Stand-up comedy is a comic style in which a comedian performs in front of a live audience, usually speaking directly to them. In stand-up comedy, the comedian usually recites a grouping of humorous stories, jokes and one-liners typically called a monologue, routine, or act.
In stand-up comedy, the feedback of the audience is instant and crucial for the comedian’s act. Audiences expect a stand-up comic to provide a steady stream of laughs, and a performer is always under pressure to deliver. Comedic actor Will Ferrell has called stand-up comedy “hard, lonely, and vicious”.
Famous comedians of late 20th century and present time:
A long heritage of British stand-up comedy began in the music halls of the 18th and 19th centuries. Max Miller, one of the notable performers who rose through the 20th-century music hall circuit, 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.
At the end of World War II many members of the Armed Forces had developed a taste for comedy and moved into professional entertainment. The rise of the postwar comedians coincided with the rise of television and radio. Television exposure created a constant demand for new material, this may have been responsible for the cessation of theatrical censorship in 1968.
By the 1970s the alternative comedy scene began to evolve. Some of the earliest successes came from folk clubs, where performers such as Billy Connolly started as relatively straight musical acts whose between-song banter developed into complete comedy routines. The present British stand-up comedy circuit arose from the ‘alternative’ comedy revolution of the 1980s, with political and observational humor being the prominent styles to flourish.
North American stand-up comedy has its roots in various traditions of popular entertainment of the late 19th century. Comedians of this era often donned an ethnic persona and built a routine based on popular stereotypes. Jokes were generally broad and material was widely shared, or in some cases, stolen.
The founders of modern American stand-up comedy spoke directly to the audience as themselves, in front of the curtain, known as performing “in one”. One of them, 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.
In the 1950s and 1960s, stand-ups such as Mort Sahl began developing their acts in small folk clubs. 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.
Television programs such as Saturday Night Live and The Tonight Show helped publicize the careers of other stand-up comedians, including Bill Maher and Jay Leno.
From the 1970s to the 1990s, different styles of comedy began to emerge, from the madcap stylings of Robin Williams, to the odd observations of Jerry Seinfeld, the ironic musings of Steven Wright, to the mimicry of Whoopi Goldberg, and Eddie Murphy. These comedians would serve to influence the next generation of comedians.