What Is Stand Up Comedy?


Robin Williams, Dave Chappelle, Jerry Seinfeld. The names of each of these stand up comedians is sure to send shivers down your spine from the adrenaline rush comedy brings to us all.

Stand-up comedy has become a more popular form of comedy as of late. So it seems like everyone ought to know what stand-up comedy already is.

But many folks still don’t realize just how much goes into a stand-up comedy routine. Much less, all that a stand-up comic has to go through.

What Is Stand Up Comedy

And we don’t just mean the life experience a comic has to go through in order to generate new content for their show. But what the industry of comedy looks like nowadays.

Maybe you’re just a fan. And you’d rather let the live performance speak for itself.

But maybe you’re looking to bring a modern stand-up comedian into the office. You know, in an attempt to bring corporate folks together like audience members do in comedy clubs.

Well, if that’s the case, then you’ll certainly want to understand what exactly you’re bringing into the office, right? So consider this article a complete guide to what stand-up comedy is and what you can expect when you hire a clean comedian.

Ready to dive right in? Or simply stand up? (Sorry not sorry.)

Stand up comedy definition

Okay, the baseline definition. Stand-up comedy is literally a comedian who tells funny stories through comedic performances by speaking directly to a live audience in an attempt to get that audience laughing.

Really, that’s all it is. But don’t think that means it’s easy.

Stand-up comedy constantly requires new material and backup jokes. (You know, those extra humorous stories a comedian pulls out when they feel they’re losing the audience?)

And a physical presence that allows one liners to (almost) deliver themselves. In short, a successful comedian and their stand-up set is an art form.

It’s having too many jokes and knowing which ones to include during stage time. And it’s constantly learning from other comics by watching them perform.

When in a corporate setting, stand-up comedy pretty much remains the same. The only difference is the content. And who said clean couldn’t be funny?

See Related: Funny Stand Up Comedians You Can Watch With The Whole Family

A brief history of stand up comedy

Little baby stand-up comedy got its start in vaudeville in New York City, taking root from variety shows and monologists. As stand-up comedy grew, it turned into really anything other comedians put into it.

That might be magic tricks or a peculiar type of comic style. But most importantly, the culture defined the content of the stand-up comedy. Heck, culture defines it still.

Over time, comedy writing started to take a definite form. And the jokes written were set up in a way where one joke referenced an earlier joke.

Then that joke informed the final joke, AKA the funniest part of the set. Well, you get it.

So what we know of stand-up comedy today isn’t simply a stand-up set. It’s a show and art form that’s been in the making for quite some time.

And always with the same intention too: to get that inimitable audience laugh. (Ooh! Don’t you just get chills thinking about that audience laughter you’ve been waiting to receive all night?)

Types of stand-up comedy

It’s easy to think that stand-up comedy is all the same. But that couldn’t be farther from the truth.

Take a look through the list below to see just how many different genres that are within stand-up comedy. And pay attention to the kind of humor you’d feel comfortable bringing into the office.

(Because let’s be honest. Comedy isn’t always one size fits all. Maybe most. But definitely not all.)

Alternative comedy

You know how alternative music just means not-mainstream? Well, that’s the same way it goes in comedy.

Stand up comedy has a variety of different genres of comedy within it

Alternative comedy is less structured than comedy that’s distributed commercially and explores new material in experimentalist ways. Really, this genre, in and of itself, is vast since every comedian performs a different way.

Character comedy

Some comedians are just really good at playing a variety of characters. And that’s exactly what goes into their comedy set.

Here are just a few examples to jog your memory: Pee-wee Herman. Mr. Bean. The Tramp.

Comedy music

Comedy music is exactly what it sounds like – when a comedian uses a musical instrument or even their own voice within a set. Perhaps the most notable modern comedic musician is Bo Burnham.

I mean, have you checked out his latest special, “INSIDE”? Perfect example of comedy music.

DIY comedy

Remember how alternative comedy was alternative to mainstream comedy? Well, DIY comedy is the alternative to the alternative!

Really, you can’t make this stuff up. But that’s the joy of stand-up comedy: there’s room for everyone.


Improvisational comedy, or typically called improv, is when a comedian invents their material on the spot. It might be a solo show where the performer makes enough jokes out of material given by the audience.

Or, it might be a multiple-comedian show where they play off of each other. Like in Whose Line Is It Anyway!

Insult comedy

Insult comedy is pretty much exactly what it sounds like. It’s insulting. And those insults might be directed at the audience.

Or, directed at a common enemy that everyone in the audience loves to hate on. Needless to say, this might not be the type of stand-up comedy you would bring into the office.

Unless the insults are directed at Mondays. What? Everybody hates Mondays…

Bonus: What Are Team Building Skills?

Observational comedy

We really can’t think of a better example of observational comedy than the one and only Jerry Seinfeld. His material was always about normality and social norms.

Then, poking fun at it to change the audience’s way of thinking. Just think, you bring in a corporate entertainer and find out that there’s isn’t just a one and only way of doing things around the office!

Political satire

Another self-explanatory genre of stand-up comedy. But we’ll indulge you.

Hiring a corporate entertainer will help bring your office mates closer together

Political satire revolves around political material, whether that be political figures, establishments, or ideologies. Again, probably not something you want to bring into the office, but feel real to enjoy on a Saturday night!

Surreal humor

Surreal humor is an interesting road to travel on. It often relies on long, meandering stories.

And includes a variety of unusual characters. Some argue that it’s a form of alternative comedy, but we’ll let you be the judge for yourself!

Typical format of a stand-up show

Of course, you probably won’t be planning on taking your entire office to New York to see a stand-up show. (Or maybe you’re just that kind of boss!)

But here’s a typical format of a stand-up show. That way, you’re more familiar with the comedy world when hiring an entertainer to stop by.

And you’ll know the proper lingo to use when hiring them out. Unless, of course, you want to have that awkward banter on the phone.

(“Hey! Can you do a thing for our office, you know, make them laugh and then… yeah?” Oof, the cringe is real. No really, that hurt from here.)


The opening act (or virtual emcee in these COVID times) often performs for around ten minutes. This is enough time for the emcee to warm the audience up, make any announcements, introduce the other performers, and generally interact.

Stand up comedy involves speaking directly to the audience instead of imagining they are not there

This sounds like an easy job. But hiring a top-notch master of ceremonies is a great way to invest in the rest of the night’s success!


At a typical comedy show, a featured performer would do a set that lasts around thirty minutes. This is, of course, a step up from the opening act.

And it’s often reserved for comedians who are looking to make a name for themselves. You know, get their names out there while also having enough time to watch the headlining act!


The headliner is generally who the audience came for. And their set lasts roughly an hour.

This is probably the type of performer you’d want to bring into the office as they’ll have the experience needed to facilitate a room for quite some time. So consider looking up some virtual comedians to introduce into your office space!

Other types of stand-up shows

And you really thought that stand-up was just a simple little gig at the beginning of this article, didn’t you? But we’re just getting started…

Open mics

An open mic can happen anywhere from comedy clubs to local bars. They’re a great opportunity for those who are new in the comedy scene to dip their toes into the set and test out anything new.

That being said, professional comedians still perform at open mics, especially when they’re working on something new. So they’re a great opportunity for comedians of all backgrounds and statures to network and learn from one another.

Showcase format

A comedy showcase is designed to give multiple comedians the chance to perform back to back. There will typically be a host or emcee still at a showcase.

But instead of a featured act, then headliner, each performer is given an equal amount of time to perform. That way, everyone gets a fair chance to make their mark on the audience.


Comedy festivals are the next big networking event. Again, it’s a chance for comedians to come together, regardless of where they’re at in their career, and learn from one another.

An open mic is a great place for comedians to network and test out new content for their respective shows

Additionally, talent scouts and industry professionals will attend comedy festivals in search of the next best hire. So you may even find your next corporate entertainer there too!

Bringer shows

Bringer shows are open mics but with a catch. In order for an amateur performer to secure stage time, they must bring a specific number of paying guests.

There is some debate over whether this method is actually helpful or not. But as far as you’re concerned, this could be a great way to source other entertainers.

Or, you can even keep an ear out around the office to see if anyone was included in the guest party at one of these bringer showers. You never know who might have some amazing connections around the office.

Final thoughts

There’s no question that comedy has the power to bring people together. But we bet you didn’t know just how much went into the art of comedy itself!

Hopefully, this guide helped you piece together any loose ends you may have felt when thinking about stand-up comedy. And maybe even inspired you to bring in a stand-up comedian or two to the office when looking to change things up!

You might know what comedy looks like in the comedy club. But in the workplace, it really does have the potential to bridge gaps and foster team building unlike any other bonding activity could.

Because laughter is what connects all of us together. Okay, we’re not trying to get all mushy on you.

But comedy is just really cool, okay?! If we need to convince you otherwise, then we recommend a good joke to get you laughing.

Until then, we’ll be on the other side of the club. Laughing our heads off too!

Keep Reading: Why Comedy Keynotes Are The Best Speakers

Adam Christing is a professional comedy magician, virtual MC, and the founder of CleanComedians.com. He is a member of the world-famous Magic Castle in Hollywood and a popular corporate entertainer, magician, and virtual speaker.