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. Will Ferrell has called stand-up comedy "hard, lonely and vicious".
A stand-up comedy show may involve only one comedian, or feature a "headline" or a "showcase" format. A headline format typically features an opening act known as a host, compère (UK), or master of ceremonies (MC), who usually warms up the crowd, interacts with the audience members, makes announcements, and introduces the other performers. This is followed by one or two "middle" or "featured" acts, who perform 15- to 20-minute sets, followed by a headliner who performs for longer. The "showcase" format consists of several acts who perform for roughly equal lengths of time, typical in smaller clubs such as the Comedy Cellar, or Jongleurs, or at large events where the billing of several names allows for a larger venue than the individual comedians could draw. A showcase format may still feature an MC.
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 the profession, or for established professionals to work on their material.
"Bringer shows" are another opportunity for amateur performers. The performer must bring a specified number of paying guests in order to get stage time. The guests usually have to pay a cover charge and there is often a minimum number of drinks that must be ordered. These shows usually have a "showcase" format. This type of show gives comedians better exposure than open mics because there is usually better audience turnout and industry professionals sometimes go to watch. Different comedy clubs have different requirements for their bringer shows. Gotham Comedy Club in New York City, for example, usually has ten-person bringers, while Broadway Comedy Club in New York City usually has six-person bringers.
As the name implies, "stand-up" comedians usually perform their material while standing, though this is not mandatory.
Stand-up comedy has its origin in classic Parrhesia in 400 BC used for cynics and epicureans in order to tell the reality without censorship.
Stand-up comedy in the United Kingdom began in the music halls of the 18th and 19th centuries. Notable performers who rose through the 20th century music hall circuit were Morecambe and Wise, Arthur Askey, Ken Dodd 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.
The rise of the post-war 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 men's 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 club, the Establishment, which, amongst other things, gave British audiences their first taste of extreme American stand-up comedy from Lenny Bruce. Victoria Wood launched her stand-up career in the early 1980s, which included 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 was opened in London by Peter Rosengard, where many alternative comedy stars of the 1980s, such as Dawn French and Jennifer Saunders, Alexei Sayle, Craig Ferguson, Rik Mayall and Ade Edmondson began their careers. 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 humor 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. Stand up comedy is believed to have been performed originally as a one-man show. Lately, this type of show started to involve a group of young comedians, especially in Europe.
North American stand-up comedy has its roots in various traditions of popular entertainment of the late 19th century, including vaudeville, English music hall, burlesque or early variety shows; minstrel shows, humorist monologues by personalities such as Mark Twain, and circus clown antics. With the turn of the century and ubiquitousness of urban and industrial living, the structure, pacing and timing, and material of American humor began to change. Comedians of this era often depended on fast-paced joke delivery, slapstick, outrageous or lewd innuendo, and donned an ethnic persona—African, Scottish, German, Jewish—and built a routine based on popular stereotypes. Jokes were generally broad and material was widely shared, or in some cases, stolen. Industrialized American audiences sought entertainment as a way to escape and confront city living.
The founders of modern American stand-up comedy include Moms Mabley, Jack Benny, Bob Hope, George Burns, Fred Allen, Milton Berle and Frank Fay all of whom came from vaudeville or the Chitlin' Circuit. 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. Vaudevillian Charlie Case (also spelled Charley Case) is often credited with the first form of stand-up comedy; performing humorous monologues without props or costumes. This had not been done before during a vaudeville show.
Nightclubs and resorts became the new breeding ground for stand-ups. Acts such as Alan King, Danny Thomas, Martin and Lewis, Don Rickles, Joan Rivers and Jack E. Leonard flourished in these new arenas.
In the 1950s and into the 1960s, stand-ups such as Mort Sahl began developing their acts in small folk clubs like San Francisco's hungry i (owned by impresario Enrico Banducci and origin of the ubiquitous "brick wall" behind comedians) 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 'the' obscene comic when he used language that usually led to his arrest. After Lenny Bruce, arrests for obscene language on stage nearly disappeared until George Carlin was arrested on 21 July 1972 at Milwaukee's Summerfest after performing the routine "Seven Words You Can Never Say on Television" (the case against Carlin was eventually dismissed).
Other notable comics from this era include Woody Allen, Shelley Berman, Phyllis Diller, and Bob Newhart. Some Black American comedians such as Redd Foxx, George Kirby, Bill Cosby, and Dick Gregory began to cross over to white audiences during this time.
In the 1970s, several entertainers became 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 helped publicize the careers of other stand-up comedians, including Janeane Garofalo, Bill Maher and Jay Leno.
From the 1970s to the '90s, different styles of comedy began to emerge, from the madcap stylings of Robin Williams, to the odd observations of Jerry Seinfeld and Ellen DeGeneres, 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, including Chris Rock, Martin Lawrence, Dave Chappelle, Dave Attell, Patrice O'Neal, Greg Giraldo, Doug Benson, Bill Hicks, Margaret Cho, Bill Burr, David Cross, Louis C.K., Mitch Hedberg, Maria Bamford, Jim Norton, Dave Foley, Todd Glass, Kathy Griffin, Kevin Hart, Sammy Obeid, Joe Rogan, Doug Stanhope, and Sarah Silverman.
Stand-up comedy in India is a young artform. Even though the history of live comedy performances in India traces its early roots back to 1980s, for a long time stand-up comedians were only given supporting/filler acts in various performances (dance or music).
In 1986, India's Johnny Lever performed in a charity show called "Hope 86", in front of the whole Hindi film industry as a filler and was loved by audience. His talent was recognized. He started to perform in musical shows (orchestras) and after earning fame, joined the group of Kalyanji-Anandji, a legendary music direction duo. Even before joining Hindustan Lever, he was giving stage performances. As because of his growing absenteeisms and since he was earning well from stage shows, he quit HLL in the year 1981. He did a lot of shows and world tours with them, one of his first big tours being with Amitabh Bachchan in 1982.
It was not until 2005, when the TV show The Great Indian Laughter Challenge garnered huge popularity and stand-up comedy in itself started getting recognised. Thus, a lot more comedians became popular and started performing various live and TV shows. The demand for comedy content continues to increase. Some popular comedians around 2005-2008 include Raju Srivastav, Kapil Sharma, Sunil Pal etc. Most of them performed their acts in Hindi.
Raju Srivastav first appeared on the comedy talent show The Great Indian Laughter Challenge. He finished as second runner-up and then took part in the spin-off, The Great Indian Laughter Challenge — Champions, in which he won the title of "The King of Comedy". Srivastava was a participant on season 3 of Bigg Boss. He has participated in the comedy show Comedy Ka Maha Muqabla.
Kapil Sharma is ranked no. 3 at the most admired Indian personality list by The Economic Times in 2015. Currently he is hosting the most popular Indian comedy show "The Kapil Sharma Show" after "Comedy Nights with Kapil". Sharma had been working in the comedy show Hasde Hasande Raho on MH One, until he got his first break in The Great Indian Laughter Challenge, one of the nine reality television shows he has won. He became the winner of the show in 2007 for which he won 10 lakhs as prize money.
Sharma participated in Sony Entertainment Television’s Comedy Circus. He became the winner of all six seasons of "Comedy Circus" he participated in. He has hosted dance reality show Jhalak Dikhhla Jaa Season 6 and also hosted comedy show Chhote Miyan. Sharma also participated in the show Ustaadon Ka Ustaad.
Around the 2008-2009, two other popular comedians Papa CJ and Vir Das returned to India and started making their marks on Indian comedy scene. Both of them were exposed to UK and US comedy routines and they performed mostly in English. At the same time, a few more youngsters got inspired and started taking plunge into stand-up comedy.
Since 2011, the stand-up comedy has been getting substantial appreciation. The Comedy Store from London opened an outlet in Mumbai's Palladium Mall where people would regularly enjoy comedians from UK. The Comedy Story also supported local comedians and helped them grow. This outlet eventually become Canvas Laugh Club in Mumbai.
Around 2011, people started organizing different comedy open mic events in Mumbai, Delhi (and Gurgaon), Bangalore. All of this happened in association with growth of a counterculture in Indian cities which catered to the appetite of younger generations for live events for comedy, poetry, storytelling, and music. Various stand up events were covered by popular news channels such NDTV / Aajtak etc. and were appreciated by millions of viewers.
As a result of these developments, plus the increasing penetration of YouTube (along with Internet), Indian stand up comedy started reaching further masses. While the established comedians such as Vir Das, Papa CJ were independently growing through various corporate / international performances, other comedians such Vipul Goyal, Biswa Kalyan Rath, Kenny Sebastian, Kanan Gill grew popular through YouTube videos. 2015 also saw the rise of Zakir Khan as an extremely likable popular comedian in Indian stand-up scene.
The industry, still in its early stages, now sees a lot more influx of aspiring comedians as it transforms the ecosystem around it.
Umer Shareef was born in Liaquatabad, Karachi as Mohammad Umer. (He changed his name to Omer Sharif when he joined the theater). He started his career in entertainment in 1974, when at age 14 he became a stage performer in Karachi.
Early on, Sharif worked as a background musician with a group of friends, playing at local parties and functions. Sharif became one of the best-known stage performers in Pakistan after his extremely popular 1989 comedy stage plays Bakra Qistoon Pay and Buddha Ghar Pe Hai. In both he starred with Moin Akhter, another well-known Pakistani actor. Sharif was one of the first actors who started to record his shows for video rentals, which played a major part in his success. Yes Sir Eid, No Sir Eid and Bakra Qistoon Pay were the first two-stage shows to come out on video, respectively.
Sharif attained considerable fame and is sometimes called "the King of Comedy" in South Asia. His videos are sold at stores across India.
Sharif was a guest judge for one of the episodes of the Indian comedy show The Great Indian Laughter Challenge, alongside Navjot Singh Siddhu and Shekhar Suman. Sharif also hosts The Sharif Show, where he interviews film and television actors, entertainers, musicians, and politicians. He has also served as Master of Ceremonies for local and overseas events.
For the 50-year anniversary of Pakistan's independence, Sharif performed a play called Umer Sharif Haazir Ho. In the play, a representative from every occupation was called into court and asked what they had done for Pakistan in the past 50 years. The Lawyer's Association stated a case against Sharif as a result.
Stand-up comedy is the focus of four major international festivals: the Edinburgh Festival Fringe in Edinburgh, Scotland; Just for Laughs in Montreal and Toronto, Canada; HBO's U.S. Comedy Arts Festival in Aspen, CO, and the Melbourne International Comedy Festival in Melbourne, Australia. A number of other festivals operate around the world, including The Comedy Festival in Las Vegas, the Vancouver Comedy Festival, the New York Comedy Festival, the Boston Comedy and Film Festival, the New York Underground Film Festival, the Sydney Comedy 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 comedy talent. In the US, performances at colleges are an important market for stand-up comedians, with many tour bookings made at the annual convention of the National Association for Campus Activities (NACA). However, in the mid-2010s performers Chris Rock and Jerry Seinfeld as well as journalists reported college campuses as having become a repressive environment for stand-up comedy, with expectations of political correctness precluding much material that is successful in more open venues.
There are comedy schools that work with new comics to workshop material. Comics work to overcome stage fright and better their writing skills by helping their classmates improve their sets. Some schools, like Manhattan Comedy School, offer improvisation classes for comics so that they are more comfortable with straying from written material. Improv also helps comics think more quickly when dealing with hecklers. Hecklers are people who interrupt sets, usually with negative comments or gibes. Improv is also key when doing crowd work, which is when comics interact directly with the audience.
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. A "feud" between Fred Allen and Jack Benny was used as comic material for nearly a decade.
HBO presented comedians uncensored for the first time, beginning with Robert Klein in 1975, and was instrumental in reaching larger audiences. George Carlin was a perennial favorite, who appeared in 14 HBO comedy specials.
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 comedians, and many comedians' performances can be viewed online.