49. Stand Up Comedy

Guest presenter Claudia Edwards interviews Luke about Stand Up Comedy. Vocabulary notes are included below.


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Luke’s English Podcast is a free service for learners of English. In a recent made up survey, a group of over 1000 international students were asked what was the best way to learn English. 99% of the students said that Luke’s English Podcast was the best way to learn English. 1% of the students did not understand the question.

London is said to be the comedy capital of the world. There are more comedians here than in any other city. Comedy is a BIG part of our culture here. Going to a stand up comedy show is a very normal way to spend an evening. There are many famous and successful stand up comedians in the UK as well as the USA. But what is stand up?

I’ve recently started doing stand up comedy myself, so in this podcast I was interviewed by my friend & colleague Claudia Edwards. I’m sure you’ll agree, it is very nice to listen to a female voice presenting the podcast for a change. Enjoy!

Here are the questions asked by Claudia, and some of the vocabulary I used in my answers:

Claudia’s Interview Questions + Vocabulary
Can you tell me what exactly is stand up?

stand up comedy = a kind of comedy performance which involves a comedian standing up in front of an audience with a microphone, in order to make people laugh
sit coms = situation comedies – these are TV shows which usually feature a few characters in a familiar situation. The events and the conversation are funny. E.g. Friends

What makes it unique as a kind of performance?
a script = all the words for a play, or a movie which the actors have to learn
dying on stage = being unsuccessful on stage – doing your performance, but failing because nobody is laughing

What are the good things and the bad things about it?
you can’t blame anyone else
to blame someone = to say that someone was responsible for something bad. e.g. “it’s the director’s fault”
time consuming = it takes up (uses) a lot of time
you’re putting yourself on the line
to put yourself on the line = to put yourself in a position in which you might fail

What’s it like? How do you feel?
the palm of your hand = the middle part of your hand (with the lines on it)
you’ve got the audience in the palm of your hand = the audience are completely under your control
it’s paid off = the work you have done is resulting in success
beforehand = before

Have you ever had a mind blank?
a mind blank = when your mind goes blank, and you can’t think of anything

How long have you been doing it?

What exactly do you do, just tell jokes?
the navigational systems of the plane = the computer which helps the plane to go in the correct direction
you wouldn’t be able to take them on as hand luggage

What do you think makes a stand up comic good?

Do any other countries do stand up, or is it just the UK?
they will often pick on the audience
to pick on someone = to make fun of / tease someone (sometimes in a nasty way – like a bully at school)
alternative comedy = subversive, critical comedy
subversive = critical, radical, revolutionary, against the government or the ‘way things are now’

How long have people been doing stand up in the UK, do you know?

If people listening want to see some stand up, what should they do?

Some vocabulary from Luke’s stand up set:
bollocks = a rude British English swear word which is like the American word ‘bullshit’. It actually means ‘testicles’.
shuffle all songs = a function on the ipod which plays all your songs in random order

Some of my favourite comedy clips:

Richard Pryor – When kids lie
Richard Pryor is definitely one of the best stand up comedians ever. Unfortunately he is dead now, but his comedy is still with us. He was one of the people who invented the kind of stand up comedy which everybody does now. In this clip Pryor talks about how children behave when they lie about breaking something.

Steve Martin – Sex Jokes
I absolutely love Steve Martin, but a lot of people don’t ‘get’ it (they don’t understand why he’s funny). Unfortunately there aren’t many good clips of him doing stand up on YouTube, but this one is quite good. Steve’s comedy is not obvious. It’s subtle. He used his voice and his body a lot, and just little physical movements or changes in the way he spoke were hilarious. This clip is a bit old fashioned, but I believe Steve Martin is still one of the best stand up comedians we’ve had.

Michael McIntyre – Live at The Apollo
McIntyre is probably the biggest stand up comedian in the UK at the moment. He is extremely popular. His comedy is accessible (he talks about things which everybody can relate to), he uses a lot of physical humour and different voices, and he is very energetic on stage.
In this clip, he talks about how English people always want to know exactly where you live when you introduce yourself. “Hi, I’m from London” – “Whereabouts whereabouts!”
He speaks very quickly.

Eddie Izzard – Computers
One of the top comedians in the world. Yep. He has a unique, surreal style, but he talks about every day things like the problems we experience with computers.

Flight of the Conchords – Business Time
These guys are a musical comedy duo from New Zealand. They sing comedy songs. This one is about ‘making love’! Oh yeah, it’s business time! In the song, Jemane sings to his girlfriend about making love on a Wednesday evening. Listen carefully to the lyrics and you’ll understand that Jemane is not a very good lover!

Here’s a clip of some Japanese comedy. It comes from a BBC TV show called “Adam and Joe Go Tokyo” in which British comedians Adam and Joe go to Tokyo to learn about Japanese culture. It was broadcast about 6 years ago.

There are many many more comedians and videos that I love, but I can’t recommend them all. To be honest, I think that it is very difficult to understand the humour if you don’t understand the English perfectly. This is why I think comedy is one of the best ways of improving your English. Think of it like this:
1. Watch some comedy that you don’t understand
2. Realise that other people are laughing, so it must be funny
3. Think: What am I missing?
4. Watch again and try really hard to understand what is so funny about it. Is it the specific words? Is it the subject? Is it something specific to the culture that you don’t understand?
5. If you can understand comedy in English – you are making a lot of progress!!

I totally believe in comedy as one of the best things in life – and of course I think comedy in English is wonderful, and there is SO MUCH of it. Don’t miss out on English language comedy. GET INTO IT TODAY!

2 thoughts on “49. Stand Up Comedy

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