Last Tuesday my workshop mates and I each took the stage at the Improv Hollywood and delivered a five minute stand-up routine. As we worked through our sets, I marveled at the fact that in an era of smartphones and instant gratification, an audience of people willingly unplugged from the world and for one hour focused all of their attention on one stage, one microphone, and one voice. Storytelling lives, I thought. Or is stand-up comedy really a form of storytelling?
Fresh off of a four-week stand-up comedy course, my answer to this question is yes, it is. However there are subtle differences between the two: Traditional storytelling tends to be longer form; stand-up tends to be shorter. Traditional storytelling tends to focus on one journey; stand-up is often about several disjointed experiences.
That said, the similarities far outweigh the differences. Both forms of expression are delivered without technology: just a stage and a mic. Both can be formulaic in their structure (traditional storytelling: beginning – middle – end; stand up: premise – opinion – act out). Both are inherently funny – and more gripping – when the performer is vulnerable with their audience.
I’ve always defined storytelling very broadly — from a tale told around a campfire to an epic projected onto a theater screen. That said, my stand-up experience was a neat reminder that storytelling, in its purest most basic form, can still cut through the most modern distractions and capture the imagination of a room full of people.