Dave’s Guide to Standup Comedians

As most of you already know, I am a fledgling standup comedian in my spare time. I have been doing this in front of crowds of people for about a year and a half now and it is something that I do quite often. In doing these shows I get to see alot of other comedians do their thing on a regular basis. I’ve learned quite a bit about standup comedians along the way.

First off, most standup comedians are not that funny. In the past year I can safely say that between doing shows, doing open mics, and watching standup live or on television, I have seen roughly 500 comics. Of those 500 maybe 50 made me consistently laugh.

Open mics are the worst usually. A given open mic can contain 20 comics, each getting about 5 minutes of stage time. Many of the comics will recycle old material or just try shit that doesn’t work at all. Usually you are lucky if 3 or 4 of those comics makes you laugh even once. Open mics can be an extremely long and painful experience.

Another thing I’ve learned is that most standup comedians can easily fit into one of these eight main categories. (It may not be all they talk about, but it is their bread and butter. Comics always go back to their bread and butter.)

Observational Comic – You know these are the people that point out humorous little things from everday life and make a routine out of it. Jerry Seinfeld made this type of standup all the rage with his show about nothing. The problem with observational humor is it only works if what you are observing is somehow funny. You ever notice how cheese gets moldy is not a funny setup.

Insult Comic – This is the comic that you don’t want to be sitting near the stage for. Some comics thrive on the misery of others. D.L. Hughley’s writing is not all that great, but his insult work is second to none. It is the backbone of his whole routine most times.

Self-Deprecating Comics – This is sort of the oppposite of the insult comic. Instead of ragging on everyone else, they specialize in throwing themselves under the bus. Often times you might hear jokes about how long it’s been since they’ve been laid, or how little their dicks are.

Relationship Comics – These comics most frequently talk about their relationship problems for the bulk of their act. Either they bitch about their shitty sex life, or the dating scene, or the perils of marriage. Many women comics fall into this category.

Shock Comics – Arguably the most annoying comic of all. They will say anything to get a rise out of you. Gross, insensitive, racist, you name it. Sometimes a boo is just as good as a laugh to them.

Race/ Sexuality Comics – These are the ones who joke mostly about being black/white/asian/latino/gay/tranny or whatever the hell else they may be. It’s all about their people relating to them, and people who are not their people feeling like they can relate.

Impressionists/ Character Comics – This one is pretty self explanatory. These are the comics that thrive off of impressions or some made up characters they perform as.

Rant Comics – They hate anything and eveything and they are going to tell you all the reasons why. Rant comics can be very entertaining to watch when they are on a roll, though when done wrong a rant can just come across as kinda scary and awkward (see Richards, Michael).

Now you may be sitting there thinking about your favorite comic (besides me of course) and wondering which category they may fit into. Note that I said most comics fit into these categories and not all comics. Some of the greats don’t really fit into any one category all that well. They just are who they are. Others may fit into more than one. They are just special that way.

I’ll leave you guys with a question:

If you were a comic what category do you think would fit you best?



  1. This is pretty interesting!I’m not sure which ones that I prefer fall into any particular category, but I think the ones that I prefer are the observational comics. They’re usually hilarious… at least, the ones that I’ve seen.As for the race/sexuality comics, I think a lot of comics – particulary young, new comics – fall into this category. For shame, I say.

  2. Probably observational, but I would rock at it, unlike most of the current ones. I love stand-up comedy. It would be awesome to be able to see yours live, maybe one day I can make it up there!

  3. I plan on making a hybrid of Mitch Hedberg-ian non-sequiteur comedy, interlaced with my own style using poetry to slam people with unexpected jokes, much like Stephen Lynch does with songs.

  4. kinda observational i guess….of course i’m not saying i’m really a comic or that funny at all, but i do like to laugh at (some angle of) stuff i see everyday…

  5. I tend to be more of an observational comic than anything else. Then again, isnt all comedy just observing life and pointing out to others how funny/messed up it can be?

  6. this was a great post! each one had me thinking of comedians/people* i know that fit into these categories.i’m not sure where i’d fit… usually, people find me funny because i’m slow. but that’s unintentional. if i was a standup comedian, i think i wouldn’t really mind which. except i WOULDN’T want to fit in the shock comics. i’m Arab and Arabs can be hilarious to speak about, so maybe race. 😛 and others… not rant. i’m not good at ranting, lol.* lol, i make it sound like comedians and people are two different things…

  7. First of all, love the post and would like to hear more about your comedian experiences. :)I’ll be brave and admit that, like so many women, I’d end up being a relationship comic. Possibly rant as well, but probably more relationship than anything else. Only, for me, it would be a different take than I’ve seen up to now. I wouldn’t be the one going on about the hubby’s fascination with beefy men in tights tackling each other in the snow or trashing how much he wants sex. I’d be the one who talked about getting a LOTRO account to be part of the gaming world he’s so into, and about how awkward it is to want more sex than he does. :pI ask along with someone else–what’s your fave category, personally?(And yay! I’m in the tags!!! )~V

  8. I’d be the self-deprecating one. Maybe a bit about relationships and sex, too.The few recent times I’ve been to the comedy club here in town, there were a lot of news and whacking off jokes. Even the few women comics talked about whacking off. I didn’t laugh at most of the comics, but there were a few gems.  Yet you, my friend, consistently make me laugh.

  9. I think “female comedian” should be its own category.  Description:  Sometimes annoying, but never funny (unless they’re lesbos, then sometimes).

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