Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Notice Humor

This approach to standup comedy involves the observation of daily life where the primary focus is directed outward.   A sample joke in this style is George Carlin's, "Why do we drive on a parkway but park on a driveway?"  

The comedian performing Notice Humor becomes an objective observer of the quirks of language and life's little foibles (the Little Foibles live down the street from the Mid-sizeD Eccentrics).  Examples of these comedians are Rich Hall, Jerry Seinfeld, Jay Leno, and many others.  Examine their work and the laughs are from external observations.

Rather than develop a comic personality (like, say, Jack Benny or Woody Allen) these are jokes anyone can repeat.   Difficult to prevent joke theft as the comedy isn't tailored to a specific performer.

A huge moment in the history of Notice Humor was David Brenner's first time on the Tonight Show:

This was the most successful debut for a comic I ever saw.  He must get interrupted for applause 10 times at least.  Today it can't seem as out-of-the-ordinary as it once did, since comedians are still using the same jokes (note he does a variation on NY vs LA -- the most overused topic in comedy history).  Significantly, at one point he even says "Didja ever notice?"

Notice comics were the descendants of the cracker barrel storytellers of the Will Rogers school (as the nightclub "schleppers" were the children of the fast-talking, urban vaudevillians). But where
the cracker barrelists emphasized characters -- Herb Shriner tells about his childhood friend: SEE BELOW -- the noticers threw all the character and atmosphere out, going straight for the
observation. This was perhaps due to the increasingly speeded up nature of American life, and the ever-shrinking attention spans of the TV generation.

Notice humor reflected the integration of Jews into the greater American culture.   The 'otherness' of Jewish humor (outsider) was replaced by "I'm one of you looking at these odd things" (insider) approach.   Rather than reflect inward on character faults, the notice comedian is "in on it" with the audience.

Truly unique comic characterizations are rare today.   Most stand-ups are interchangeable and their material forgettable.   A certain amount of courage is required to expose your own faults (or a comic exaggeration thereof).  Lot of laughs missed out on because comedians don't develop these personalities.  

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