50's & 60's - The Birth of Stand-Up

50's and 60's saw rapid cultural change
50's and 60's saw rapid cultural change

Stand-up comedy we know today was born in the 1950's. The talent might have been from the increasingly unfashionable Music Halls, but the new venues - Folk Clubs and Nightclubs - altered the comedic chemistry.

 

There were still the bands (now more rock and roll than family fun), the crowds were smaller and less formally arranged. This setup was far better suited to standup style comedy. A single performer, talking directly to the audience.

 

As an act between bands the best performers knew the right notes to hit. Acts designed for the Music Halls wouldn't get anywhere with the funky young babyboomers.

Lenny Bruce caused offence
Lenny Bruce caused offence

Jack E. Leonard and Lenny Bruce became amongst the most famed for their acerbic social commentary. Their style and content was controversial and, at times, insulting. Bruce was arrested and ultimately acquitted of criminal obscenity charges after referring to people as "cocksuckers".

 

These early heros of stand-up comedy, along with many others, oversaw live comedy's passage through the cultural revolution. Whilst the old guard abhored it, for many of the young people in urban Britain and America, standup was expressing what David Bowie would call "Changes".