The comedy axis

As I’ve been doing a bit of sketch comedy in the last year, I’ve been trying to figure out if I want to keep going with it and if I should try stand-up. Some of this is figuring out what type of comedian I am. 

Since I’ve been thinking a lot about this, I decided to create a comedy spectrum where I place comedians on various parts of an x-y axis.

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Some of this comes out of something my sister recently relayed to me that Marc Maron says. I guess he talks about the stand-up comedian versus sketch comedian divide, how the stand-up tends to be tortured and angry and the sketch writer is more of a happy-go-lucky funny man or woman. I may be describing that divide incorrectly, but I think there is some truth to it. Not that I think all stand-ups are angry and all sketch artists are happy-go-lucky, but I do think there is a kind of spectrum of comedian and type of comedy and stand-ups tend to fall on the angry side while sketch comics are a bit more sunny. Again, not a hard and fast rule, just a general one.

I think my favorite type of comedy is the kind that comes from a place of anger, anger at society, anger at people, etc. I think of the comedy of Richard Pryor, Eddie Murphy back in the day, George Carlin. I like this comedy not only because it shines the light on society and its ills but it does it in a way that isn’t as grating or hard to listen to as someone actually being angry. 

Then there is comedy that is more about transporting us away from the crap of society, which I refer to in my spectrum below as absurdist comedy where there isn’t much conflict, i.e. “all good” comedy. Some of my favorite sketches like Mr. Show’s the Audition embody this, I think.

But there are many sketches that, though on the surface seem silly, have darker connotations, such as the Matt Foley sketches or the Cabin Boy sketches on SNL.

I think what is important above all else is being able to do whatever comedy speaks to you well. There’s bad conflict/realist comedy and bad absurdist/all good comedy. A lot of it boils down to the skill of the comedian and how well the comedian knows his or her own voice. There are times I feel like one type of comedy and times I feel like the other type. But there are definitely types, and I think figuring out what type you are is akin to figuring out what your voice is if you’re a fiction writer and ultimately to know who you are. It need not define you, but it does help to understand where you’re coming from.