A Vulgar Art
A New Approach to Stand-Up Comedy
The first examination of stand-up comedy through the lens of folklore
In A Vulgar Art Ian Brodie uses a folkloristic approach to stand-up comedy, engaging the discipline's central method of studying interpersonal, artistic communication and performance. Because stand-up comedy is a rather broad category, people who study it often begin by relating it to something they recognize--"literature" or "theatre"; "editorial" or "morality"--and analyze it accordingly. A Vulgar Art begins with a more fundamental observation: someone is standing in front of a group of people, talking to them directly, and trying to make them laugh. So this book takes the moment of performance as its focus, that stand-up comedy is a collaborative act between the comedian and the audience.
Although the form of talk on the stage resembles talk among friends and intimates in social settings, stand-up comedy remains a profession. As such, it requires performance outside of the comedian's own community to gain larger and larger audiences. How do comedians recreate that atmosphere of intimacy in a roomful of strangers? This book regards everything from microphones to clothing and LPs to Twitter as strategies for bridging the spatial, temporal, and socio-cultural distances between the performer and the audience.
"A folklorist, Brodie presents a different approach to what George Carlin called the 'vulgar art' of stand-up comedy: he looks at the relationship of the performer and the audience through the lens of folklore. Though the extended net of the folklorist may have a looser mesh and miss relevant information that more focused approaches would reveal, the method does bring the audience to the fore. The environment of stand-up--a venue, a stage for focus, a microphone for amplification--is notable for its variety, a variety in which the professional must communicate and entertain up close and with material that is effective and, more important, funny. Folklorist Elliott Oring's description of humor as an 'appropriate incongruity' gives the framework to the comedian's problem. In describing a performer-audience interaction based on a need for love and power, Brodie makes a significant addition to understanding the nature of stand-up. The volume includes a videography as well as a bibliography and discography. Summing up: recommended. "
--P. L. Derks, emeritus, College of William and Mary, CHOICE- UPM
"A highly insightful, eloquently written study that explains, through application of folkloristic methodology, how stand-up comedians create an atmosphere of intimacy and evoke laughter from strangers. This will be a valuable addition to the libraries of scholars in a number of fields, as well as readers who enjoy stand-up comedy and want to learn how it works. "
--Elizabeth Tucker, author of Haunted Halls: Ghostlore of American College Campuses and coeditor (with Ellen McHale) of New York State Folklife Reader: Diverse Voices- UPM