I have lately been watching lot of stand-up comedies — it is a break-away from TV commercials and movies and sometimes can be insightful too. But how do they work? As is true with fashion or movies, it is quite obvious that it takes lot of hard work to get to the top, but once you get there — it just seems like anything you say is laugh-worthy. How does that work? I have not spoken to any professionals, so here is my outsider view.

  1. It is programming — How else can we explain normal people buying expensive tickets to get inside and laugh non-stop for hours together? From the moment we decide to go for a show (or watch it at home), we make a conscious decision to laugh. From a comedian’s standpoint, his job is half-done the moment you step inside. This is not very different from a decision to take a laughing therapy class.
  2. We all like our identities called out — How many times have you watch a stand-up dig that doesn’t have the lines, “Are there any Asians out there?”. Replace “Asians” with your own ethnicity — even as we might outwardly despise racially or ethnically charged comedy, we like our identities called out — especially in a diverse audience.
  3. Connecting the dots — None of this is to diminish the magic of the comedians. I believe the professionals are very good at observing, documenting and connecting the dots. You and I don’t document everyday humor — which is precisely why they are good at what they do. Their digs last several minutes — sometimes more than 40 minutes — but the process of comedy is very profound. They find “anchor” themes — and connect just about everything they talk about, to the anchor theme. As an example, when Russell Peters says, “Somebody is going to get hurt” — we all laugh
  4. Domino effect — This is the least of the factors, but worth mentioning. Whether it is listening to music or watching movies or watching a comedy — the biggest embarrassment you can have is when you don’t “get it” — especially when everyone else is responding — by a laugh or an applause or whatever.
  5. Politically Incorrect — Stand-up comedy, it seems, is an automatic license to say politically incorrect things — you can call anyone by their stereotypes and perhaps explicitly and vulgarly so. All of a sudden, it is okay to do so, along with using profanity and cuss words — whereas you will frown upon it, the moment you finish watching the show.

At the end, the things that inspire the comedians to pick up what I call “leads” are available to everyone — we just don’t process them and map them the way they do. And for that, I have the greatest admiration for these comedians — especially the ones that don’t use profanity/ vulgarity as their primary motif. On the second aspect, I have liked Maz Jobrani recently. Try him out.