Miscellany: A Salute to Stand-Up Comedy
I had a bad experience with stand-up comedy as a kid. I went into the school talent show with literally no material (not a good idea), and I froze up like a deer in headlights. Since that experience, I've learned to appreciate the skills of stand-up comics.
Stand-up is a high risk/high reward scenario. On the one hand, if you have good bits and you do your job as a showman, you can make a whole room full of strangers laugh - a very special gift. If you're bad, though, you can be heckled or booed right off the stage, or you can say things you might regret. Witness Michael Richards' case if you need more evidence (there's some foul language in this one):
Good stand-up, though, works in a way most comedy can't. Everyone has told a funny story or too, so we instantly connect with the format of a single person trying to be funny. The best stand-up exploits this. Here's a good bit by Kathy Griffin (again, foul language):
Some stand-ups appeal to our prejudices. If you can make someone laugh at something that's normally a bit distasteful, you're probably pretty good. Here's a little "Then & Now" - Richard Pryor and Dave Chappelle (once again, NSFW):
A lot of stand-up comics eventually become writers for sitcoms and other shows. Some, like Robin Williams and Steve Martin, hit it big and become mainstream actors. But for most of them, it's an often thankless, demanding job to come up with new material. So it's not surprisingly that people do steal jokes. It's difficult to prove, and a lot of comedy does sound alike, but I still think it's dishonest.