April 19, 2007


Stand-Up Comedy Formula Decoded (Jennifer Viegas, April 12, 2007, Discovery News)

Stand-up comedy routines, which often only involve a lone comedian on a stage with a microphone, appear to be simple performances, but a new study reveals many acts follow a complex formula strengthened by multiple linguistic techniques. [...]

[Douglas] Glick, an assistant professor of anthropology at Binghamton University in New York, explained that many modern stand-up routines follow three steps. The first Glick describes as "foregrounding," which is coming up with a concept or situation that is unexpected.

During the second step, the comic "sets up a comparison that sets up the joke."

The third "pay off" step occurs when the comic leads the audience to "discover something else about the context of the performance — either in the performance, as for Izzard, or from our general cultural knowledge — that makes the comparison between what we expected, and what happened, funny."

Note that not only does the "foregrounding" require a shared concept of what is to be expected, but by making that which deviates from the expected an object of fun it tends to reinforce the shared concept.

Posted by Orrin Judd at April 19, 2007 5:05 PM

Ok....so what does that have anything to do with being "conservative"?

"Multiple linguistic techniques"? "Unexpected"? Sounds a little liberal to me.

Posted by: gupta at April 19, 2007 5:17 PM

Expectation is conservative. Making fun of those who don't conform to expectations would supposedly be anathema to liberals, but they are just as much us vs. them as anyone else.

Posted by: oj at April 19, 2007 8:11 PM

This guy is only rediscovering principles of comedy first described by Max Eastman in The Sense of Humor (1921) and Enjoyment of Laughter (1936).

Posted by: PapayaSF at April 20, 2007 1:53 PM

No, Hobbes.

Posted by: oj at April 20, 2007 6:37 PM