After attending a "Talk and Tease" Show at the Bamboozle Room- where stand up comedy meets burlesque, a well known Sydney based burlesque commentator confessed to me that he is just not a fan of stand up comedy. The commentator said that the comedians in the show “seemed relatively professional” but he just doesn’t enjoy stand up comedy as a genre of live entertainment. He explained why…
“Stand up comedians pay little attention to movement and facial expression, all of which would ultimately enhance their craft. Its not impressive for someone to stand before an audience in their ordinary clothes…Stand up is maybe suitable for radio but it lacks enough aesthetic appeal to to be worthwhile live.”
This really got me thinking.
Until that moment I had taken for granted that stand up comedy as a genre was impossible to dislike, and it was simply a matter of finding the right comedians to suit different senses of humour. I had always assumed stand up comedy to be one of the rawest, bravest and therefore best genres of live performance. All that had now come into question with this burlesque commentator's dim look on stand up comedy...
Stand up Comedy vs. Burlesque
Only days earlier, I had been talking with a very well respected comedy professional from Sydney who performs regularly in the Bamboozle Room. We had remarked at the similarities between burlesque and stand up, particularly the comedic aspect between the two:
“As a burlesque dancer, if a gag or satirical element in performance is falling flat, it can feel brutal on stage but at least you always have nudity to fall back on; costume removal, body reveal or doing some athletic trick like the splits can get the audience back on board.” I joked.
To which this comedy professional replied:
“For comedians the same process happens, but since comedians don’t have the option to get naked, they instinctively start stripping away the layers of self preservation, bearing more of their self, insecurities and all, to try and win the audience over with brutal, self exposing honesty.”
After mulling this over, I decided to write this little article.
Now I had two very different view points from two people very familiar with live performance…one highlighting the stark differences between burlesque and stand up (from an audience’s perspective) and the other highlighting the common ground (from a performer’s perspective).
Although stand up comedy is not a visual spectacle in the way burlesque is, that does not mean it has nothing to offer a live audience.
From what I’ve seen of the professional comedians in the Bamboozle Room, gesture, movement (sometimes intentional stillness), facial expression, tone of voice and timing are all essential but sometimes subtle, parts of a stand up set. (Good) Stand up comedians feed off their audience. They have to make real time decisions about how far to push the boundaries and sensibilities of their audience, and be able to recover when a gag has fallen flat. To me such skills are at the heart of what live performance is all about.
As a burlesque entertainer, I admire stand up comedians for their guts to to entertain audiences without the luxury of relying on glitzy costumes, glamour or athletic tricks.
I've now had the chance to see many stand up comedians in the Bamboozle Room, some of which are Sydney's best local comedians. I now know that when stand up comedy goes bad it can be as brutal as watching a train wreck. If performers going out on a limb like that doesn’t make engaging live entertainment, I don’t know what does!
The Happy Ending
What I learnt from this little thought experiment was that Talk and Tease- Stand up comedy meets Burlesque” brings to Sydney such a fun and unique night of live entertainment because its brings these two different yet compatible performance genres together...
Surely the fiasco of feathers, sequins and the bumpin' and grindin’ of Burlesque is enhanced when contrast with the plan clothed quips of stand up comedians?
Doesn't a comedian’s willingness to make fun of themselves help an audience relax their guard and enjoy Burlesque’s lighthearted celebration of human sexuality?
This article only scratches the surface of the similarities and differences between Stand-up comedy and Burlesque. However, regardless of whether you prefer stand up or burlesque, its the commonalities and contrast between the two that make it so much more interesting to enjoy them side by side.
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