For some reason, there was a period in comedy history where the pinnacle of a stand-up comedian’s career was getting his or her own sitcom. You had your Seinfelds and your Roseannes and your Raymonds and everybody loved them. The medium, at the time, seemed like the most appropriate translation of a comedy act into a television show, allowing for the observational humor of many of these performers to be played out in situational scenes before a live studio audience.
The stand-up sitcom is not so much in vogue anymore. Part of this is due to the waning aesthetic quality of in-studio or canned audience laughter of the multi-cam sitcom, with many of the more popular comedies opting for the single-camera, non-laugh track style. Part of it could also be that Louis CK has ended the competition with his superb and groundbreaking series, Louie, which translates stand-up into visual storytelling in a completely new way. There’s also the preference by comedians, including Jerry Seinfeld, to select a medium where they can retain more creative control than they would have on a network sitcom, such as a web series.
Comedy is just thought of differently today than 20 years ago, which is probably true for every successive generation. Most notably, it’s thought of rather extensively thanks to the ubiquity of comedy podcasts and the subculture of comedy nerddom that has found a niche online. Just about everything I know about stand-up culture I learned from Marc Maron’s podcast. Movies, fictional and non-fictional, have offered some fascinating and fresh perspectives on the world of comedy recently, although there are some offerings of years past that remain relevant today.
Here are 8 terrific movies to watch on the topic of stand-up comedy: 4 works of (quasi)fiction and 4 documentaries.
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