Stand-Up Comedy Glossary

Definitions to comedy nomenclature, slang and Greg Dean’s Comedy System terms.

To be funny, you must talk funny. This glossary of stand-up comedy terms helps you know how to be a stand-up comedian by being able to talk the lingo. A glossary of stand-up comedy should evolve with the times as terms go out of style and usage. If you have any suggestions for this glossary of stand-up comedy terms, feel free to email me. Include the word, definition, your name, and a link URL to your comedy website. The success of our glossary of stand-up comedy terms depends on how well it’s kept up to date, so send in those terms!

1st Story the scenario imagined in the mind of the audience based on the setup of a joke; shared knowledge that already exists in the audience’s minds used in place of a setup.

2nd Story the scenario imagined in the minds of the audience based on the punch of a joke; shared knowledge that already exists in the minds of the audience recalled because of the punch.

4 Cs of comedy gigs clubs, colleges, cruise ships, and corporations.

“A” material the funniest jokes in bits, routines, and shows.

ABCs the values for rating jokes in bits, routines, and shows.

act out a quick scene with one or more POVs enacted during a comedian’s show; see scene work.

ad-lib to make up a joke within a scripted show.

African Dancing and Drumming a Greg Dean story used to metaphorically explain comedy timing.

aged out the point at which older comedians cannot get work because a younger generation of audiences don’t attend their shows.

alternative interpretations a list of meanings or functions of the connector that are not the same as that of the target assumption, one of which will become a joke’s reinterpretation.

assumption 1. the audience’s expectation that the 1st story is true and will continue along the predicted line of thought. 2. everything one is not experiencing with one’s senses in the present.

applause break when an audience claps for a joke or routine.

avails the dates send to bookers to indicate when the comedian is available to work.

“B” material the second best jokes in bits, routines, and shows.

bad green room personality comedians who are troublesome, unpleasant, or hard to get along with in the green room or off-stage.

BCAs most effective order for the jokes in a routine; or the most effective order for the routines within a show. i.e. “B” material first, “C” material in the middle, “A” material to close the routine or show.

beat, take a pause or break during a performance.

behavioral jokes comedy constructed with the nonverbal communication choices of character, emotions/state of mind, body language/actions, and sound effects.

bit a section of a stand-up comedy show or routine, also a short routine or a section of a routine.

blue material jokes using graphic sexual overtones, scatological (toilet) references, and swear words.

bomb to perform a comedy show that gets no or few laughs.

booker a person who hires and/or pays comedians to work.

booked to get the comedy job.

booking the act of hiring of comics for a show or shows.

bringer a room or club that requires the comics to bring audience members in order to get stage time.

bumped, to get to be moved later in a showcase club line-up sometimes to the point of not getting to perform.

“C” material the weakest jokes in bits, routines, and shows.

call in a show to give the minimum effort to a performance.

callback a joke that refers back to another joke performed earlier in the show, presented in a different context.

capper an antiquated term for the final in a series of jokes on the same subject matter which ends the routine with the biggest laugh.

catchphrase a common phrase said in a extraordinary manner that becomes the trademark of a particular comedian. i.e. Steve Martin’s “Excuse me.” or Billy Crystal’s “You look marvelous.”

character POV the perceptual position achieved when pretending to be someone or something else.

clean material traditionally a show with no curse words that can be aired on commercial TV.

closer comedians with shows strong enough to top the evening’s previous comedians.

closing line the final joke of a stand-up comedy show designed to get a huge laugh while the comedian exits the stage.

comedian someone who makes a living being funny by means of an amusing character.

comedian’s comedian the comedian other comedians most admire.

comedy timing tempo, rhythm developed between the comedian and the audience, or tailor the material to an individual performing situation; see African Dancing and Drumming; timing.

comic someone who makes a living being funny by telling jokes.

comic timing see comedy timing; timing; African Dancing and Drumming.

comic’s clichés the phrases and idiosyncrasies overused by all hack comics.

comic’s comic see comedian’s comedian.

connector the mechanism at the center of all comedy, humor, and jokes that is the one thing with two interpretations.

cotton mouth a feeling of crustiness inside the mouth brought on by nerves while performing.

cord see as mic cord.

crickets after the delivery of a joke when the audience is so quiet one could hear crickets.

Critic Spot a location designated for evaluating one’s show; separate from the Performer Space.

crowd work verbally bantering with the audience; see riffing.

crush, to do an amazingly funny show.

delivery style of presenting comedy material.

die, to see bombing; drying.

double up to perform in two comedy rooms or clubs in one night.

drop in when a famous comedian unannounced enter a comedy club and can immediately get on stage and do a show.

drop out, a when a comic cancels their appearance in a comedy line-up.

dry mouth see cotton mouth.

dying see bombing; die, to.

edgy material comedy subject matter right on the comedy side of the hurt line which doesn’t cross over into drama.

emcee Master or Mistress of Ceremonies; the person who introduces the performers; see MC.

feature the second comedian in the standard three-comedian stand-up comedy show line-up; see middle.

fill in on little notice to replace a comedian who has dropped out of a comedy show line-up.

flop sweat the overabundance of perspiration one experiences in a panic reaction to bombing.

flopping not getting any laughs; see bombing.

gag file a joke file.

gag a joke.

gelotophobia fear of being laughed at.

gig a show business job.

graphing a scaling device with dots on paper for evaluating the effectiveness of jokes to determine their proper placement within a routine or show.

green room the place for comedians to gather before and after comedy shows.

guest set a courtesy five-to-ten-minute spot offered by comedy clubs so accomplished comedians can audition in a live performance.

hack from the British word hackneyed; over used and thus cliché, trite.

hacky overused topics and comic’s clichés.

hammock, to a technique for placing weaker material or improvisation between two strong bits.

headliner the third and last comedian considered the star of a standard stand-up comedy show; see closer.

heckler an audience member who talks and interrupts a show, usually by exchanging insults with the comedian.

host see emcee and MC.

hurt line a subjective psychological tipping point when comedy turns into drama.

impressions to act out recognizable celebrities.

improv see improvisation.

improvisation akin to ad-lib, but usually refers to spontaneous making up an entire bit; the continual comedic bantering with audience members.

inside joke a joke referring to information or shared knowledge only a select group of people have.

joke a device for expressing humor that employs a setup which indicates a target assumption to misdirect the audience into accepting a bogus 1st story to create expectation; and a punch which indicate a reinterpretation that reveals an unexpected 2nd story that shatters the setup’s target assumption.

Joke Diagram a visual aid invented by Greg Dean to illustrate the structure of jokes.

joke file jokes organized and stored on index cards or in a computer.

Joke Map the first part of Greg Dean’s Joke Prospector Writing System, which starts with a topic, creates a punch-premise, forms a setup-premise, and concludes with writing joke setups.

Joke Mine the second part of the Greg Dean’s Joke Prospector Writing System which begins with a setup and explains the process of using the joke mechanisms of target assumption, connector, and reinterpretation to write a punch.

joke premise see premise.

Joke Prospector a joke writing system invented by Greg Dean consisting of the two-part combination of the Joke Map and the Joke Mine.

jokey a term used to describe such obvious jokes that one would expect to hear a rim shot following them.

kick comedy butt or ass a show where the audience laughs loud and often; see kill, to; see crush, to.

kill, to give an excellent comedy performance.

laser beam controversy set off by a joke.

laughs per minute a measurement for counting the number of laughs in a show; see LPMs.

light, the a signal to comedians performing that their stage time is up.

light, get the when a comedian gets the signal that it’s time to get off stage.

line-up a list of the comics slated to perform.

lottery open mic where the performance line-up is created by pulling names out of a hat or bucket.

LPMs laughs per minute.

MC Master or Mistress of Ceremonies; the person who introduces the performers; see emcee.

middle the second comedian in the standard three-comedian stand-up comedy show line-up.

mic abbreviation for microphone.

mic stand a height-adjustable device for holding the microphone.

mic cord the electrical cable attached to the microphone with a plug; see cord.

mic jack the plug used to attached the electrical cable to the microphone.

mic technique the proper ways of holding and moving the microphone, stand, and cord.

monologue a speech for one perso; in comedy, a stand-up comedy script for a solo comedian.

narrator POV the perceptual position achieved when being an observer or nonparticipant of an experience.

Neurolinguistic Programming a behavioral model and set of explicit skills and techniques founded by John Grinder and Richard Bandler. Defined as the study and mapping of the structure of the mind.

NLP Neurolinguistic Programming.

on the road continually working outside of one’s city of residence.

one-liner a joke formed using a setup and a punch.

one-liner timing when a laugh peaks, waiting 2, 3, 4 before starting the next setup.

one-nighter a job that only lasts one night.

open mic a room or club where anyone can get on stage and do a few minutes of stand-up comedy.

open micer a person who frequently does open mics.

open spot an unfilled slot in a comedy show line-up.

opener the first of three comedians in a traditional comedy club line-up.

opening line the first joke of a stand-up comedy routine.

paid regular a comedian who frequently performs at a showcase comedy club and receives a compensation for each show performed.

pander to an audience when comedians use the lowest common denominator material and trick to get the audience to like or applaud them, especially with the exclusion of their own opinions or comic voice.

pause to stop talking in a show to enhance the timing of a joke.

Performer Space a location designated for evaluating one’s show; separate from the Critic Spot.

P.A. personal appearance

P.A. agent or manager the person in charge of booking and arranging personal appearance work for comedians.

POV point of view.

POVs points of view.

premise a statement with a negative opinion about a subject from which to write a series of jokes or a routine.

preview see showcase.

prop comics comedians who perform their jokes by using props; e.g. Gallagher.

punch the second part of a joke that contains a reinterpretation that creates a 2nd Story that shatters the setup’s target assumption.

punch line see punch.

Punch-premise a step in the Joke Map stating a negative opinion about a specific subject associated with the topic.

punch up to write more jokes and tags for an already written bit or routine.

red light the final and strongest signal telling comedians to end their show immediately.

regulars comedians who appear frequently at a particular nightclub.

Rehearsal Process, Greg Dean’s a method to turning jokes or routines into scenes, and then acting out those scene using Narrator, Self, and Character POVs with the result of remembering in pictures, sounds, and feelings so the performer can tell the story of the material, rather than memorize the words.

reinterpretation the mechanism in the punch that reveals an unexpected interpretation of the connector that shatters the target assumption.

reinterpretations several alternative interpretations of the connector, other than the target assumption.

reveal within the punch, the pivotal word, phrase, or action that exposes the 2nd Story’s reinterpretation.

rhythm of three see rule of three.

riff to verbally banter with the audience.

rip or rip into or ripping to attack, insult, or verbally tear into an audience member or comic who has heckled or otherwise deserves the abuse.

road work the work comedians when they must travel outside of their residential city.

road comic professional comedian who travels outside their residential city to make a living doing comedy gigs.

road agent or manager the person in charge of booking and arranging road work for comedians.

roast to use jokes to insult and embarrass a specific person as a means of honoring them.

roll, on a delivering a string of jokes so that the audience continues laughing for an extended period without interruption.

routine a series of jokes all on the same subject or a funny story.

routine premise see premise.

rule of three jokes with a setup that has two items from the same category and a punch with a third item that is compatible with the setup’s two items, yet different. E.g. 1, 2, C.

running gag multiple callbacks; a recurring joke within the same show.

sandwich, to see hammock.

scene work a quick scene with one or more POVs is enacted during a comedian’s show; see act out.

segue a transitional sentence for purposes of leading from one joke or routine to another.

self POV the perceptual position achieved when performing as one’s self while participating in an experience.

set a stand-up comedy show of any length.

set list bullet point reminders of the order of the bits or routines to be done in a show.

setup the first part of a joke that contains a target assumption to misdirect the audience into accepting a bogus 1st story.

Setup-premise a step in the Joke Map stating the opposite opinion, to that of the punch-premise, from which setups are written.

shatter in joke structure, the point at which the audience realizes that their target assumption is incorrect.

showcase to perform for the purposes of getting experience or being seen by a potential bookers.

showcase clubs venues using a line-up of ten or more comics in a row as the format for their shows.

shtick Yiddish for a comic scene or piece of business; often implying the use of a gimmick or physical comedy.

sight gag a physical joke meant to be watched.

signups open mics that require performers to sign up in advance, so later a lottery can determine the line-up of that night’s show.

smooth on and smooth off phrase coined by Jerry Seinfeld, describing the best way to get on stage and off stage to ensure the show goes well.

stage time the duration, in minutes, a comedian spends in front of an audience making them laugh.

stay in the bit during audience laughter, to stop talking yet maintain the same emotion or state of mind as when the joke was delivered.

stretch, to when an MC goes on stage and entertains the audience until some technical or logistical problem is solved.

tag or tag line an additional punch immediately following a punch that does not require a new setup.

tag timing just after a burst of laughter, to deliver a short tag while the audience is breathing in, and then repeat.

take, a a comedic facial reaction. E.g. Jack Benny.

talking head comics who memorize their jokes and deliver them with little or no emotion or physical movement.

target shortened term for target assumption.

target assumption the misdirecting assumption in a joke’s setup that creates the 1st story and is targeted and shattered by the reinterpretation and punch.

triple up to perform in three comedy rooms or clubs in one night.

throw away to put little emphasis on a point usually considered important.

time slot the specific spot a comedian occupies within a showcase club lineup.

timing see comedy timing.

topic based on something wrong, a single category from which an entire bit or routine is written.

topical jokes comedy material based on current events.

topper an antiquated term referring to a joke playing off a previous joke; same as tag.

traditional comedy clubs venues that employ an MC or opener, feature or middle, and headliner comedians as the format for their shows.

unpaid regular a comedian who frequently performs at a showcase comedy club but does not get paid for performing because they are doing it to get experience.

variety performers comedians who do comedy along with a variety skill, such as juggling, guitar, magic, ventriloquism, etc.

week gigs comedy jobs performed on Sunday through Thursday.

weekend gigs comedy jobs performed on Friday, Saturday, and/or Sunday.