My draw toward stand-up comedy is its expression of someone’s experience in an honest, real, & raw way. It is the epitome of individualistic free speech. In an era where we are on guard while differentiating fact from fiction, stand-up comedy gives us a breath of fresh air.
This form of comedy gives gifts to not only the participating audience through laughter & connection but, at the simplest level, it also allows a person to tell their story in their own words — and that is a powerful thing.
Each stand-up routine is the result of a comedian’s thoughts that are honed & crafted, through much trial & error, into an act that elicits laughter. Some of my favorite current stand-up comedians have the ability to deliver thought provoking performances all while memorizing their routine, improvising and taking cues from the audience to adjust their tone, speed, style, & delivery.
Some performances can be compelling enough to change your perspective. Even though you buy tickets to a comedy show to be entertained & experience the release of endorphins, the play between moments of uproarious laughter while tackling serious topics such as politics, addiction, mental illness, racism, & gender roles is truly something to be admired.
Stand-up comedy is an act of true vulnerability. It involves a mic, a stage & a person telling a story to an audience while not knowing exactly how they will react. The success or failure of the routine is solely in the comedian’s hands. Some stories involve deeply personal experiences which invites the audience into the comedian’s life. Storytelling in this way connects each other to our experience as human beings all while making the heaviness of this adventure feel lighter by way of laughter. It makes our circumstances more bearable. Less serious. More manageable. More possible to overcome.
Owning our story and loving ourselves in the process is the bravest thing we’ll ever do. — Brené Brown
The line that goes through comedians’ work is they take a great risk by accepting vulnerability & putting it on display for us. Current comics seem to expose more of themselves than typical stand-up comics to date. Being that raw, open, & vulnerable is one of the scariest things we can do but it also remains to be one of the most valuable things you can do for others around you. Being grounded in connecting to others in this way can develop an investment in someone’s story & create a fan for life.
A beautiful effect of stand-up comedy is the sense of belonging that comes from laughter. Laughing at our collective experience is a bridge to feel less lonely in our experience. It illuminates dark places & helps us realize we aren’t the only ones who have felt OR endured difficult & uncomfortable moments.
One of my favorite explanations of this experience is in Drew Michael’s special on HBO. He talks about performing a joke related to suicide (dark, I know). His point is to highlight the sense of belonging associated with speaking this aloud. “It’s cathartic. Like, if you’re dealing with those private, painful, personal, dark thoughts…to hear them talked about and made light of in a public forum, that’s catharsis. You feel connected to someone outside your own mind. That’s a positive emotion.”
These moments of relatedness can be big or small. Whether we have experienced extremely difficult life events OR felt like we’re always the odd person out, the second we feel a sense of belonging it has a significant positive impact on our self-esteem & self-worth.
The gifts stand-up comedy gives are worth taking note of. But, moreover, the subtlety in which we receive them is one of the things that makes stand-up comedy great. There are no expectations other than to laugh & at the same time we feel connected to each other despite our feigned contrasts.