A show at foible s
Shows at Foibles are typical of those presented in Canadian comedy clubs. Let us consider the first show Saturday night. Patrons begin arriving an hour or so before it starts, pay a cover charge of seven dollars (occasionally adjusted to compete with the cost of local cinemas, and sit down to a round or two of drinks, perhaps a snack from the kitchen. Popular recorded music mingles with cigarette smoke and conversation. The very informality of the room, along with the liquor, soon reduces the inhibitions of patrons as they wait for ShowTime.
The show at Foibles is reasonably typical, but there are several variations to note to complete our conception of Canadian stand-up comedy. At Foibles and many other clubs, shows and acts vary daily. Amateurs perform on Mondays, Tuesdays, or Wednesdays in five to ten-minute sets, depending on the room. These evenings are emceed by a professional, and the headliner for the week sometimes provides twenty minutes or so of entertainment at the end of the show. There is one show on Thursdays with the same structure as the weekend shows. On Fridays and Saturdays, two shows are offered, often eight-thirty and eleven-thirty. The sequence of opening, middle, and headliner acts, or spots, as they are sometimes called, is uncommon in the United States. These shows ordinarily begin with an extended set by the emcee, followed by the middle and headliner acts. And in Montreal, junior amateurs, be they Anglophone or francophone, rarely get onstage. By the time they perform in clubs and lounges, they have achieved minimal professional status.
The art of stand-up comedy
Both in this book and the industry, it has been claimed that stand-up is an art. What, specifically, is meant by this claim? Let us start by looking at Thomas Munro’s definition of art. He notes that a product need not be beautiful or otherwise worthy to be identified as art. For him, art includes one or more of three skills.
A comic searching for new material must first develop a premise, theme, or subject to create a descriptive monologue of, say, five minutes. Slivitz worked up a monologue around the behavior in elevators and escalators, Donacetti, around her childhood life. In present-day stand-up comedy, the premise is plucked from the everyday experiences and observations of the author, usually as these involve some mishap, person, animal, predicament, or misunderstanding. The new-wave comics of the 1960s and early 1970s were inclined to find their premises in the moral and political spheres. The modern performer finds material as they shop, watch television, read the newspaper, walk around town, attend a concert, drive somewhere, take an airplane flight, and so on.
Types of Humour
Social scientists have identified four types of humour according to its consequences (effects) or function it serves (Martineau 1972, Stebbins 1979a). These are consensus, control, conflict, and comic relief.
When humor creates consensus, it generates warm friendliness and good cheer. Usually, the subject of such humor is generalized, or there is no subject at all. But, at any rate, no listener feels embarrassed or becomes sympathetic toward its subject as a result of the spirit.
The comic’s act onstage is, at the bottom, their interpretation of written lines. These are memorized and presented as though improvised. Although most performers conversationally deliver lines, there is still much about a theatrical presentation. With some notable exceptions, seasoned professionals are more inclined to be dramatic than amateurs and junior professionals, incorporating a variety of movements (stage business) into their acts. Professionals bend over, the gesture here, light a cigarette there, manipulate the microphone, bump it with their head (which makes a loud pop), pace in this direction or that, turn their backs momentarily, and the like. These actions are designed to augment the humor of certain lines.
The essential audience
There can be no stand-up comedy without an audience. I am not referring here to the fact that the audience ultimately pays the comic, enabling them to make a living from comedy. Rather I mean that interaction with the audience is an essential part of the comic’s act. The performer communicates jokes and sketches, the audience indicates, chiefly with laughter, whether they are funny. As noted, in the typical case, the comic speaks conversationally, using sweeping eye contact and a friendly demeanor while treating familiar subjects.
The problem of hecklers and commenters, by the way, is next to nonexistent in Quebecois stand-up comedy. Its theatre-like presentation in a large hall discourages spontaneous audience participation. Advanced francophone amateurs also tend to avoid the problem since they are brought along through a system of talent finding and development, such as the festival Justen pourer.