I scroll through my Netflix queue and look at all the shows I want to watch. But I only have an hour to spare; do I really want to commit to a full episode of Luke Cage?
Instead I watch John Mulaney’s New in Town for the thirty-fourth time.
I think that the first time I heard a comedian who had not starred in a sitcom was on a car ride to the dollar store with my older sister. It was Demetri Martin’s special, These Are Jokes. I was probably about 14 at the time.
And thus began my stand-up addiction.
Favorites of mine include Brian Regan, Jim Gaffigan, Donald Glover, Bo Burnham, Demetri Martin, and yes, John Mulaney(Be advised – watch all at your own risk. Comedians are famously uncensored, and some of these are no exception). Netflix’s taping of live specials has also produced never-ending fuel for my need to be entertained, and over the past year and half, I’ve watched too many of them to even name.
And with the more-recent influx of comedian-related news(yes, we are still looking at you, Bill Cosby), I started wondering when funny men and women had the funny idea to tell jokes for a living.
Like most forms of art and entertainment, the first real comedians came from Greece. One of my favorite examples of this is from a play called The Clouds, written by Aristophanes. This ancient piece of literature reads more like a Harold and Kumar film than something written by a stuffy-old Greek. My favorite piece of dialogue -“I am amused at a lizard’s having pooped on Socrates.”
After that, the art of comedy gets a little lost, as do a lost of the arts before the European renaissance. Even as theatre and literature caught up with the rest of history, stand-up comedy as we know today did not exist for a long time.
The earliest resurgence of stand-up comics that I could find was in Great Britain in the 18th and 19th centuries. These acts, however, were so heavily censored that they required no improvisation from the comics and very little room for creative freedom.
Americans, meanwhile, had found freedom in entertainment with their popular vaudeville acts. Most of their jokes were based on stereotypes, often centered around ethnic groups or social standings. From here until the 1960s, comedians like Bob Hope and George Burns started appearing on the television, leading into the golden age of comedy.
New York City was and is a comic’s paradise. Names like Joan Rivers, Woody Allen, and Bob Newhart started in the city only to reach international fame. These days, comics still go to NYC in search of fame and, well, at least the rumor of fortune.
And these days, international comics are what we need. The freshest voices on the rise are as diverse as their jokes: Aziz Ansari, Nasim Pedrad, Leslie Jones, and those are just in America.
That’s really what a comedian is, when you think about it: everyday observations spoken in a different voice. It takes all people, with all viewpoints, to make a good joke.
And couldn’t we all use a little more laughter in this world?