Who is Your Fav Stand-Up Comedian?

Crossposted at Daily Kos

Over the years, I’ve heard many a comedian admit that performing stand-up comedy in a night/comedy club is one of the more frighteningly-difficult things to do.  Not only do comedians get instant feedback (good or bad) from a demanding audience but appealing to and holding the attention of a room full of (often) drunk people makes their job all the more challenging.

What exactly is stand-up comedy?

Rob Tornoe, Caglecartoons.com

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Stand-up comedy is a style of comedy where the performer speaks directly to the audience, with the absence of the theatrical fourth wall… It is usually performed by a single comedian, and usually with the aid of a microphone.  The comedian usually recites a fast paced succession of humorous stories, short jokes (called bits), and one-liners, typically called a monologue, routine or act.

Follow me for a few laughs.


Whenever I post diaries like this — What is Your Fav TV Sitcom of All-Time? and Snowy TGIF: What is Your Favorite Classic Rock Song — some of you with dial-up, older pc’s, slower processors, not enough RAM, and the like complained that you could not easily scroll through the comments as way too many videos had been posted.  If you’d like to post a few favorite videos, feel free to do so but just don’t go overboard. Embed one YouTube video and post links to the others.

Example: This is a YouTube link to one of the better Sam Kinisonroutines – ‘Breaking the Rules.’




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One of my very favorite comedy routines is the one by the late George Carlin in which he compares the two of the most popular sports in America – baseball and football.  Read the complete routine here and watch it here on YouTube

Mike Keefe, Denver Post, Buy this cartoon

Baseball & football are the two most popular spectator sports in this country.  And as such, it seems they ought to be able to tell us something about ourselves and our values.

Baseball is a nineteenth-century pastoral game.

Football is a twentieth-century technological struggle.

Baseball begins in the spring, the season of new life.

Football begins in the fall, when everything’s dying.

Football is concerned with downs – what down is it?

Baseball is concerned with ups – who’s up?

Football has hitting, clipping, spearing, piling on, personal fouls, late hitting and unnecessary roughness.

Baseball has the sacrifice.

In baseball, during the game, in the stands, there’s kind of a picnic feeling; emotions may run high or low, but there’s not too much unpleasantness.

In football, during the game in the stands, you can be sure that at least twenty-seven times you’re capable of taking the life of a fellow human being.

And finally, the objectives of the two games are completely different:

In football the object is for the quarterback, also known as the field general, to be on target with his aerial assault, riddling the defense by hitting his receivers with deadly accuracy in spite of the blitz, even if he has to use shotgun.  With short bullet passes and long bombs, he marches his troops into enemy territory, balancing this aerial assault with a sustained ground attack that punches holes in the forward wall of the enemy’s defensive line.

In baseball the object is to go home! And to be safe! – I hope I’ll be safe at home!

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RJ Matson, St. Louis Post Dispatch, Buy this cartoon

As Carlin brilliantly elucidates, the two sports not only embody some of our values but capture the emotions that so many of us experience periodically.  It touches upon several of the themes that define our lives: peace vs aggression; complexity vs simplicity; individual success vs collective failure; serenity vs turmoil; ambition vs contentment; certainty vs uncertainty; patience vs impatience; and reason vs irrationality.  In some respects, you could say that in his routine, Carlin compares our inner optimistic Locke to our outer brooding Hobbes in discussing the two very different sports.  And how we, as humans, reconcile these many contradictory impulses.  

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From the vaudeville-inspired routines of Groucho Marx, Jack Benny, Milton Berle, George Burns, and Bob Hope, how has stand-up comedy evolved over recent decades to reflect the changing mores of our society?  

In the late 1950s and into the 1960s, a new generation of American comedians began to explore political topics, race relations, and sexual humor.  Stand-up comedy shifted from quick jokes and one-liners to monologues, often with dark humor and cutting satire.  Lenny Bruce became particularly influential in pushing the boundaries of what was considered acceptable entertainment.

Lenny Bruce by Dwayne Booth, Mr. Fish, Buy this cartoon

(During the 1970’s) Richard Pryor and George Carlin followed Lenny Bruce’s acerbic style to become counterculture icons.  Steve Martin and Bill Cosby had similar levels of success with gentler comic routines. The older style of stand-up comedy was kept alive by Rodney Dangerfield and Buddy Hackett, who enjoyed revived careers.  Television programs such as Saturday Night Live and The Tonight Show launched the careers of other stand-up comedy stars.

Richard Pryor by Sandy Huffaker, Cagle Cartoons, Buy this cartoon

(In the 1980’s) Robin Williams, Eddie Murphy, and Billy Crystal tested their comic skills with live stand-up comedy appearances.  The advent of ‘HBO’ (which could present comedians uncensored) and other cable channels such as ‘Comedy Central’ added to the stand-up comedy boom.

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My only acquaintance with Lenny Bruce is through Dustin Hoffman’s superb portrayal of him in the movie, Lenny.  I have, however, enjoyed the comedy routines and varying styles of many an accomplished stand-up comedian over the years: the nervous energy of Rodney Dangerfield; the insulting-yet-endearing barbs of Don Rickles; the political satire of Bill Maher; the wackiness of Carol Burnett; the irreverent style of Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert; the laid-back humor of Jerry Seinfeld; the wisecracking of Lily Tomlin; the wry, deadpan humor of Bob Newhart and Steven Wright; the sheer all-around brilliance of Robin Williams; the explicitly-sexual comedy act of Chris Rock, and countless others.

Television humor has also seen changes that have only become apparent over the years.  In 1992, when Johnny Carson left The Tonight Show, I recall that Tom Shales, the Washington Post‘s television critic, wrote something to the effect that the late night comedic torch was being passed from the gentle “suburban Republicanism” of Johnny Carson to the city-centered sarcasm of David Letterman and even Jay Leno.

David Fitzsimmons, Arizona Star, Buy this cartoon

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The period of the 1980’s though the 2000’s has introduced us to even more cutting-edge humor as you can see from this List of Stand-up Comedians.  From Lewis Black to Roseanne Barr to Bill Hicks to Ellen DeGeneres and many others, the fine tradition of stand-up comedy continues to this day.

After the Teabaggers seemed to have hijacked Healthcare Reform a few months ago, it looks like we will have the last laugh.  So, what makes you laugh?  What tickles your funny bone?  What do you consider to be funny?  What style of comedy is your cup of tea?  Share your stories of comedians whose acts you’ve seen in person or on television.  And what you found to be funny about them.

And remember to take the poll too.  

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I first posted a version of this diary in 2007.

Is the Pony/Pie/Hide rating system too cutsie?

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  1. … I love to laugh and am a huge fan of political humor, rock music, stand-up comedy, movies, good television situation comedies, and the like.

    I remember very well this character of “Art Fern” (with his outrageous coats and ties) that Johnny Carson used to play on ‘The Tonight Show’  

    John Trever, Albuquerque Journal, Buy this cartoon

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    “Art Fern”, the fast-talking host of a “Tea Time Movie” program, who advertised inane products, assisted by the attractive Matinee Lady, played by Paula Prentiss (late 1960s), Carol Wayne (the most familiar Matinee Lady, 1971-82), Danuta Wesley (1984), and Teresa Ganzel (1985-92).  The fake movies Art would introduce usually had eclectic casts (“Ben Blue, Red Buttons, Jesse White, and Karen Black”) and nonsensical titles (“Rin-Tin-Tin Gets Fixed Fixed Fixed”), followed by a four-second stock film clip before coming back for another commercial.  On giving directions to a fake store he was touting, Fern would show a spaghetti-like road map, sometimes with a literal “fork in the road”, other times making the joke, “Go to the Slauson Cutoff…”, and the audience would recite with him, “…cut off your Slauson!”

    The diary poll could as easily have included twice or even thrice the number of performers I listed. Here’s a few more, among others, that I have enjoyed over the years: Red Foxx, Margaret Cho, Dave Chappelle, Paula Poundstone, Cheech Marin and Tommy Chong, Kathy Griffin, Bill Cosby, Stephen Colbert, David Brenner, Buddy Hackett, Bill Hicks, Whoopi Goldberg, George Lopez, Don Rickles, and Yakov Smirnoff.

    If, as they say, laughter is the best medicine, whose prescriptions have you been cured by?

    Tips, recommends, comments, and suggestions welcomed.  Thanks.

  2. … these two will be remembered as two of the very best ever.

    Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert by Taylor Jones, Politicalcartoons.com, Buy this cartoon

  3. I found him humorous when he was young and I was kid, but he matured into commentary well beyond his early mind-game schtick.

  4. I dropped some spot remover on my dog and he disappeared.

    • dkmich on March 13, 2010 at 11:25 am

    Biggest joke in town.  

    • TMC on March 15, 2010 at 12:17 am

    I had to go with Carlin, although Cosby, Williams and Prior are up there. You forgot Phyllis Diller, some of her early stuff was really funny.

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