Skip to Main Content
Have library access? Log in through your library

Laugh-Makers: Stand-Up Comedy as Art, Business, and Life-Style

Copyright Date: 1990
Pages: 176
  • Cite this Item
  • Book Info
    Book Description:

    Stebbins begins with a history of stand-up comedy, giving vital background about the industry as it emerged and flourished in the United States and subsequently developed into a popular form of entertainment in Canada. He deals with the nature of comic performance in comedy rooms - cabarets designed specifically for stand-up comedy - and examines the career of the comic: how people become interested in comedy, how they progress as amateurs, how they survive on the road and how, sometimes, they become headliners and later writers for film and television. He also discusses the business of comedy: booking agents, comedy chains such as Yuk-Yuk's, room managers, and the comics themselves as entrepreneurs.

    eISBN: 978-0-7735-6232-5
    Subjects: Performing Arts

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. ix-x)
  4. Introduction
    (pp. xi-2)

    Although many Canadians have yet to attend their first live performance of stand-up comedy, few are unaware of its current popularity. The reminders are everywhere. Comics turn up regularly on the Johnny Carson and David Letterman shows. In the streets of our cities and on the grounds of our urban fairs, they entertain for whatever money can be coaxed from passersby. Bookstores and record shops package their humour in paper and vinyl, and newspapers and magazines scrutinize their professional lives. In 1989, a francophone radio station in Quebec was advertising the products of Burger King in the form of a...

  5. CHAPTER ONE An Art Is Born
    (pp. 3-17)

    I stood at the motel desk waiting to check out after ten days of observing and interviewing comics in Vancouver. The proprietor of the place was fascinated with my project. He had learned about it upon my arrival, when I had to justify my request for a quiet room and afternoon maid service. “Well, did you learn any good jokes?” he inquired hopefully. I said I had, but I thought to myself that that was far from accurate. “You should certainly be the life of the party from now on,” he pressed. Clearly, his conception of stand-up comedy and mine...

  6. CHAPTER TWO Stand-up Comedy Comes to Canada
    (pp. 18-34)

    There are no written histories of stand-up comedy in Canada. Canada’s role in this form of entertainment, as in many others, has been that of borrower from the United States - because of proximity, first borrower. Nowhere can Canada be seen as a contributor to the line of development that started with Mark Twain, notwithstanding the success in the United States of some famous comics who got their start in Canada, more of which later.

    Still, the history of comedy in Canada is similar in many ways to that in the United Sates. Vaudeville eventually came to Canada (Lenton 1985),...

  7. CHAPTER THREE Comedy Club Comedy
    (pp. 35-58)

    The comedy club is the heart of stand-up comedy, while the comics are its soul. It is in the comedy club that the majority of respondents in this study started their careers. Here they learned about the occupational subculture of stand-up comics. Here they discovered the highs and lows in their chosen line of work - what it is like to “kill” (make the audience laugh hard) and to “bomb.”

    Foibles is a fictitious club in Toronto, presented here as a typical setting for stand-up comedy in Canada. A number of exceptions to and variations on Foibles will be noted...

  8. CHAPTER FOUR So You Think You’re Funny
    (pp. 59-71)

    Chapters 4 through 6 centre on the career of the stand-up comic and the social contexts in which this career unfolds, namely, the comedy club and “the road.” In the course of these chapters we will move back and forth among three perspectives: a sociological perspective on the comic’s career, an empirical perspective on interview data, and an ethnographic perspective on life in clubs and on the road.

    In entertainment, a career is the passage of a person through stages that carry him or her into and through amateur status and possibly on to professional status. The career includes adjustments...

  9. CHAPTER FIVE Becoming a Comic
    (pp. 72-94)

    Unlike many fields, stand-up comedy and sports make a clear-cut distinction between amateur and professional. Regular participants in leisure sport and comedy are serious amateurs, or people following a complex and deeply engaging line of activity to which they are committed (Stebbins 1982). Some are eventually promoted to professional status by a “gatekeeper” who judges the person in question as good enough for full-time work. In team sport the amateur is promoted - that is, hired - by one or two gatekeepers, a coach or a personnel manager. Similarly, in club comedy a booking agent or room manager makes professionals...

  10. CHAPTER SIX The Road
    (pp. 95-123)

    “The road” symbolizes many things in the career of the professional comic. For example, the first remunerated road trip (as opposed to an unremunerated showcase trip) is a sign that the young comic has entered the career stage of establishment and acquired the occupational status of a professional entertainer. Amateurs look forward to going on the road for this reason alone.

    But life of the road loses its appeal for most performers. They come to yearn for a work routine that has them employed in one city, with perhaps a few trips each year to give concerts and perform sets...

  11. CHAPTER SEVEN The Comedy Business
    (pp. 124-140)

    The comic’s view of business people in comedy is like the man’s view of women expressed by the ancient Greek playwright Aristophanes: “You can’t live with them, and you can’t live without them.” The principal business people with whom the road warrior is in contact are booking agents, personal managers, and room managers or owners. The termmanagerhas been used throughout this book to refer to both managers and owners, since they are often the same person. If not, the manager is normally the one responsible for the policies and actions that directly affect the comics he or she...

  12. APPENDIX: Interview Guide for Professional Comics
    (pp. 141-144)
  13. Notes
    (pp. 145-150)
  14. Bibliography
    (pp. 151-154)
  15. Index
    (pp. 155-160)