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STAND-UP RUNDOWN: Crowd Work Curse

Social media is prompting comedians to incorporate more crowd work into their sets - for better or worse.

by Chuck king

Comedy fans rarely scroll through their social media feeds without seeing clips from their favorite comedians.

More often than not those comedians are performing crowd work.

In some ways crowd work can be a godsend for up-and-coming comedians. It allows them to market themselves via videos without giving away their better jokes. But as crowd work videos become more prevalent, audiences are increasing looking to become part of the act. That doesn’t always go so well.

Ahead of this past weekend’s High Plains Comedy Festival in Colorado, the Denver Post posed the question: “Is Tik Tok-focused crowd work ruining stand-up comedy?” The article makes some good points.

The Stand-Up Spotlight also offers news of an upcoming festival in Chicago. There’s also a list of the Top 8 movies directed by comedians, and news of Heather McMahon’s comedy special heading to Netflix.

Get the week rolling on a funny note.

STAND-UP SPOTLIGHT – September 25, 2023

Entertainment | Is TikTok-focused crowd work ruining stand-up comedy?

STAND-UP RUNDOWN:As the High Plains Comedy Festival returns for its 10th edition, Denver audiences can catch dozens of stand-up sets from 100 local and national comics, podcast recordings, open-mic nights, reunions, and more along the city’s South Broadway corridor.

They’ll also see plenty of crowd work at the event, which began Thursday, Sept. 21, and continues through Saturday, Sept. 23. Most of us know it well: that seemingly unavoidable part of stand-up that trades practiced, written material for surface-y, sometimes contentious, audience interaction.

Whether that includes shutting down a heckler or querying unsuspecting folks in the front row, it’s something comics have increasingly come to regard as either an asset or a crutch — especially following its ascension on social media in the form of viral clips on TikTok and Instagram.

Inaugural 312 Comedy Fest brings top standup comics to suburbs and Chicago


As traditional live performances have picked up over the course of the last two years following the pandemic, few artforms have thrived in quite the way stand-up comedy has.

Stand-up offered Americans a means of escape during turbulent times, with comedy specials on online streaming platforms like Netflix acting as a launchpad for young stars telling relatable stories.

Comedian Taylor Tomlinson kicked off the year selling 11,000 tickets over the course of a sold-out January run at Chicago Theatre while Arlington Heights native Sebastian Maniscalco and Chicago-born stand-up John Mulaney made the jump to arenas.

8 Must-See Movies Directed by Comedians

STAND-UP RUNDOWN:Although many stand-up comedians end up starring in movies, very few ever get the chance to direct. When comedians do get that chance, it often comes with no small amount of expectation. It seems that the more beloved a comedian is, the greater the hope they will deliver a film that matches their own personal success.

Even the most esteemed comedian can struggle to pull off the gargantuan task that is directing a movie. Over the years when comedians have succeeded at filmmaking, however, they have produced a variety of films – from outright hits to slow burns to underrated gems that didn’t get the chance they should have.

Netflix Sets Heather McMahan Stand-Up Special ‘Son I Never Had’

STAND-UP RUNDOWN:Heather McMahan found herself an absolutely yes. The comedian, who also hosts the popular Absolutely Not podcast on the Dear Media network, will debut her first stand-up special on Netflix Oct. 17. Titled Son I Never Had, the hourlong show is based on the material from her facetiously-titled The Farewell Tour, which ran 94 dates throughout North America in 2021 and 2022.

McMahan draws from her own personal life — both hardships, like the grief of losing her father days after he received a pancreatic cancer diagnosis, and lighter fare like an ill-advised childhood bowl cut — to find the humor in widely universal themes like grief and body image. The special offers an introductory version of her life story to new audiences while also dropping Easter eggs for her longtime fans and listeners. “I want to paint a picture of what baby Heather looked like, okay?” starts one joke. “I’d always wear my dad’s hand-me-down golf shirt tucked into the front. I’d wear a sensible velcro sandal in case I had to, like, take off after my mom at Costco. I really solidified the look when I went to Great Clips one summer and saw my stylist Trish, and just go ‘Trish, I want you to get out the buzzers and hit the nape of my neck.”


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