My Top Stand Up Performances

I’m a believer that stand up comedians are not only some of the most talented people in the entertainment business, but also the most brave. To be able to go infant of hundreds, even thousands of people and attempt to make them laugh, a job that can go so south so quickly, and keep them entertained for hours, there’s a small percentage that succeed at that. Since I was a kid and insomnia kicked in during middle school, I began watching comedy specials to keep me entertained. It was there that I found my love for stand up and my curiosity in how these comedians do it so well. I wanted to be like them. I wanted their physicality, their confidence, their humor, I wanted it all. I decided I could share with you my top stand up performances.

Side Note: As all of my list posts go, this is only an opinion. Everyone is entitled to their opinion, and I would love to hear from you all on your favorite stand ups. Until then, come listen to me ramble. Also, these are in no particular order.

#1: Donald Glover, “Weirdo” (2012)

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Not a lot of people can say they’ve accomplished much at the age of 23, but Donald Glover was already a writer for the acclaimed comedy show, 30 Rock, proving himself to be an extremely talented young comedian. He got his first televised stand up opportunity in the form of a thirty minute Comedy Central special in 2010 at the age of 27. Showing that he could handle a stage and an audience, two years later he created, Weirdo, which in my opinion, blows away his first special. Glover holds the audience in the palm of his hands, you can see how comfortable he is on a stage. With jokes such as the Trinidadian nanny and the childhood tale of Terry in Home Depot, this hour long special leaves you wanting more from Glover, which we have seen a substantial increase in since 2012. While he’s wrapping up his career as Childish Gambino and continuing his run on his show, Atlanta, I do wish we could squeeze out one more comedy special from this triple threat.

#2: Bill Hicks, “Relentless” (1992)

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The last special to be released while he was still alive, “Relentless”, is a hilarious and thought-provoking look on how Hicks believed the country was failing at the time (God forbid he got a hold of how the country’s doing now). His commentary on drugs, pornography, the Persian Gulf War, and the dangers that have been caused by patriotism all come together to give a sense of Hicks’ intelligence as well as his sense of humor. If anyone wanted to get a sense of Hicks as a comedian, I would recommend starting with this classic.

#3: Eddie Murphy, “Delirious” (1983)

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Good god, who can unsee that skintight red leather? Remember back at Donald Glover where I mentioned his success at age 23? Welp, Murphy had his most successful stand up at the tender age of 22. Having to be clean cut for his job on Saturday Night Live, he had no problem cutting loose on stage, using “fuck” a total of 230 times and “shit” 171 times. Controversy also struck after for Murphy’s opening joke, using slurs to talk about gay men. However, in 1996, Murphy released a one page apology for his actions, claiming, “I deeply regret any pain all this has caused.” Watching this special amazes me due to his age. I can’t even imagine performing a sold out show in a little over a year. The amount of success this man held at such a young age shows there’s potential in people to be able to find it themselves at any time. Props to Murphy for causing me to go short of breath at the Aunt Bunny falling down the stairs bit. I’m also wondering if the person who owned that camera still has the pictures of Eddie’s crotch.

#4: Sam Kinison, “Breaking the Rules” (1987)

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An ex-preacher with a temper more explosive than TNT, Sam Kinison proved himself in his first HBO special. His early bits such as his love life with women and the oddness behind the crucification of Jesus Christ caused me to break out in laughter when I first watched it during a class in school years ago. His enormous stage presence worked so well, even shocking Robin Williams. His iconic long coat and matching hat created an image that almost contrasts to his loud mouthed “oh oh OOOOOOOOOH!” gorilla screams. Kinison was a personified speedball on stage and so far, I haven’t seen anyone that can match a presence like Sam.

#5: Richard Pryor, “Live in Concert” (1979)

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This is every aspiring comedian’s bible. Richard Pryor, one of the most well known and beloved comedians of all time, in one of the most well known stand up specials of all time, it’s the bread and butter of comedy. Pryor manages to get a diverse crowd laughing maniacally at the topics of race, sex, family, all while adding in Patti LaBelle as an opener. Pryor showed the world what being a comic on stage meant. His demeanor, his physicality, his strong voice, the confidence he held, created a step by step look at what success on stage is. To this day, comedian’s site Pryor’s “Live in Concert” as a classic, a favorite, and an important piece of comedic talent.

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Foreign Demons

Addiction is something that comedians aren’t strangers to. We all can think of one, two, fifty comedians that have struggled with addiction through out their lives. With those who fought and defeated their demons, others lost. John Belushi, Chris Farley, Mitch Hedberg, the list is nearly endless. While we see many comedians that lose their lives to personal vices, what about the ones that die not because of their vices, but because of someone else’s?

When I think about this topic, the two names that come to mind are Phil Hartman and Sam Kinison, two very notable names in the world of comedy.

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Phil Hartman, well known for his days on Saturday Night LivePee Wee’s Playhouse, News Radio, and The Simpsons, was no stranger to vices.

He himself struggled with drug addiction for some time, but he got clean with the support of his wife, Brynn. Brynn was also an addict and thought that the two of them could work together to get sober for their two children. While Phil followed the clean path, Brynn continued to use and her mental state only got worse. On the night of May 28, 1998, Brynn shot Phil in the head as he slept. After calling a friend and confessing what she had done, the same friend drove over and saw the body himself. As the police were notified, Brynn laid down next to her husband and turned the gun on herself. The police escorted the couple’s two children from the home and the couple were pronounced dead on arrival.

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Being that I was exactly four months old at the time of his murder, I went to a source that I know was affected greatly by his loss, my mother.

“I remember that I was absolutely devastated… I couldn’t move away from the tv and I was horrified that his wife would have killed him while the kids were in the house.. the emotional impact was great because I think you were just a baby and I was really upset for his kids… I loved Phil from News Radio… I think when comedians die, it’s always sad but for him to have been killed in that way it was even worse..”

My mother is the reason I grew up loving Phil Hartman and his encyclopedia of impressions. It’s a shame for him and it’s a shame for his children that had to grow up in the press because of a horrific event that should have never taken place.

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Sam Kinison was recognized for his screaming outbursts on stage and his outrageous material, including wishing his ex wife would die.

Sam was also known to merge the world of comedy with rock and roll, having reckless shows filled with loud bikers and blaring music. With this title came a surplus of drugs and alcohol. Though many predicted Sam’s early demise, they never expected it to happen the way it did. In fact, Sam was beginning to clean up his act and was sober at the time of his death. On April 10, 1992, Sam was driving to a show with his wife of just six days when a truck with two drunk teenagers, the driver being 17 year-old Troy Pierson, slammed head on into Sam’s car. His wife survived, but Sam stumbled out of the car and collapsed on the road. His brother who was driving behind him, ran out to tend to Sam. When he got to Sam’s body, Sam was speaking to someone that wasn’t there. His brother recalls, “…he suddenly said to no one in particular, ‘I don’t want to die. I don’t want to die.’ LaBove later said, ‘it was as if he was having a conversation, talking to someone else, some unseen person.’ Then there was a pause as if Kinison was listening to the other person speak. Then he asked ‘But why?’ and after another pause LaBove heard him clearly say: ‘Okay, okay, okay.’ LaBove said, ‘The last ‘okay’ was so soft and at peace … Whatever voice was talking to him gave him the right answer and he just relaxed with it.'”

When such talent is taken away for no reason, it’s a disaster. The world is deprived of laughter because of another’s vices. Had it not been for Brynn Hartman and Troy Pierson, Phil Hartman and Sam Kinison could still be here making us laugh today. Robbed of their lives, it’s important to remember to cherish life. It’s one of the most cliche phrases in the book, but in reality, it’s a vital lesson. These men were taken far too quickly from their lives. Yes, life can bear a lot of demons, be it yours or someone else’s, but before you know it, the world can go black. In the end, life can be taken away with one pull of the trigger or one wrong turn on the road.

The Hidden Truth

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We all know what comedians do, right? They make us laugh. It’s been a universal gift to be able to get a crowd of people choking on their breath and gasping for air. With a world full of laughter, it brings the question: why are almost all comedians depressed? A path of destruction has awaited numerous comedians, including my favorites. From John Belushi’s fatal speedball to Richard Pryor’s infamous suicide attempt, comedians display a side to them that no one in a comedy club wishes to see.

The answer is plain and simple: comedy stems from tragedy. Why do people want to make others laugh? It gives them a sense of joy and pride. Have you ever had a joke nail at a party around a group of people? Remember the sense of happiness it brought you to see everyone around you laughing at what you said? It’s exactly like that. If you’ve experienced that, you also know that the high doesn’t last forever. That’s the sad truth.

Many comedians come from broken homes and grow up in harsh environments. They’ve experienced extreme measures of sadness, therefore, they want to numb any sadness that audiences are having through their jokes. Take for example, a comedy legend like Richard Pryor. I’m not going to go into the extreme details of his life because that’s for another time, but Pryor’s childhood was filled with events that would traumatize any kid forced to experience them. Therefore, he used jokes to block out the memories of his past. This is a character referred to as, The Sad Clown.

When I was young, I learned very quickly that humor gave me attention and happiness. Growing up with a shy personality, an older brother that got all of the attention in the family, and a later diagnosed case of depression, I knew I had to find something to stand out, and it turned out to be comedy. If I could get everyone at the dinner table to laugh, I knew I’d make a lasting impression. I watched countless hours of SNL and I began staying up late and watching Pryor specials and learning how to talk like a comedian, how to learn the language and onstage presence that mesmerized me. School was my area to test out on not just friends, but teachers as well. I found I was interested more in making the teachers laugh than my friends laugh. Teachers were out of my range, they were older, but I knew the culture that they knew, and I used it to my advantage. It gave me happiness, unlike anything had ever given me. The thing I noticed afterwards was exactly what I described earlier, the high was temporary. So much so that I would spend a day at school making my classmates laugh, then the rest of the night I’d be huddled in my room as soon as I got home.

While I know some readers may not be happy with me sharing my opinion, my say is my say. My opinion will never change, comedy stems from tragedy and you can look at any comic living or dead and find tragedy in their lives. Comedy has a hidden truth to it, and it’s one that I and many others can relate to. Laughter distracts from pain, and as long as we’re making others feel happiness, the truth remains hidden.

 

Picture Credit: http://www.theblackguywhotips.com/2018/01/07/1591-spanking-the-sad-clown/

Article: https://www.cnn.com/2017/03/01/health/sad-clown-standup-comedy-mental-health/index.html