When you think “stand-up comedy theater”, the Cherry Lane probably comes to mind, a cul-de-sac venue that has cornered the market — er, block? — on shows that mix stand-up comedy and theater.
While traditional stand-up technically falls under the umbrella label of live theater, “stand-up theater” adds more of a narrative/story/emotional/character-arc through-line — all hallmarks of plays, I suppose? — to typically scattershot stand-up.
Which is all hunky-dory — in fact, it’s one of my favorite genres! — but we’re not here to discuss that today.
Rather, let’s redirect our attention at a similar idea, one that’s been given short shrift on major New York stages: stand-up comedy ABOUT theater.
Two recent productions inspired this concept: both Which Way to the Stage and Circle Jerk revel in humor that shares a sensibility with stand-up comedy about theater. In fact, Circle Jerk reveals the most copious repository of such yucks in the 21st century: message boards.
Be it on BroadwayWorld or All That Chat (which Circle Jerk name-checks), their denizens thrive on shit-talking all the theater news, gossip, and tea that’s unfit to print (you know, because of Riedel-less journalistic standards). As much as stand-up material can be found in these hell-holes (said with love) — or, on tonally-related, cattily-snarky social media (said without love) — such commentary rarely boasts the thoughtful polish of the more fully-realized, cleverly-structured joke constructions in Circle Jerk and Which Way to the Stage.
Plus, online chatter can’t benefit from the live setting intrinsic to both forms. When Circle Jerk lobbed the single cruelest barb against Funny Girl (steep competition for that crown), my 10:30PM Pride Performance crowd literally screamed. Screamed. And then spontaneously burst into rowdy applause.
So yeah, there’s definitely an appetite for such roasting, hyperbolically-mean versions of possible truths. And that’s the warped beauty of stand-up: the speaker doesn’t even need to agree with the sentiments of their own jabs — nor do audiences — to get everyone rolling on the floor. Case in point: Circle Jerk‘s Dana H. mocking. One of my favorite Broadway productions ever, yet Circle Jerk’s ribbing of it still killed me.
And let me tell you, every theater season provides an embarrassment of tasty riches on this acerbic front. I mean, the Funny Girl debacle alone is enough to sustain 60 minutes, not to mention other juicy targets from the year that was: Paradise Square! Scott Rudin (the most brain-melting gag in Strange Loop?)! And that’s only Broadway!
Yes, comedy about the theatrical ecosystem is nicher than niche. But guess what: the theatrical ecosystem self-evidently appeals to a sizable enough niche to support it! You’re telling me that we wouldn’t turn up for stand-up comedy about theater on a major stage? When is the last time you heard a high-profile dig at the nonprofits that dominate off-Broadway?
My apologies if a plethora of stand-ups engage in such lunacy unawares to me, especially in the drag/cabaret sectors…but I cast a prettay, prettay, prettay wide net, and the closest parallels are either the toothless, feckless variety in Tony Awards host spiels…or Forbidden Broadway. But spoofs are not stand-up! And Forbidden Broadway tended to focus on musicals, perennially behind-the-times and not sufficiently up-to-date given the required gestation periods for its song and dance numbers.
Methinks there’s a middle ground between breakneck knee-jerk online reactions, and Forbidden Broadway’s more calculated approach. And I for one would love to see more theater comedians mine this anything-but-sub subculture .