Did Jewish Comedians Invent Standup Comedy?

My dad remembers the tail end of vaudville-he says yes. According to him, most of the guys who delivered stage comedy were jewish (although other ethnic groups were represented).
He says that these comedians usually went on as a “filler” between other acts.
Later (because of the popularity), the comedians gradually increased the length of their performances, untill they became the main event.
Is this how it happened?

I can’t corroborate the “between the acts” theory of how it all got started, but it’s generally a safe assumption that any innovation in American popular entertainment in the first half of the 20th century either originated with, or was brought to prominence by, Jews. They were simply the right people in the right place at the right time: intelligent, driven, urban, “other,” and yet still White.

Jack Benny is often considered the first real stand up comedian. I’m sure he’s not really the inventor of the form by any means, but he was a very early example of someone who told stories about amusing incidents, rather than just telling jokes or performing gags. He was Jewish, but his comedy never really relied on it significantly for humor. Any Jewish humor on Benny’s show was done by other characters who made it their main shtick.

It appears that stand-up comedy goes back before the era of vaudeville:

In particular, it appears that it goes back before the Jewish domination of the form in vaudeville days. The earliest dates mentioned in this article are in the eighteenth century. It may well be true that in the U.S. stand-up comedy separate from vaudeville seemed to be very much a Jewish art form when it first started to appear. So I would guess that stand-up wasn’t so much invented strictly by Jews as became associated with them later on.

You may be onto something there. I would argue that it wasn’t any ethnic (or nonethnic) character in Benny’s material that gave him the access to create a new form, but the fact of his being of that ethnicity in the first place that made him an outsider.

The creative fields at the time had a social stigma we can’t really imagine today - if you had any kind of an intellect and had other callings open to you (say by being a White Protestant man), you just would not get involved. Even the few who did tended not to be prime creators or originators - usually because they could not step back enough from their culture to say anything worth saying about it or bring much new to it.

Robin Williams was on Craig Ferguson last night, and he told the story of being on a German talk show. The host asked him why Germans didn’t seem to have as much of a sense of humor as others, and Williams said, “Maybe it’s because you tried to kill all your funny people.” Apparently that did not go over well.

No. Standup comedy came out of vaudeville (one can make the argument that the standup comedy team came from Minstrel shows) and things like the English Music Hall.

Will Rogers was doing topical comedy monologues in 1915 (the spiritual ancestor of John Stewart and The Daily Show) after having done them on the vaudeville circuit for over a decade.

The Wikipedia article on vaudeville shows a sample vaudeville show from 1902. The top act was one James Thornton, a comedy act. Thornton was born in the UK.

Who in the world thinks this? I don’t mean it isn’t “often” said, I can’t believe it is ever said.

You have stand-up long before Benny’s career began. The problem with finding a beginning point lies in the definition of what we would consider “stand-up.” There was always a stage specialty called the “monologue” which was far more than the introduction to a late-night comedy show that we think of today. Monologues could be any subject or any genre, from Shakespeare to poetry (DeWolf Hopper did Casey at the Bat probably 10,000 times, starting before Benny was born) to famous political speeches to dialect comedy. Vaudeville was full of famous monologuists by the early 20th century. Benny didn’t even start working alone until after World War I.

Vaudeville evolved over its lifetime just like every other art. The scenario given in the OP is sorta kinda possible, but only as a generality. Every possible kind of act that could amuse or entertain an audience was tried out at some point. The more popular ones were gradually given more time. Comics did become superstars, and were given prime positions. But few comics did nothing but talk. Most were in teams of some kind. Benny worked with a girl for years. George Burns had a long series of partners of all kinds before Gracie Allen. Smith and Dale, Weber and Fields, Gallagher and Shean, the Marx Brothers and a million other acts did comedy of every sort. W. C. Fields started as a mute comic juggler and eventually found that his comments were as well received. Eddie Cantor sang. Al Jolson sang. Burt Williams sang. Heck, Groucho sang and he couldn’t sing. Cantor was on radio with a staff of jokewriters eight years before Benny had his own program. (There’s an incredible book about his show called Funny Men Don’t Laugh, by Arnold Auerbach.)

Even if you limit yourself to people who did a recitation of topical jokes rather than a set routine that lived for years, as many vaudeville performers did, you’d have to give pride of place not to Benny but to Will Rogers. Rogers was well established in vaudeville by 1905. He became superfamous with his topical monologues in Florenz Ziegfeld’s Midnight Frolic of 1915. In fact, most of the famous people in vaudeville really became famous in revues and follies and Broadway shows rather than true vaudeville.

Did Jews invent stand-up? Even with all the caveats about definitions and time, I’d have to say no. Jews didn’t get into vaudeville in a big way until the start of the 20th century. Something similar to stand-up existed well before then. Comedy attracted immigrants of all ethnicities because it was a lower form of acting which was a low form to begin with. Jews were incredibly important to comedy, but so were an equal number or more of non-Jews. And they came first.

OK, but if it’s a British thing rather than an American one, that still argues for the necessity for outsider status. Standup is irreverent commentary on society, and American society at the turn of the century was not about to encourage such irreverence in its native sons (and certainly not its daughters).

A. A British thing? One particular person being born in the UK doesn’t make it British. It’s almost certainly not. British music hall material developed along parallel lines, but stand-up is far more American.

B. No irreverence? See Rogers, Will.

He was half Native American.

Jesus (hey, it’s Easter!!!) was Jewish and he invented stand up comedy. Sermon on the Mount. http://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Matthew+5-7&version=NIV Now imagine Richard Pryor saying the same words.

You’re missing a few ancestors.

My greater point, I guess, is that you need something that separates you from most of society to become truly creative, and that something has to be non-trivial. You could be Catholic, or gay, or alcoholic, or abused, or abusive, or obsessive, or depressive, or orphaned, or really poor, or really intelligent.

It’s a “necessary but not sufficient” condition.

Have you ever read Finley Peter Dunne? Mark Twain?

Do you have any proof to your claim that you have to have some separation from society before you can become creative? Proof is not examples. Proof is some more or less scientific study of the matter. I suspect that what you’re about to do is give us a long list of examples and show that each of them have some separation from society. Separation from society will be so loosely defined that most people will have such a separation, making the claim meaningless.

Burlesque Shows had a comedian between acts doing humor and providing introductions to the strippers. Many of the early stand ups started there.

Wiki says American Burlesque started in about 1870.

With all due respect, sir - here we go again. Dunne was Irish-American in a day when discrimination against the Irish was virulent. Twain was an authentic genius, who achieved what he did with hardly any formal schooling, the kind of exception that serves mostly to prove the rule. (Some outliers can bring it off, but most can’t - it’s far better to be an outsider than an outlier.)

I would say no such proof is possible. The best we can do is observe. My observations, FWTW, say it’s a lot harder to be creative from the inside of any society, and that the further outside you get, the more space and perspective you have to do new things.

No lists forthcoming from me. And I did say that one’s separation from society had to be non-trivial. It has to profoundly affect one’s view of oneself and one’s world.