It is true that we had storytellers back in the 1700s, but they were nothing like today. Ours were somewhat more genteel, and always committed to staying within the bounds of decency and good taste.
Well, actually, that is not entirely true. We had our share of entertainers who used off-color language too, even then. But their careful use of double meanings and euphemisms put them on a much higher plane than many of the people I have witnessed performing in these things you now call “comedy clubs.”
“Anything goes” appears to be the rule of the day, today. The more outrageous, provocative, and shocking the language, the better the audience responds, it seems.
Another thing I have noticed is the overreliance on “put-downs” and insults. Again, while I am no stranger to humorous vilification — we certainly had a good share of it during colonial times, and King George was often the butt of our jokes — some of today’s comedians seem to carry this to an even more cutthroat extreme. This is either symptomatic of the ruthless nature of your modern world — or perhaps even a root cause of it! Although I would be quick to point out that artists and storytellers can not take all the blame for this trend, since much of the responsibility, I would think, lies with thought leaders in business and government.
One thing that has not changed, however, is the time and location of the entertainment. In 18th century America, you would often find our storytellers perfecting their craft nightly in the taverns and publick houses, where their audiences were quite frequently well-lubricated and inebriated.
For some reason, being in an intoxicated state makes one more convivial and receptive to all types of humor, even bad jokes that would not pass muster in the light of day when one is more sober. For example, stories of chickens crossing the road, knock-knock jokes (which, incidentally, the great English playwright William Shakespeare invented, you may be interested to learn), nun jokes, stories of elephants in one’s pajamas… and, of course, the inevitable bald jokes, fat jokes, and stingy jokes, all of which I have personally been the target of, at one time or another.
If I may conclude my little discourse on standup comedy with a question, what I would really like to know is, what is the significance of an extremely common disguise that many comedians like to employ: a large pair of black spectacles adorned with bushy eyebrows and a large black mustache? Is there some added humor value to this? Does it make their jokes funnier, their improvisations wittier?
I am told that this custom dates back to a famous comedian who plied his trade in the 1930s, ‘40s, and ‘50s — someone named “Grouchie?” Perhaps, if I could become more adept with the technique of time travel, I should like to meet this individual. He might have some good material that I can use in my Poor Richard’s Almanack.
Your humble servant,