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The Irony of Stand – Up Comedy

May 9th, 2014 by Michael Tabor

Did you know that 99.9 % of comedians cannot stand (no pun) hearing themselves and worst yet, seeing themselves perform? Initially, I comicwas shocked, but now I can totally understand the psychology of it all and how sensible it is. What kind of crazed narcissist would you have to be to like laughing at your own jokes?
We’re social animals, and the reality is that a stand – up comic needs an audience and some sort of positive feedback in order to really get the joy out of telling jokes. I’m pretty sure that any type of performance artist (actors, talk – show hosts, dancers, musicians … etc) for that matter, doesn’t like to see themselves on tape or whatever. My theory is that, the looser the format so to speak, the less inclined you’re likely to enjoy watching yourself. I suppose if you’re a classical pianist and you nail down Chopin note for note, I guess you can watch yourself and derive some sort of pleasure.
But, anyway, just to stick to comedians here in this blog, is it any wonder that comics are perhaps the saddest and most serious folks on the planet ??? I was informed of this when I was a kid and I used to think it was monumentally ironic, but is it ? Professional comedians ponder the absurd and write about it (the grim existentialist, Albert Camus, spent his entire career ruminating thoroughly and deeply on the absurdity of the human condition).

The oxymoronic “comedy is a serious business” prodigiously resonated with the late great George Carlin who wrote everything down and when he did his act (about an hour long or so) would not change a single word – I repeat, not a word !!! George used to say, once it’s in, it stays.
So WhaDaYaThink ? What do you think ? I’m not a particularly funny person myself, but I’m a HUGE fan of comics and comedy.

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14 Responses to “The Irony of Stand – Up Comedy”

  1. magdalena Says:

    Michael, you don’t know how funny you are because you don’t watch your own performance. You are, unknowingly, one of the funniest guys I’ve ever met! Thank you for keeping me in stitches for ummm……what is it now, 18 plus years.

  2. Michael Tabor Says:

    Ahhhhh – Magadalena I love you more than you can ever know …

  3. magdalena Says:

    And it’s not only when you’re standing up.

  4. Le duke de fromage Says:

    Michael, I agree comedy is a serious business, I would also like to mention the comedy writers. What drives these mostly anonymous people to sit alone and produce material that keeps the rest of us laughing? To spend your life knocking out jokes for others and receive little if no credit has got to be some form of inner torture. To compound the problem a majority of these nameless, faceless people are not funny in their everyday existence. So what drives humans to make the rest of us laugh? I once read after Johnny Carson retired he would send jokes to David Letterman and be elated when Letterman used one. Its possible just the act of releasing one’s thoughts and ideas is enough. Graffiti discovered from ancient Rome depictured a joke about Caesar having sex with Cleopatra. This is not a new idea. One final thought, the comedy of today has degenerated into a profanity laden talentless crop of not funny people. Perhaps it is a sign of what we are today.

  5. Michael Tabor Says:

    Hi Le duke – It certainly is interesting to note that Letterman, Kimmel, Fallon, Seth Meyers, Jon Stewart … the whole lot of the late night variety talk show hosts don’t write any of their material; yes, they’re all funny people (all of them were all @ one time, former stand – up comics, so…) but the monologue and all the bits are written by the anonymous team of comedy writers. I also can’t imagine any one writer earning a ton of $$$ either. I’ve often wonder why the really GOOD writers don’t do their own gig. It probably has to do with the fact that his or her stage presence, delivery, timing is not up to speed, which is an art in itself. Incidentally in college I took a course in communications ‘ Radio & Television. Our class put together a make – believe news team. Anyway, I was assigned to be the weatherman & I was absolutely shocked @ how difficult it was – I mean I just couldn’t do it.

    Certainly there are exceptions to writers making it on his own; Larry David from Seinfeld was hugely successful with ‘Curb Your Enthusiasm’. I wish they would bring that show back – I loved the show and never got sick of it.

    The Carson/Letterman thing is interesting (Carson obviously had a looooong run but it’s sad he died too young. I hope Dave is not retiring because he’s sick).The graffiti discovered in ancient Rome is utterly fascinating, in fact the entire social history of comedy is something that would be incredibly interesting to further read about and research.

    Boy lots to to talk about – it really is such an interesting topic. As far as today’s comedy, I can’t help but totally agree. I’m not averse to blue comedy (George Carlin, Redd Foxx, and Richard Pryor were always my favorites) but clean and clever jokes, story – telling type humor is something obviously lacking today. Honestly, I don’t watch sit-coms or stand – up anymore and I get more pleasure from reading the jokes from the ‘New Yorker’.

  6. Michael Tabor Says:

    Oh, I just want to add a few other famous sayings: I’m paraphrasing here and drawing from memory, so … 1. The most serious person in the room is the comedian 2. Speaking in terms of delivery, never, ever laugh @ your own jokes or even smile for that matter (There are exceptions of course e.g. Jackie The Jokeman laughs @ everyone of his jokes). and one of my favorites 3. comedy is tragedy + time

  7. magdalena Says:

    Let’s not forget the hilarious antics of the Tim Conway/Harvey Korman team who oftentimes couldn’t keep a straight face and barely made it through their act. Not stand up comedy but still comedy at its best. The audience drawn into the helplessness of it all. Funny stuff.

  8. Michael Tabor Says:

    As you know Magdalena, when I was a kid, I literally p’d my pants watching Conway doing the “old man” – the classic Carol Burnett show !!! yep & Conway & Korman could not contain themselves …

  9. Anonymous Says:

    Michael, Another interesting take on comedy is why certain ethnic groups are funnier than others. Jewish, African Americans, and strangely enough English comedians rank up among the top of the funnier people. Why is this? How many Swedish or Norwegian comedians can you name?
    I agree with your list of top comedians but would like to add Woody, when he did standup. Jonny Winters, Rodney, and the only woman I would add is Joan Rivers, like her or not she is very, very good. Pryor when he was on, was brilliant and could have been one of the best.
    There are several fairly interesting books written about comedy thru the ages, one describes a siege in which the romans would hurl clay tablets over the walls of a besieged city with humorous insults written on them aimed at the opposing ruler. These were usually sexual in content and insulted the ruler’s prowess or his wife’s looks.

  10. Michael Tabor Says:

    Hi Anonymous – Ethnicity – wow !!! Not only do particular ethnic groups have their own brand of humor, when you really think about it, it’s sort of the cornerstone of much comedy e.g. how certain races, clans, and groups of people behave, how they interact with other races, and I suppose most importantly how to insult any given race without going over the top. George Carlin (I mention him all the time because he truly is one of my heroes) used to say: (again paraphrase) know the boundary and demarcation point, and then just go a little beyond (it certainly is a fine line) and then you can create hilarity without being gross and disturbing. Oh btw, I just googled “Are there any Norwegian comedians ? Apparently, there is a guy named Ylvs out there who is in fact Norwegian – lol

    Indeed – Woody is awesome on so many levels e.g. filmmaker, writer, stand – up … Jonny W. I’m not 2 familiar with, and Rodney is simply a GIANT not to mention the fact that he opened so many doors for up & coming comics – RIP. Although, I’m not a fan of Joan Rivers, she definitely belongs on the list of all – time greats and certainly was groundbreaking for female acts.

    I’m actually laughing right now thinking about the Romans – lol

  11. Le duke de fromage Says:

    Michael, Actually I do remember Lancaster Lar being on T.V. broadcasting from Butler High. Remember those days? Of course we watched because we thought he might be the next Tom Brokaw. My memories of you were not those of a shy youth but a slightly wild crazy guy. I am surprised to hear you struggled with the T.V. weather job. you seemed a natural for that kind of exposure. Maybe its just as well, all the weather people are buxom girls with little talent. Your Sunset Lake and Burger King experiences would make a good book if anyone would believe you as shy on T.V.
    Harvey Korman was a very talented comedian who could play straight man as well as anyone. He was also a man with inner demons that would emerge often. Carol Burnett stated that Harvey would threaten to quit the show several times a week if he felt he was being slighted. She would then have to soothe him until his anguish blew over. Another instance of a comedian with severe inner conflict.

  12. Michael Tabor Says:

    Lancaster Lar always had (and still does have) the BEST voice coupled with a perfect delivery; I’d love to see some of those old clips again.

    I didn’t realize I gave this wild and crazy impression as a youngster. In retrospect, I realize I was just Young and dumb and certainly not a little confused; when you’re a teenager and even in your early 20’s, life is soooooo complicated, baffling, complex … and “LARGE”. One of my therapists from years ago (he was an old -fashioned Freudian psychoanalyst … but really interesting) used to always say something akin to “when you’re young and stupid, life seems like this insanely frightening and large place. As you grow, mature, and begin to understand the world and how things work, the world shrinks and mercifully becomes more manageable).

    I guess if I had more patience and practiced, practiced, practiced … I suppose I could have eventually nailed the weather guy thing but I’m glad I’m not a mindless weatherman like Storm Field or Amy O-Keefe Stromberg (I mean, YEA, what a great gig !! If someone offered me good $$ to tell the WEATHER, you’d have to be crazy not to accept it. But, if you’re lucky enough to be famous I think it’s not a stretch to say that any famous weather person would want to be head anchor and cover hard news e.g. Tom Brokaw, Dan Rather or the late Peter Jennings. Ummm just as a sidebar, David Letterman started out as a meteorologist)

    Lar & I should definitely collaborate and write a book (even make a movie) about those crazy Sun Tan Lake/Burger King days.

    Wow – Harvey Korman… I bet that a book about the Carol Burnett show would make for an interesting read.

  13. Michael Tabor Says:

    I was just googling famous weather people, and I came across this – OMG, how sad is the Bree Walker story ??? Look how awful ‘Father time’ has treated her . http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2563569/Veteran-TV-news-anchor-Bree-Walker-arrested-DUI-pulled-looking-disheveled.html

  14. Michael Tabor Says:

    Oh, here’s another truism: As soon as you become crazily successful, you cease to be funny. The obvious irony is that all comics want to be successful but be careful what you wish for

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