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Stand-up Comedy (History and New Wave)

Stand-up comedy is characterized by a lone performer speaking straight to the audience in an attempt to appear spontaneous.


Stand-up comedy, at least in its current form, is a relatively new genre of entertainment. Its origins in the United States, where it initially emerged and gained its peak popularity, may be traced back to 19th-century humorous lecturers like Mark Twain. It first appeared as popular entertainment in vaudeville in the early twentieth century. While humor was a mainstay of every vaudeville show, it was most typically provided in the form of packaged routines given by comedy teams (who spoke to each other rather than to the audience).

However, a few performers, such as Frank Fay, were noted for their ability at off-the-cuff patter while acting as emcees in vaudeville halls such as New York City's legendary Palace Theatre. In the 1930s and 1940s, this solo style was polished further in the resorts of New York's Catskill Mountains region.

The Borscht Belt's mostly Jewish comedians developed a boisterous gag-filled monologue style that played on classic comedy stereotypes such as the demanding mother-in-law and the henpecked husband, as illustrated by Henny Youngman's famous line "Take my wife—please."

But it was Bob Hope, a British-born former vaudeville song-and-dance guy, who did the most to make stand-up comedy a fixture of American popular entertainment. Hope, a fan of Fay, developed an appealing rapid-fire style as a vaudeville emcee and, starting in 1938, as presenter of his own top-rated radio show.

Forced to come up with new material for his weekly radio monologues—and for the military audiences he frequently traveled to entertain—Hope hired a team of writers who came up with jokes that played off the day's news, local gossip in the towns and military bases he visited, and Hope and his show business friends' offstage antics. This was a big break from the vaudeville and Borscht Belt entertainers, where the gags were generic, replaceable, and could be repeated practically indefinitely.

The new wave

Hope and the Borscht Belt performers pioneered the traditional stand-up style, which dominated popular entertainment well into the television age, becoming a mainstay of television variety shows like The Ed Sullivan Show. However, in the 1950s, a new generation of stand-up comedians arose, rejecting the detached mechanical manner of the previous generation.

Mort Sahl, who appeared onstage sitting on a stool with a rolled-up newspaper in his hand and talked in normal conversational tones, delivered caustic commentary on American political leaders, popular culture, and pillars of respectability during the conservative 1950s.

("Are there any groups here I haven't offended?" he'd usually joke.) Sahl's politically rebellious comedy became a sensation in the Beat Era's trendy nightclubs, inspiring a slew of young comedians who demonstrated that stand-up could be clever, personable, and socially active.

Long improv-style bits—one-sided phone conversations, individuals talking to their psychiatrists—created by Bob Newhart, Shelley Berman, and the comedic combination of Mike Nichols and Elaine May satirized many facets of an uptight conformist society. Jonathan Winters ripped apart the typical stand-up format, pummeling the audience with a crazy stream-of-consciousness bombardment of characters, gags, fractured situations, and physical pieces.

With all that said: Yonkers Comedy Club and its great ambiance provide all types of great talent an opportunity to come on board and entertain the audience of the club.

Yonkers Comedy Club is your go-to place if you are becoming a comedian, or want to explore yourself in the domain, we have many occasions where it could be a learning curve for you and we can definitely empower your talent in the best way.

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