The Courage It Takes to Make Standup High Art

As a fan of standup, I’ve always felt that live comedy could never claim to be high art in the same way that visual arts, literature, and the most complex of musical arrangements can. As a novice standup who has been watching hundreds of comics hone their craft, I still feel standup isn’t high art. Standup is ultimately a storytelling form bogged down by unwritten rules. One cannot drive too slowly toward laughs. One must aim for laughs from most of the crowd. One must connect on the level of laughter with people who are, in all likelihood, well on their way to being shit-faced. Most people think comedians are brave to get up in front of people and risk not being funny. But the reality is most comics (already funny people) rarely risk not being funny. They find jokes that work and they don’t stray. Most of the hundreds of millions of jokes being told on stage are about absolutely nothing. Social awkwardness. Politics. Current events. Dating. Fucking.

Last night, during her set at Largo in LA, comedian Tig Notaro announced that she has breast cancer, only three days after her diagnosis. Wow. How can that be funny? But that’s the point, isn’t it? High art’s got to be about something. High art is about risk. High art is as timeless as staring mortality in the face. High art for a comedian requires the courage to make the deeply personal – the most unfunny parts of one’s life – funny.

I wish I was there. Read an account of Tig Notaro’s set last night here.

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