Louis CK, Marc Maron and Chris Rock, veterans of the 1990's stand-up boom, have written and talked about the craft of writing and performing for the mic; even though they each have jobs in other forms of entertainment (voice acting, writing and acting in sit-coms and movies, running podcasts), they all return to the stage, and they will tell you that it is because there is nothing else like it. The rest of their careers, in whatever manifestations they take, benefit from the bare risk of a joke failing, the experience that comes from learning to trust their audience and their own voice. Such skills apply in every other form of entertainment.

While the technology might still be the same, the humor changes with the time. The success of a comedian is often a reflection of the culture, what a sampling of the population finds funny and relevant, and the comedian depends on that cultural awareness. They often thrive on it, and they even create it. If the world were ever to find a substitute for the essentials to the delivery of humor, then, and only then would the art of stand-up become obsolete.

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