This study attempts to explore the ways in which stand-up comedians organize and perform their material in order to create humor, elicit laughter, and make the audience appreciate their performances. It also examines the audience’s central role in comedians’ organization and presentation of the material. In order to provide authentic material, performances by comedians Jerry Seinfeld and Steven Wright were transcribed and served as main data for the analytical part of this study.
The creation of humor in stand-up comedy is seen as a combination of various linguistic features of joke telling such as wordplay and punning, hyperbole, repetitions, timing, and paralinguistic choices. In addition, the comedians develop a specific stage persona and create their own style of performing. Spontaneity and flexibility are shown to be two of the most important characteristics that a stand-up comedian must possess in order to give a successful performance. However, this contrastive analysis of the comedy created by two performers of very different character affirms the observation that successful humor in stand-up comedy depends neither on any specific type of stage persona nor on a specific performance style. Instead, it is created out of a comedian’s use of a chain of various linguistic aspects of joke telling and in most cases out of the incongruity revealed by the punch lines in the stories and jokes. Hence, this study not only represents a linguistic approach to humor, but also contributes to the field of discourse analysis, in particular when dealing with such features as repetitions, discourse markers, disfluencies, intonation, and so on.