Joel Warner and I delve into the history of stand-up comedy in this Slate article.
It’s an odd sort of entertainment. There’s no narrative structure, no plot, backstory, sets, editors, or producers. It’s comedy boiled down to basics: a comedian and an audience, where you either score a laugh or you don’t. As British comedian Jimmy Carr and writer Lucy Greeves put it in their book, Only Joking: What’s So Funny About Making People Laugh?, “Stand-up comedy is a peculiar performance art form. In a room filled with people, the comedian is the only one facing the wrong way. He’s also the only one who isn’t laughing. For normal people that’s a nightmare, not a career aspiration.”