August 21, 2020

Credit: Adam Taylor / Getty Images

*This piece was originally published on December 6th, 2019.

Humans have always enjoyed a good laugh, but the concept of stand-up comedy is relatively new. Wayne Federman, a comedian who teaches at the University of Southern California, and hosts the podcast The History of Stand Up, talks about the origin of the modern comedian. From the earliest vaudeville circuits, to the rise of the comedy record, to the role of late-night television in break-out comedy moments, we pay tribute to the power of the comedian.

Three Takeaways:

  • Stand-up in the form that we tend to imagine — one person in front of an audience earning laughs — didn’t always exist. In fact, one of the earliest “modern” comedians was someone who might surprise you: Mark Twain. Federman explains that Twain got his comedic start when he realized he could make some extra money from putting on humorous lectures.
  • Federman calls stand-up an “early adapter” when it comes to new technology, which first became apparent to Americans during the proliferation of comedy radio shows in the early 20th century, then comedy records, comedy specials on television, and now comedy podcasts.
  • One of the places where, in recent decades, comedians have gotten their big breaks has been on late night TV, with hosts like Ed Sullivan or Johnny Carson. But today, while we might still turn to late night for comedy, the jokes have taken a decidedly more political turn. Federman theorizes that this partisanship (epitomized by Stephen Colbert) has to do with the abundant media choices we have now; entertainers have to worry a lot less about alienating a general audience when they’re only speaking to their fans.

More reading:

  • Ever wondered why so many comedians seem to have a liberal bias? Slate has an article on where all the conservative comedians are.
  • Jerry Seinfeld’s sitcom, Seinfeld, ended more than 20 years ago, but its legacy is impressive. Check out this article from The Guardian about the lasting impact that “the show about nothing” has had on the comedy world — especially when it comes to show finales. 
  • Some comedians don’t just use their platform for laughter; some use it for social change, too. One example is the Daily Show’s former host, Jon Stewart, who used his clout to help pass the 9/11 Victim Compensation Fund reauthorization bill through Congress. Give this Vox article a read to get the whole story. 

stand up comedy, wayne federman, Culture, humor

Previous Post

Why Fast Fashion Might Need To Slow Down

Next Post

COVID Forever?

comments powered by Disqus