Stand-up comics are keen-eyed observers who skillfully infuse their unique perspectives with candor and wit. It’s an art that attracts defiant and unconventional thinkers. Says renowned British comedian Jimmy Carr, “The best quote I have ever heard about performing comedy is that in a room of 2,000 people you are the one person facing the wrong way.”
Many comedians began honing their skills in childhood, as a protective measure against bullies. Alone on a stage with their microphone, they soon learn that the one thing more painful than being laughed at, is to never be laughed at, at all.
Ten renowned comedians explain why they devote themselves to this exasperating and elusive craft of stand-up comedy:
1. I had a sense of not quite belonging, which I think… most comedians have. I did well at school, went to college and got a good job and was doing very nicely. Then, at the age of 26, I thought, ‘I am going to join the circus. I am going to be a comedian.’
2. Before doing my first open mic, I was sitting in the back watching all these comedians banter back and forth and fire jokes and up each other, and I thought, This is where I wanna be… When I was working in offices, they were repeating something funny they’d heard on SNL or The Simpsons, but these guys were inventing it. I wanted to be upriver at the source, not downriver where they’re collecting it.
3. Funny is funny, it’s like a force… Nothing good in you is making you do this. It’s something despicable in your character. Just instead of becoming a murderer or a criminal, you turn it into something relatively positive – not particularly useful to society – but important.
4. Well it’s pretty nerve-wracking, so that in itself is a relief of pressure when you get on stage. But there’s something wonderful about hearing people laugh, especially if it’s something that’s important to me like mental illness. Those laughs can feel really affirming. The brain chemistry of performing is also helpful and I genuinely feel great after a show.
5. Because I think that comedy starts with an individual voice in relation to a confusing world. If it’s good. Anyone’s personal truth is about as truthful as you can get … My stand-up, really, is more socio-, cultural, political observations and sort of exploring my own kind of neurosis through sort of formed stuff.
6. There are a lot of questions I keep asking myself about why I do comedy. I guess I laugh to keep from crying. And I guess if you ever get me crying, I might not stop. This is the way I look at tragedy or else I’ll cry.
7. Every human being wants to connect with humanity in whatever way we can. For me, stand-up comedy is a way to do that, but with gloves on.
8. I love touring because I love the uncensored nature of being in front of a live audience. I mean, nobody can really stop me from saying something.
9. And do you know what I like about comedy? You can’t laugh and be afraid at the same time — of anything. If you’re laughing, I defy you to be afraid.
10. My tendency to make up stories and lie compulsively for the sake of my own amusement takes up a good portion of my day and provides me with a peace of mind not easily attainable in this economic climate.