When you get into stand-up comedy at the club, bar, coffee shop, bookstore, comic book store, pizza joint, back yard, or alley, you’ll see every type of comedian ever. Good, bad, or indifferent, no matter what race, gender, creed, or body type, there are so many comedian styles and archetypes that seem like they were made in some kind of “laugh factory” to be shilled at a “comedy store” or something.
There’s enough to fill some kind of taxonomy or something, so here it is: a comprehensive, scientific list of the different types of performers you’ll meet in stand-up, whether you’ve been doing it for years or just started at your first open mic.
This comic “tells it like it is,” is “unfiltered,” and “anything else you can put in quotation marks.” This comedian takes a controversial take or stance on anything and everything we as a society already settled on 20 years ago. He, and we say “he” intentionally, wants to be the next Lenny Bruce, Bill Hicks and Bill Burr, but thinks the best way to do that is to steal the acts of Lenny Bruce, Bill Hicks and Bill Burr but somehow add more “fucks” in them. He’s your uncle’s favorite fart joke and your grandfather’s favorite racist joke merged with a leather motorcycle jacket with a Pepe the Frog decal. Also, this white person doesn’t get why they can’t say the n-word. The answer is “because you really, really want to.”
Comedy should not have limits, however it should have discernment. The Oversharer doesn’t just talk about topics that are risqué or inappropriate, but also stuff that’s mundane as hell. The Oversharer is your Orthodox Christian aunt both before and after three white wine spritzers. They’ll tell their bit about how they used the wrong coupon but still got a deal at Hobby Lobby, then follow it up about how butt plugs make them feel full like Thanksgiving. Their sets end up being the equivalent of “I got so high on meth last night that I wrote this grocery list vision board.”
This comedian is some odd hybrid of Millennial and cast member of In Living Color. You’ll get whiplash from the throwback references and stereotypical accents that your favorite comedians stopped doing in 1999, your parents’ favorite comedians stopped doing in 2003, and your grandparents’ favorite comedians continue to do in their shows in Branson. These comedians are reworking and refining their best five minutes for a Def Comedy Jam tour that’s never coming back.
This comic uses the stand-up stage as the psychiatrist’s couch. You can find them at mics after a particularly messy divorce. What happens is just sad venting and choking tears that the comic tries to pass as material. If you ever see this person, give them $20 towards a real therapy session so the audience won’t have to psychoanalyze themselves after hearing their act.
This person doesn’t know that a one-man show and stand-up are two different things, creating a hybrid crossing of the Oversharer and the “Comedy is My Therapy.” This wannabe-comic, should-be-storyteller tries to fit what would be a well-thought out 30-minute story with characters, act-outs and bad voice impressions into a 5 minute set. The result is a grown person describing a personal event like your 7-year-old nephew Oliver excitedly describing an episode of the Voltron reboot on Netflix. Oliver, we know the show is really good, but we prefer the 22-minute version instead of your sugar-addled speed run of the show’s plot.
There are two versions of The Actor in the comedy world. The most common Actor is the fresh newbie that has no passion or desire to actually hone their craft or make jokes, but to make some buzz in the dire hope that some agent or casting director gets them into a project. This person is the comedy equivalent of the person texting at the chest press machine at the gym when others are waiting to use it. Sometimes we will meet these people in LA and they’ll say “My acting coach told me to do this!” Who is this acting coach who keeps foisting actors on us? Can we kill them?
The second version of the Actor is the person who “made it” by being seventh on the call-sheet of a moderately successful yet currently cancelled sitcom and believes playing “Caiden” for four seasons is enough for a decades-long stand-up career. They mean well, try hard for the first year, then either book another TV show or go home to teach improv at their local state college.
It’s better to have the second version of The Actor than the first on your show, because at least you can say that you shared the stage with a recurring character from My Name is Earl. That said, just wait until you get bumped at a club for some chef on Chopped. They name their sets like they name their dishes! Gross!
These are the people that chose to do stand-up as a bucket list or a New Year resolution thing. Much like how most people give up on diets and going to the gym in February, these folks generally are one-and-done or one-month-and-gone. Usually they’re here because someone called them “The funniest person in the office.” And that’s probably true. Because most offices aren’t funny. Unless it’s an office at a fake boob factory, but let’s be honest, that’s hacky at best.
This person doesn’t have whatever disease comics have that makes us NEED to go up there. Thus they will quit. Because why subject yourself to this life unless you have to? This hack is healthier than us all. They’ll find their peace at a cooking class or taking karate or something that’s actually useful in life. God, we envy them.
This is someone who thinks they can say the same things in a stand-up set that they said on The Moth Story Hour and still get laughs. Jokes and witticisms are not the same, and this person is deciding to deliver the world’s worst stand-up set instead of the world’s funniest TED Talk. You’ll recognize them as the ones that bring an orchestral stand off of which to read their set and orders an oolong tea at the bar.
Many comedians are able to just work a crowd in lieu to using prepared material, a la Jimmy Pardo, however these comedians should not. These comics are the socially awkward comics that go to the crowd because nothing they have prepared has landed. They’re the ones who “interview” crowd members like a shy seventh grader that’s going on a first date with the unwilling audience member while the whole crowd feels sad for everyone involved.
This comedian is bred all over Los Angeles, where a set is never over 10 minutes long unless you’re the booker. This comedian’s goal is to sling out as many one-liners and bits as she or he can within their 5-10 minute limit like it’s some form of joke sprint. The result is like when you have sex with a first-timer: it’s fast, exhausting, usually funny, yet ultimately unsatisfying.
Unlike Witty & Shitty, the Irony Bomber is the comic that thinks that to be witty, you must be shitty. This comedian sucks “on purpose” in sad attempts at anti-comedy. If they are under the age of 35, they won’t stop talking about Tim & Eric. If they are over the age of 40, they’re taking Steve Martin’s Master Class. If they are in their mid-50s, they’re struggling to find someone to geek out over Andy Kaufman. Yet unlike their inspirations, they don’t get the unjoke. If you’re not good at something, you might as well have smug contempt for it, we guess.
They are easy to spot out. They’re the ones who rip into first timers that bombed because they think they’re stealing their act.
“Doesn’t Donald Trump suck?” “I think trans people should be able go to the restroom without fear!” “We need stricter gun control laws!” These are the premises of the Applause Comedian, and while they are worth clapping for, you won’t find a joke in sight. These comics look for agreement rather than laughter.
The Applause Comedian is a walking Facebook echo chamber that unintentionally makes you clap your hands like an audience monkey in a Peter Pan play trying to save Tinkerbell’s life. However, instead of clapping your hands because you believe in magic, you’re clapping your hands because you believe in their comedy. It’s apt comparison because both magic and their comedy don’t exist. At least their heart is in the right place.
You’ve been this comic. We all have been. We take our inspirations’ cadence, viewpoint and persona and try to make our own 2.0 versions of their jokes. Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, but it is still a fucking imitation. Within the first few years, most comedians “find their voice,” “own their experience,” or “quit” in order to better themselves. Sadly, there are the others that continue the copycat path and wonder why they aren’t moving forward in their careers because they don’t see that they are being Kandy Kronch, the Latvian ripoff of Candy Crush, even though that game peaked in 2012.
This guy was on MTV2 once and 5 teens actually watched it. Therefore he doesn’t have to write jokes or be nice to women. See: Guy who humps the stool.
I can hear you going “What? This is so specific! How can this possibly be a stand-up archetype?” You’d be surprised. This guy really wants that stool (the one that’s supposed to be there for comics to place their cell and/or water bottle) and he REALLY wants us all to see how he fucks. He is not good at fucking. He will tie said stool humping into a thinly veiled bit, and he thinks we can’t tell how much he wanted to make us watch him hump that stool. We can. He really, really needed us to watch him hump that stool. It’s not so much a joke as it is forcing their kink on the audience. He can’t get hard unless someone watches. He won’t get hard unless you watch. We can beat this phenomenon together if we don’t watch.
This poor kid! Do they know what their parent is saying? Are their high school classmates going to uncover some YouTube video ten years later chock full of jokes about their shitty diapers and barf burps? And did this comic remember to hire a babysitter during their set? We’re not sure. But we’re pretty sure this comic had a kid just so they could talk about having a kid. Good job, buddy! Comics shouldn’t breed.
This comic is correct, and thank you to all the normals who for some reason want to date us. You are wrong. Don’t get engaged to us until we sign that development deal with IFC. Don’t marry us until we’re two seasons into our show with Comedy Central. Never sign a pre-nup. Take everything in the eventual divorce. We say this now because we love you.
Hana Michels is a comedian in Los Angeles.
Erik W. Barnes is on Twitter @ErikWBarnes.