The Art of Stand Up Comedy

by D.J. Johnson

Not every one is funny. We all may attempt to be a jokester from time to time, but the disciple of comedy takes real talent. It's not just the simple delivery of words, it's the combination of body mechanics, word play, and timing. Just like other artist, comedians often are relentless perfectionist, constantly pushing the boundaries of their talent. Lewis Black once said comedians would “sell our souls, those of us who have one, to find a magic formula that creates the greatest joke ever told.” Like other art forms comedians tend to be unapologetic about their jokes. Art pushes the boundary of society and makes you uncomfortable. To me that would sounds like the way a person feels at  Paul Mooney stand up. “NiggaNiggaNiggaNiggaNigga”.

Lol. The beautiful thing about comedians is that each comedian’s jokes can only work with them. Only Paul Mooney can deliver the lines...“The Nigga Pope….Who else can wear a chain and jewelry like that *dabs*” .

It wouldn’t be as funny if Wayne Brady said it. And only Andrew Dice Clay can make you laugh at dirty nursery rhyme characters. “*exhale smoke in the mic* Remember Mother Goose….Yeah *drags cig and shrugs*..I Fucked her... *exhales in mic*). To know Dice and his style is to be able to see him visually deliver this joke.

There are 3 creative elements to stage comedy that can not be overlooked: Word-play, timing, and stage precense/body language. We decided to reach out to a couple of comedians on the rise to get their input on how the art of their craft. I asked Atlanta comedian Joel Byars and Marie Faustin from NYC

Why is Timing important for a comedian?

Joel: “Comedy is similar to music in timing and rhythm. Doing stand-up in front of an audience is a dialogue, not monologue. Listening to the audience is a crucial skill that must be developed in order to achieve optimum timing. The term for being completely in sync with the audience is "roll." This allows comedians to build momentum and experience a creative flow state that keeps us one step ahead of the audience. Timing is what makes that "in the zone" feeling possible”

Marie Faustin, a NYC comedian and host of The Unofficial Expert Podcast added,

“It’s about the way you pace your jokes on stage as well is when you decide to tell a joke. Someone just died and you're making jokes in the clothes you wore to the funeral, is it too soon?”

The moment when you decide to deliver a punch line can determine whether you get an “Ah-ha haa!” or be called an @sshole. “How important is word play?”

Marie Faustin- “Sometimes the *way* you say something is more important than what you're actually saying. Your tone and where you pause while talking, can make or break a funny joke.”

Joel Byars- “Comedy is a language that can only be exercised on stage. Not only what you say matters, but also how you say it. The difference between a laugh and lull can be a single word. That is the grind of generating funny material. The typical success rate of finding a joke worth keeping is 1 out of every 20. Repetition and failure in front of a live audience are the harsh realities of being a stand-up comedian. Just understand when you see a comedian's one hour special, there are 20 hours of bombing that back it up.”

Gary Shandling

Gary Shandling



It must be hard for those comics who bomb night after night because what they say is funny. But the true joy is to watch them bomb at the jokes, or make a seemingly make complete fool of themselves telling moderately funny jokes. I'm a Star Wars generation kid so I remember a lot of weird comedians growing up. Their stage styles ran the gamut. You had your self-deprecating humor of Garry Shandling to fruitfully destructive comedy of Gallagher.

I can’t tell you one memorable joke of either one but I was a fan of Shandling I would him and think “He may shit his pants any moment”. Also i  honestly remember just HOW “funny”Gallagher was, but the real punchline always came when he smashed the shit outta that watermelon with a 15th century strong man circus mallot!

That shit was true poetry…..  see a Gallagher's TV special and was like a Tom and Jerry Kitchen fight come to live stage. So I again reached out to Atlanta Comedian Joel Byar and Jonathan Williams, Creative Director of ComedyHype.Com and asked them about the showmanship of comedy.

 How important is stage  presence and  Body Language for a comedian?

Joel: "The nonverbal communication is the comedian's most powerful mode when expressing feelings or attitudes. Studies have shown body language conveys over 50% of your message. Some of my favorite jokes get laughter based on physical cues and not verbal. Your body is an instrument and harnessing that power is when your jokes become 3-dimensional. On stage, a comedian is judged every eight seconds. Any waiver in physical confidence, the audience will sense fear and attack. A comedian must accept the alpha position and maintain dominant body language unless a joke requires otherwise. Some comedians have a more subdued personality on stage, and a more meager posture helps portray that. Every comedian has their own unique style, but what they say on stage must be reflected in their body language in order for the audience to truly connect."

Jon: "Body language is important because not only does the crowd hear you; in live stand-up they also see you. With your body language you can communicate exactly how you want the audience to perceive you. The late Bernie Mac is on record expressing the importance of confidence for a comedian so whenever you saw him on stage he stood tall letting the crowd know he belonged on the stage."

I initially thought that people were just born funny; you either had the gift of making someone laugh or you didn't. I grew to realize that is is just like every other discipline of art. It requires passion, hard work, discipline and the artist find that “thing” that makes them funny. , Over the next several weeks AB+L radio will be working with recognized a series of comedic artist that are making noise in the creative streets!

Written by: DJ Johnson for Invert The World Art & Design.

DJ Johnson is the Director of Operations for AB+L Radio.

Check out his  website for more of his work.