November 27, 2021

Dragon Film

Art and Entertainment

A Brief History of Standup Comedy in the United States

A Brief History of Standup Comedy in the United States

There is humor in the United States as long as it’s a nation. After all, life is hard and laughing is one of the important ways to cope and survive. However, standup comedy as an art form takes time to develop and develop. Its history is rich and entire books have been written on the subject. This article will serve as a highly annotated version so readers can use it as a “stepping point” to dig deeper into interesting passages.

One of the first types of organized standup comedy in the United States was the singer show that emerged in the early 1800s. Sometimes referred to as “black face comedy”. While gruesome by 21st century standards, this brand of comedy was hugely popular when it started.

All white actors would paint their faces black and start using stereotypes of black behavior for their material. It’s always been said that comedy reflects time. And like it or not, this was the state of the country in the 1800s. Singer shows remained popular well into the mid-19th century and began to lose support as American views on racism and slavery began to change.

As the popularity of singer shows waned, vaudeville began to become a popular form of standup or pre-standup comedy. In addition to comedy, vaudeville acts include dancers, magicians, and actors. Some shows even include clown-like acts.

Some of the main comedians of this comedy brand are – Fred DuPres, George Burns and Gracie Allen, Groucho Marx and the Marx Brothers and Ezera kendall. Comedian Vaudeville relies less on spoken words to laugh and uses props and physical comedy instead. This is because they don’t have microphones and instead have to rely on a physical type of comedy.

Vaudeville although popular for a long time gave way to the newfound radio comedy show. This was the beginning of “comedy for the masses”. But while this is great news for the general public, it comes at a price for players. They can no longer rely on the physical aspect of their comedy, they now only have the material and time to make the audience laugh. Few comedians are able to make the transition from Vaudeville to a more prominent type of comedy.

Some of the famous comedians who made this transition are: Jack Benney, Bob Hope, Milton Berle and George Burns.

The addition of radio is not the only development that has become a standup comedy breakthrough. A microphone is also available for comedians to apply their skills to. And again, comedians from Vaudeville had to adapt their shows to word comedy that was more spoken than physical comedy.

Now, comedians can do standup comedy as we know it today. It was at this point in their history that the standup comedy changed more in terms of content than in the way it was physically done. Standup comedy over the next few decades is a reflection of what was happening at the time and the morality and subject that was accepted in this country during those decades.

The decades of the 1950s and 1960s saw the rise of comics such as Don Rickles, Johnny Carson and Phyllis Diller. When the country began to tear down the walls of racism, some of the famous black comedians started to make the audience laugh. They are Dick Gregory, Bill Cosby and Redd Foxx.

When racial boundaries are pushed, the boundaries of acceptable humor begin to test their boundaries. Most notably, Lenny Bruce’s comedy fueled what some would say was the start of any comedy-style subject. He pushed the envelope so far that he was arrested several times for the things he said on stage. It is at this point that comedians try to push the boundaries to see how far they can go with their comedy.

Another important development for standup comedy began in the 1950s and 1960s – television. With the advent of television, comedians can have the best of both worlds: the kind of physical comedy found in Vaudeville as well as the spoken word. This saw the development of variety shows such as The Tonight Show and the Ed Sullivan show on television.

The 1970s were a big year for standup comedians! That’s when they became superstars. They moved from being seen on television and in small comedy clubs to selling big arenas. Comedians such as George Carlin, Cheech and Chong and Richard Pryor thrived in new settings.

In addition to their live performances, they make recordings of their shows and sell them (as LPs) to the public. And of course the topics covered are constantly pushing the boundaries of what society will accept. As sexual revolutions and any mentality become prevalent in society, the topic of comedy also occurs.

The 1980s, 1990s and 2000s largely followed the pattern of the previous decade, more exposure and pushing the envelope. But there have been some important developments from this decade. MTV and Comedy Central are making comedy more accessible to more people.

The public not only sees well-known comics, they are also exposed to comics that are on the rise through new television networks. The latest phenomenon is a comedy-based reality show called “Last Comic Standing”. The show gives television viewers more experienced exposure to comics that may one day make it to the big leagues.

No one knows where standup comedy will lead us in the future. If the past is any indication, there will be more public access for standup comedians and they will always be looking for ways to make them squirm by pushing the boundaries of what is acceptable in society.