Is All Stand-up Comedy Material Based Upon Tragedy?

One of the things that I firmly believe can hold comedians back is how they perceive the terminology often associated with stand-up comedy.

You may come across something that reads like this:

All comedy is based upon tragedy.

While "tragedy" is certainly one basis for comedy material, it tends to lead a person to assume that expressing some major life shattering event is the key to making audiences laugh in a big way.

The reality is that the basis for comedy material is far more diverse than just tragedy as most people would tend to perceive it.

In other words, I believe that a much better characterization for the basis of most comedy actually involves varying degrees of “less than ideal outcomes” on various levels that are personal to the comedian.

Let me give you some examples of what I am referring to (not all inclusive):

  • Communication misunderstandings
  • Inability, difficulty or failure to accomplish a desired goal
  • Experiences that didn’t quite happen as planned or resulted in unexpected circumstances
  • Frustration or irritation concerning anything
  • Differences of opinion or points of view
  • Any event, experience or circumstance seen as odd, absurd or ridiculous
  • Embarrassing situations or events 

As you can see, what I have presented doesn’t quite fall into the “tragedy” category as most people would perceive it to be (ie: life threatening situation).

I would also say that much of stand-up comedy that works to get big laughs could actually be categorized as common, routine, and possibly mundane.

In other words, there doesn’t have to be any literal “tragedy” involved at all.

Comedy material can be about an “easy open can” that you had to use a hacksaw to get into or a doctor visit that involved an intimately invasive exam without wine, candles and mood music.

We have all been in situations that at the time weren’t funny at all, for any number of reasons.

But as time passes, it becomes easier and easier to reflect what was funny about the situation in retrospect.

What I think is more important than trying categorize the basis of comedy in varying degrees of “tragedy” is that comedians know that they need to be able to use and structure their already developed sense of humor to generate frequent laughs and entertain audiences at the highest level that they can.

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