Stand-up comedians now make you gag, no joke

I read with interest . As a fan of
comedy and a journalist who has interviewed some of the world’s best comedians, I agree
with many of his conclusions.

We live in a golden age of comedy. Sydney and Melbourne have become stand-up comedy meccas much like New York, London and Montreal. Internationally, the stand-up world is thriving. Eddie Izzard is one of the world’s best comics, while Bill Bailey should be the world’s next David Attenborough.

Yet while comedy itself is thriving, I have noticed the decline of something else: the joke. Or
what we used to recognise as a joke.

I’m talking about humour that follows the standard joke formula of set-up, followed by punchline. I’m talking about jokes whose conclusion delivers a gasp of surprise, a titter of recognition or a chortle of recognised truth.

When I see stand-up, I want to walk away with a few zingers I can share with my mates in my back pocket, not a long, rambling anecdote that gets lost in translation.

If a comedian asks why did the chicken cross the road, I expect to hear something along the lines of “to get to the other side”: not a punchline-free diatribe about how the chicken comes from a family of oppressed coalminers and it’s a miracle it can find the courage to cross the road at all.

I was reminded of the lost art of the joke when I watched what one might euphemistically call a “non-marquee” comedian perform amid a star-studded line-up.

His act shone because he appeared to be telling “jokes”. Or, rather, he was following the historical formula of set-up followed by punchline. It felt like an old secret had been rediscovered.

There is a tendency among some comics to abandon the quest for jokes – to abandon the
desire to deliver a certain amount of laughs per minute or per hour – in pursuit of a looser
structure. This can include monologues, extended anecdotes, “surreal” humour or “satire”
(which, of course, doesn’t necessarily have to be funny – just “satirical”).

I realise that in today’s world jokes can be career-killers: hence the desire for safety. Yet the purpose of any stand-up routine must be to deliver laughs rather than head-nods of agreement.

They give comedy stores names such as Laugh Factory and Chuckle Hut, not Monologue Factory or Extended Anecdote Hut.

When I go to see comedy, I want to hear jokes. It’s up to the artist to fill that familiar
structure with whatever content they desire.

I just want a few good laughs in the next 90 minutes. Surely that’s not too much to ask.


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