What is a stand-up comedy?
Stand-up comedy is a style of performance in which a comedian acts in front of a live audience, speaking directly to them and in certain circumstances creating short dialogues and interactions. Usually, comedians of this genre perform a fast-paced sequence of funny episodes, quick lines called ‘bits’, and one-liners, which form in the whole structure what is commonly known as a monologue, routine, or act.
The ideas and topics that each comedian offers ought to be a mirror of their own sense of humor, which then turns into a stand-up comedy routine closely tailored to the stage. Specifically, whatever a comedian chooses to speak about, onstage tends to reflect the way in which he perceives all the aspects of daily experience and the way they trigger his point of view. And not only that, hot topics from current affairs, sociology, politics, etc. may even be included within the comedian’s script, such that the public can contextualize jokes in an easier manner.
Based on their own experience, stand-up comedians mainly recount commonplaces that happen to everyone in funny and spontaneous, off-the-cuff language, in such a way that the spectator is also identified and involved in the story being told. In this kind of comedy, no censorship exists, spectators pay the ticket for the show simply to be entertained by controversial and off-beat comedy. The atmosphere thus recreated in the club and the bond between people is free, informal, and without specific restrictions.
Historically, modern stand-up developed in American comedy clubs and TV shows during the 1960s where the actor had a free license to speak and deal with any subject. From this point onwards, this style evolved in various forms and gradually spread worldwide. Indeed, is there nowadays a common international language among comedians of this genre?
American sources have undoubtedly influenced foreign comedians in their gestures and the way they deal with audiences. However, independent stand-up comedy cultures that developed in various countries are intensely linked to the cultural identity of their own country of origin.
Teacher vs stand up comedian
Starting from this premise, if you really think about it, teachers and stand-up comedians have some features in common. Yes, stand-ups and teachers are similar!
What are these common features in general? Both stand alone in front of an audience, they need to arrange a speech with a clearly defined purpose and subject matter, transmit accurate information and then keep the audience focused on the discussion. The common ground between comedians and teachers lies in the shaping of straightforward ideas to spark curiosity, interactivity, and participation through a communication strategy tailored to the characteristics of the audience. The success of a lecture or comic performance depends above all on speaking skills, preparation of the subject, and strong critical thinking that allows adjustment to the various interests of the audience.
However, even if these two professions have some traits in common, of course, they maintain distinct social and cultural functions that cannot be simplistically overlapped.
On the one hand, the stand-up comedian aims to entertain the crowd, telling weird facts about everyday common behavior, incidents, and society’s taboos in a way that involves and gives insight into the world surrounding us. The key to laughter is to find the right line at the right time. Moreover, through the principle of benign violation, the comedian can even overcome certain limits of public morality to bring about amusement.
On the other hand, teachers likewise face the challenge of keeping their lessons interesting and innovative by finding the best communicative practices to capture their students’ attention on the topic and stimulate at the same time active participation through dialogue. In a time where the attention span of students shifts rapidly, this learning aspect might be more and more challenging to improve in the classroom.
However, the teacher, while explaining, cannot exceed certain moral limits as the stand-up comedian accomplishes. The social and cultural function of education is different. Education could be entertaining, but it cannot cross certain barriers.
Introducing stand-up and humor in the classroom
Humor is described by the Penguin English Dictionary as, the ‘Capacity for seeing the funny side of things, cheerful and good-tempered amusement.’ In a broader sense, it is the attitude, behavior, and expression of those who are naturally inclined to joke about everything, it may be furthermore widely qualified as the ability to be witty or hilarious, the skill to provoke laughter in others.
Education is what remains after one has forgotten what one has learned in school.
By the way, humor could also be embedded in the classroom through stand-up comedy techniques. Moreover, several researchers stated that the use of humor in the classroom can bring tremendous benefits to teaching methods and learning strategies. A component that can help shatter the monotony of specific learning approaches and allow students to fix notions in their memory.
It has been demonstrated that teachers’ usage of humor as a pedagogical method or as a relational and management tool may result in improvements in scholars’ concentration, motivation, and knowledge. Furthermore, comedy could be involved to create a more relaxed, positive, and engaging learning environment for students, also helping them to share personal information and create friendly interactions.
Humor and telling jokes are definitely the primary ingredients of stand-up comedy, nevertheless, they are just a component of numerous communicative tools and strategies employed by comedians to entertain and handle the dialogic connection with the public. Some methodologies related to engagement, conversation, and speaking might be helpful to push the lecture to a further stage. Let’s discover what teachers can learn from stand-up comedians!
The fundamental aspect that the comedian has to manage in order to perform at his best is preparation. It is not true that comedians most of the time improvise, in some cases they do, but very frequently their speeches are the outcome of hard training and memorization. The structure of the script is extremely clear in their mind and there are topics that can only be brought together through continuous practice and experience on stage.
Read the room
The comedian stands alone on the stage and has to grasp the interest of the audience. It is therefore necessary to have a strong ability to perceive the impact of the speech and if it might be well tailored for the listeners. Reading the interest in the eyes of the people we are talking to can help to choose whether to go deeper into the topic or change the subject instantly. At the end of the performance, it is also of crucial importance to collect feedback both from the audience and possibly from colleagues in order to correct imperfections and improve the speech.
The tone of voice mastery
Entire monologues can be structured focusing on voice variation. This can strengthen the content or even communicate the opposite through sarcastic intonation for instance. Indeed, the comedian highlights the punchline with his tone of voice. The skillful use of pauses enables the listener to remain focused. In this way, even silence can contain a precise meaning, create suspense, or emphasize what one has just finished explaining.
Make it personal
Stand-up comedians used to address people directly, talking to the audience, especially in the front rows. Noticing people’s reactions and pointing them out led to friendly vibes and increased interest in the room. The right touch of self-mockery can also be the key to not appearing too detached, making it clear that you are on the same level as the whole group. Obviously, everything needs to be properly balanced to avoid being outrageous and offensive.
The comedian has a well-defined portion of time on stage, when the minutes are up the microphone is taken away and there is no extra time to close the speech. The ability to foresee time stretches in jokes also permits the comic to create some digressions from the main theme. Time management is an indispensable skill that is honed with practice and training.
Stand-up activities for the classroom
Write comic stories or stripes by making lists of three acts
Practice comic storytelling by placing a consequence between the actions in groups of three acts. In the first act, you can write the beginning of the story, where information is structured to furnish the general context. Then, in the second act, right in the middle, the characters who are trying to reach objectives encounter a disruptive agent or troublemaker. Finally, in the third act, the end of the story, the characters find a solution that comically reverses the situation.
Practicing similes and comparisons
Design group or individual activities aimed at formulating similes and comparisons on objects around us or on proposed images can be useful in developing a greater understanding of texts, writing skills, and increasing vocabulary. Adding a pinch of humor will lead to many laughs! e.g. That door is as crooked as the Leaning Tower of Pisa or The kitchen is so dirty that it looks like an army has passed through.
Creating a funny comic strip out of a painting
Print out a picture of a painting with many characters that nobody knows. Ask everyone to build a funny story on top of it. Then, from the script, they can produce a cartoon dialogue to be applied directly to the picture. In the end, everyone will have their own comic strip to read to their classmates. Lastly, explain the meaning of the picture and laugh about the differences between their story’s interpretation and the message the artist wanted to convey.
Create a Heat Map
On the one hand, the Heat Map can be carried out in an engaging way as an icebreaker in the classroom to get to know each other and prepare a safe learning environment. Firstly, ask the students to write a list of a few features about themselves that make them feel out of the ordinary. Then, ask them to share their information with the class. This can lead to humorous commonalities and trigger nice debates. At this stage, you can invite them to create funny stories by using this list of information.
On the other hand, the Heat Map could be used to collect feedback at the end of the lesson, using the same former methodology, students can express their preferences on specific topics to be covered in forthcoming lessons. In this way, the teacher, thanks to this mapping of interests, can steer the lesson plan to more attractive topics. This activity is suggested by Carmine Rodi, our Course Director in Prague, who is an experienced stand-up comedian and teacher trainer in the comic field.
Interview with an Italian stand-up comedian
We had the pleasure to interview the Italian stand-up comedian Chiara Becchimanzi, an actress with a multifaceted academic background and also a teacher. We spoke with her about her experience on stage and in schools, focusing on the role of humor in the classroom and the possible role of stand-up comedy in education.
Are you curious? Then enjoy the interview!
In conclusion, humor and stand-up comedy, when used properly, can enhance a student’s educational experience and facilitate a positive environment in the classroom. Humor holds the main function in its application in the learning process, namely the role of entertaining, influencing, criticizing, and animating the atmosphere. A lesson structured with these engaging features can facilitate students in active learning, memorization, and peer-to-peer interactions.
If you are interested in learning, you might join one of our Erasmus courses on the topic:
- Public Speaking with Humor and Comedy for Teachers and Educators
- Public Speaking for Teachers: Building Charisma and Confidence
- Design the Positive: Positive Thinking, Positive Communication, and Positive School Spaces
What are you waiting for? Transform your lesson with a laugh!
This article has been written within the Erasmus+ Project LearningOutLoud.
- Nesteroff, Kliph, “The Comedians: Drunks, Thieves, Scoundrels and the History of American Comedy”, 2016
- Rutter, Jason. “Stand-up as interaction : performance and audience in comedy venues.”, 1997.
- Valiante, Alessandro, “Can Stand-Up Comedy be Used to Improve Classroom Management? An In-Depth Examination and Comparative Analysis of Stand-Up Comedy and Classroom Management Practices”, McGill University, 2021
- Wortley Amy, Elizabeth Dotson, “Stand up comics: instructional humor and student engagement”, Grand Canyon University, 2016