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The Comedy Glossary

Having been a comedian for 5 years and professional for just over one, I thought I might write a short Glossary of Comedy terms so that my friends can understand what the f*ck I'm on about half of the time.

What's a 'Gig'?

  • Gig

  • This one's easy. This is a simple, straight forward performance.

  • Set

  • A set is the name for the actual stand-up comedy performance that takes place at a Gig.

  • Bit

  • A bit is a particular joke section. For example, my piece about the Top Saudi Movies is a 'bit'.

What's a 'Joke'?

  • Set-up

  • This is, as the name would suggest, the build up to a punchline in a joke. This can be a long story and a description of a character or a setting, or a simple short line such as "I work for myself taking photos"...(read on)

  • Punchline

  • This is the joke part. The funny bit. These tends to be short and abrupt but can also be assisted by an action. Ideally, you will have paid attention to the Set-up, otherwise this might not work. Here's an example: "I work for myself taking photos. I'm selfie employed."

  • Call-back

  • The Call-back is a bit more of an additional feature rather than a necessity. This is a joke or gimmick that refers to a previous joke or incident that could have happened earlier in that comedian's set, or even during the night.

What about the Audience?

  • Crowd work

  • This is a part of a Stand-up set that I really enjoy. This is essentially me, or any other comedian, talking to a member of the audience. It's usually a conversation where the comedian asks a question, the audience member replies and the comedian responds with a clever quip.

  • Heckler

  • Crowd work is not to be confused with a Heckler, though, although it may provoke one. A Heckler is essentially an individual that shouts out and disrupts your set. They could disrupt it with a random comment, some verbal abuse or some unintelligible sounds. In general, it is the comedians job to 'put them down' with a clever comeback and insult them into silence. Sometimes they are persistent and this is where the better comedians step up to the plate and put the Heckler in their place. I once put someone down so much that they left the venue. Success. Check out my other blog post about how to deal with these menaces.

Who's at a Gig?

  • Bill

  • No, not someone called Bill. This is the list of comedians and hosts that will be performing on the night.

  • Host/MC

  • This is the audience's best friend/worst nightmare, depending on how you treat him. He keeps the timing of the comedians down to a tee (if he's worth his salt), keeps the audience quiet and NOT ON THEIR PHONES and introduces everyone. Be nice to him and he'll make your night great fun; talk and be rude and he'll turn you into a laughing stock, and trust me, he'll be out a few more times to do it again. This guy tends to get paid the second highest based on the toughness of his job and time on stage.

  • Opener

  • Literally, the opening act of the night. Not the MC, he's pretty standard, although he might do some jokes. The Opener has the tough job of getting the audience's mindset into them being at a comedy gig and getting them to listen. Lots of energy and some quick jokes is the usual style. This guy is the third highest paid usually.

  • Headliner

  • It exists in almost all walks of performance, but the Headliner is the closing act, the big kahuna. This could be a well established name or just someone who 90% of the time just knocks it out of the park. They usually get paid the most on a night.

What about the Atmosphere?

  • Dead

  • Sadly, sometimes the crowd isn't really 'up for it' and no matter what, it can be super tough to make them laugh. A good example of a 'Dead' crowd would be after a really bad piece of news like a famous celebrity death or tragic event, or if the venue isn't right for comedy, the best example of which would be outdoor events. Laughter is contagious; outside, laughter just floats away.

  • Killed

  • If a comedian 'killed it' it's most definitely a good thing. Almost every one of their punchlines hit the mark and the laughs were louder than expected. Even the crowd work went off without a hitch.

  • Bombed

  • ​Why do these all sound so morbid? If a comedian 'bombed' it is the polar opposite of 'killing it'. The jokes fell flat and the comedian either lost the audience's attention or they began to feel awkward. Sometimes you wish they had just evaporated into thin air rather than try to finish their set.


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