In the article linked above, “Standup Comity”, Boston comic and Onion contributor, Steve Macone gives a detailed recap of comedy scholars performing stand-up, some of them for the very first time, at the 2011 International Society for Humor Studies Conference.
Not that anyone calls out ‘spoiler alert’ for recaps/write-ups/essays/etc., but, just in case, SPOILER ALERT: at the end of this article, Macone comments on the divisive attitude that most comics have on comedy scholars and their general dismissal of whatever theory they come up with. Instead of the “hate that people who study comedy get the luxury of feeling like they know anything about comedy when we are told every night that we do not,” I humbly believe that this “hate” rests on the idea that comedians are being told what comedy is and what it isn’t and subsequently, how they can and can’t do it by people who don’t experience how freeing and terrifying trying to making people laugh by yourself can be on a regular basis.
The problem with comedy theory and those that are dedicated to studying it through a laptop or, even worst, in a laboratory is that stand-up is hardly ever done through a database or in a brightly lit, white room with high ceilings and little audience. It’s done in cramped, dark comedy clubs, bars, coffee shops, and sometimes under a floodlamp in a public park on a nightly basis. In a laboratory setting, Tig Notaro doing her bit about pushing a stool around stage might prove to be more weird than funny out of context. However, within the context of a comedy show, it’s hilarious and has killed the 10 or more times I’ve seen it.
More so than ever, comedy, especially that of stand-up, is in a revolutionary phase where it’s constantly redefining and rejecting itself over and over. As this is the case, comedy scholars, theorists, observers, and so forth should concern themselves less with the tired concerns of making jokes about rape, the comedic standing of a gender, or how to fully contextualize their hypothesis on comedy as it relates to cultural norms through a witty (or not so witty as the case may be) title and its scientific explanation preceded by a colon in the title (ex. “A Comic Rejoinder to American Culture’s Hegemony of Sensitivity: White, Hyper-Masculinity in HBO’s Comedy Series Eastbound and Down”).
In short, studying stand-up comedy now isn’t about the content. Anthony Jeselnik and his no-topic-goes-untouched approach to jokes have proven that even the most racy of topics can be made funny. Comedy scholars should be focusing on is the Andy Kaufman Award competition, Rory Scovel and Jon Dore performing their acts simultaneously on Conan to uproarious laughter, or perhaps how Bill Cosby crafted his famous 26 minute track on “To My Brother Russell, Whom I Slept With” or Emo Phillips’ joke on religion (regarded as one of the best jokes on religion). These are all things that redefine the form in a legitimate way, but go, for the most part, unstudied and appreciated only by comedy nerds.
Instead of trying to confine comedy in their understanding of it, comedy scholars would be much more appreciated by comics if they attempted to find new ways to make people laugh, just like comics do on a nightly basis.