A pretty cool thing happened in 1928. A guy named Harry Reese, while working work the Hersey chocolate company, decided to see what would happen if he put peanut butter into cholate cups. (See more here) Chocolate and peanut butter already existed. Reese just found an interesting way to put them together.
I wonder if that’s the same thing I’m witnessing with stand-up comedy and oral storytelling. There has always been an interest in telling funny stories. What I see is more comedians talking about how to tell stories in their routines as a way of being funny. When people take storytelling classes, they ask how to make stories funny. There is a rise in the number of people who are offering and taking workshops and classes on telling funny stories. As I read more books and take more classes I wonder, if like Harry Reese, people are combing 2 separate artforms to make a new version.
First, what do I mean by Oral Storytelling and Stand-up comedy
If you are a first time read of my blog I normally focus on oral storytelling, meaning standing on a stage and telling a story to a group of people. And it uses a storytelling structure. There are many structures, but a super simple one to use is that there is a beginning, middle, and end. There is something that gets the story moving, a climax or high point, and then a resolution.
Stand-up comedy refers to the person standing on stage telling jokes to be the audience to laugh. I state that not to insult your intelligence, but to make sure we are all moving in the same direction. Comedy is much bigger than just telling jokes on stage. I am hardly qualified to explain it all. Just know I am only referring the part of the stand-up comic.
So, what is a genre?
The definition I’ll use from Webster Merriam-Webster dictionary is: “a category of artistic, musical, or literary composition characterized by a particular style, form, or content”
With that understanding, I began thinking that comedic storytelling would actually fit under a sub-genre for storytelling. In the Reese’s Peanut Buttercup example, Reese made a different type of treat, but it still counts as a chocolate treat. Comedic storytelling would be the same. The bigger genre is personal narrative, and comedic storytelling is an off shoot of that.
The questions I’m working to answer
Can you have lots of laughter, and still have story structure? Funny stories exist in other genres already. There have been funny folktales and tall tales and liar tales for years. What would make comedic storytelling different? Laughs. Comedic storytelling can be very similar to Lair’s tales since some parts are untrue or exaggerated for comedic effect. The difference between the two would be in comedic storytelling there is a greater focus on more laughs per min. Allow me to introduce you to Bil Lepp: ( Buck Ain’t No Ordinary Dog) He and storytellers like him tell tall tales and liar’s tales with many laughers per mins.
Another question I think about is does the audience care. My answer: it depends. Bigger than comedy or storytelling is understanding communication. When trying to communication anything with a person or group of people one has to meet them where they are. That means understanding and also expectation. A crowd at a comedy club is ok with you telling a story, so long as they laugh enough along the way. The crowd at a storytelling show is fine will laughing enough, but they want to see how you or the main character has changed over the course of the story.
Jokes can be added to a story, but they must serve purpose. They help the story to move forward. They help to describe or define a part of the story in a funny what that enhances a story. I wonder if this is where some oral storytellers get lost in the “you can’t add jokes to a story”. It’s not that you never could, it may have just not served the purpose of the story correctly.
And stories can be added to stand-up comedy. There is a bit more to it than just talk about something in your life. Using a proper, simple, storytelling structure is a great way to build tension you are looking for to get to a big laugh in your set.
My final thoughts
I think it’s possible to tell one story that meets both crowds. That’s not to say that I have done it yet, but I’m working on it. I’d love to hear your thoughts on what comedic storytelling is and how it works. Come check out my shows listed on my site (click here) to see what progress I make as a I tell stories and jokes for folks in both settings. I have 4 shows this week that I will be trying things out. I’m always telling stories on purpose, sometimes that purpose is just to laugh.
The Fascinating Rise Of Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups
Marriam-Webster definition of Genre