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Stand-up comedy is a style of comedy where a comedian performs for a live audience, usually speaking directly to them. It is usually performed by a comedian with the aid of a microphone, either hand-held or mounted. The performer is known as a stand-up comic, stand-up comedian or simply a stand-up.



Stand-up performances are usually short, where the comedian 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, but there is no real restriction on where the craft can be performed. Many smaller venues hold "open mic" events, where anyone can take the stage and perform for the audience, offering a way for amateur performers to hone their craft and possibly break into professionalism. In North America, many comedy clubs feature the now-iconic brick wall as the backdrop for stand-up performances.

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." [1]

United Kingdom history

The United Kingdom has a long heritage of stand-up comedians.

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.[1]

At the end of World War II, many members of the Armed Forces 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.[1] 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 club, The Establishment, which, amongst other things, gave British audiences their first taste of extreme American stand-up comedy from Lenny Bruce.[2] Victoria Wood launched her stand-up career in the early 1980s, which saw observational conversation mixed with comedy songs. Wood was to become one of the country's most successful comedians, in 2001 selling out the Royal Albert Hall for 15 nights in a row.

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.[3] The stand-up comedy circuit rapidly expanded from London across the UK. 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.

United States history

Stand-up comedy has its roots in various traditions of popular entertainment of the late 19th century including vaudeville, English Music Hall, Minstrel shows, humorist monologues (by personalities such as Mark Twain), 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 as themselves, in front of the curtain, known as performing "in one." Frank Fay gained acclaim as a "master of ceremonies" at New York's Palace Theater and is credited with creating the style of 20th century stand-up.

Nightclubs and resorts became the new breeding ground for stand-ups. Acts like Alan King, Danny Thomas, Don Rickles, and Jack E. Leonard flourished in these new arenas.

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. 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.

In 2005, Bill Dana, a graduate of Emerson College in Boston Massachusetts and stand-up comedian, approached his Alma Mater about establishing an archive of comedy to help preserve the lush history of the ground-breaking comics of the last century. Hundreds of interviews were conducted and a vast database of comedic information is now on record at Emerson College.[4]

Stand-up comedy around the world


Ireland has produced many successful and influential stand-up comedians, including Dave Allen, Spike Milligan, Dylan Moran, Dara Ó Briain, Ardal O'Hanlon, Sean Hughes and Ed Byrne. Irish and British standups tend to be well-known in the general culture of both nations.[citation needed]

Hong Kong

Stand-up comedy in China is an emerging art form. Hong Kong is the only city in China to offer a fulltime comedy club, The TakeOut Comedy Club Hong Kong, which features both local comics as well as leading international comedians such as Tom Cotter.[5] The Punchline Comedy Club also hosts international comedians once per month.


Malaysia in 2009 revitalized the stand-up comedy scene with the introduction of 2 regular monthly shows. Timeout Comedy Thursday hosts monthly shows, which features young comedians and open mics. The Comedy Club KL, the counterpart of The Comedy Club Asia, offers monthly shows and features some of the best stand-up comedians from around the world with the likes of Greg Fleet,Akmal Saleh and Jeff Green. Local stand-up comedians including Harith Iskander, Douglas Lim, Joanne Kam,Andrew Netto and the Young Comedians of Malaysia are regular performers and have had shows in The Comedy Club KL. The stand-up comedy scene is new and limited to Kuala Lumpur, but is growing rapidly.


Mexican stand-up and much of the country's other comedy formats come down from the carpas (tents), which were traveling variety shows similar to American vaudeville but with their own roots and traditions; added to this were the traditions of the pícaro (rogue) and Spanish theatre comedy. Stand-up in Mexico includes original material but consists mainly on telling a variety of standard jokes which have remained basically the same over the decades. Rather than the freshness of the material what is important is the style and manner in which the comedian delivers these old jokes. Among the most famous stand-up comedians are Polo Polo and Jorge Falcón.


Singapore has a growing stand-up comedy scene with three active venues. TakeOut Comedy hosts a weekly open mic to help develop local comics.[6] The Comedy Club Asia at DXO offers shows one weekend per month primarily featuring leading international comics such as Paul Ogata.[6] Kumar, a drag queen who has performed in Singapore for more than 17 years, is Singapore's leading stand-up comedian.[7]


Philippines stand-up comedy scene[8] was mainly composed before of comedians who would engage in popular forms of humor in the country. This would include performers re-telling well-known jokes with more exaggerated situations, poking fun at audience members, celebrity mimicry and comedic song and dance routines. Bars like Zirco, that feature this kind of comedy, are very popular and have a very big following. Of late, however, the western style of stand up comedy, has been catching on and a group known as Comedy Cartel are at the forefront of this movement. The group is composed of seasoned comedians such as Tim Tayag[9],Allan Manalo and Mike Unson. The Leader of the pack being Red Ollero. The star of this group is the Laffapalooza 2 Champion and loser of contests such as "tawag ng tawanan" and the International Comedy Contest in Hong Kong,Emmanuel Gascon.

Comedy festivals

Stand-up comedy is the focus of four major international festivals: the Edinburgh Festival Fringe in Edinburgh, Scotland; Just for Laughs in Montreal, Canada; HBO's U.S. Comedy Arts Festival in Aspen, CO, the Melbourne International Comedy Festival in Melbourne, Australia, and a number of other festivals, most prominently The Comedy Festival in Las Vegas, the Vancouver Comedy Festival, the Boston Comedy and Film Festival, the New York Underground Film Festival and the Cat Laughs Comedy Festival in Kilkenny, Ireland. Radio hosts Opie and Anthony also produce a comedy tour called Opie and Anthony's Traveling Virus Comedy Tour, featuring their own co-host, Jim Norton as well as several other stand-up comedians regularly featured on their radio show. There is also a festival in Hong Kong called the HK International Comedy Festival. The festival format has proven quite successful at attracting attention to the art of stand-up, and is often used as a scouting and proving ground by industry professionals seeking new comedic talent.

Other media

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.

HBO (which, for the first time, presented comedians uncensored), beginning with Robert Klein in 1975, was instrumental in reaching larger audiences.

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.

Since the mid-2000s, online video-sharing sites such as YouTube have also provided a venue for stand-up comedy, and many comedians' performances can be viewed online.[10]

See also


  1. ^ a b Fisher, J Tommy Cooper:Always Leave Them Laughing ISBN 978-0007215119
  2. ^ "So Farewell Then: The Untold Life of Peter Cook" Cook, Wendy E. ISBN 0 00 722893 7, p. 139-144
  3. ^ Wilmut, R and Rosengard, P Didn't You Kill My Mother-In-Law : The Story Of Alternative Comedy In Britain. ISBN 978-0413173904
  4. ^ Dana, Bill (2008). "American Comedy Archives". Emerson College Boston, Massachusetts. Retrieved March 6, 2009. 
  5. ^ "Stand-up comedy around the world: a glance at China’s and Africa’s scenes". Punchline Magazine. 2008-07-14. Retrieved 2008-08-20. 
  6. ^ a b Chee, Frankie. "Stand-up is back", The Straits Times, 2009-07-12.
  7. ^ "Meet Singapore's Leading Comic: A Drag Queen Named Kumar", "ABC News" 14 February 2008
  8. ^ "the filipino stand up comedy scene"
  9. ^ "The Filipino pioneer of point of view stand up comedy: Tim Tayag"
  10. ^ "Watch Stand Up Comedians on YouTube". Daniel Scocco. 2008-09-23. Retrieved 2008-09-27. 


  • Stebbins, Robert A. (1990) The Laugh-Makers: Stand-Up Comedy as Art, Business, and Life-Style. Montreal and Kingston: McGill-Queen's University Press.

Simple English

Stand-up comedy is a style of comedy where the comedian speaks directly to the audience. A person who performs stand-up comedy is known as a stand-up comic, stand-up comedian or simply stand up. It is usually done by a single comedian, and with the help of a microphone. The comedian normally speaks quickly many funny stories and short jokes (called bits) This is called a monologue, routine or act. Some stand-up comedians use music or magic tricks in their acts. Stand-up comedy is usually done in comedy clubs, bars, colleges and theaters. However, there is no restriction on where it can be done. Many smaller bars, clubs and restaurants do "open microphone" events where amateur comedians can perform comedy before a live audience, offering a way for the performers to become better and possibly become professional comedians.

Other pages

  • List of stand-up comedians
  • List of musical comedians
  • Improvisational theatre
  • Situation comedy
  • Rakugo – Japanese verbal entertainment
  • Manzai – style of stand-up comedy in Japan
  • Open mike – live show where audience members may perform at the microphone

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