many improvisers are familiar with this kind of faulty questioning, it is a common series of mistakes. as soon as you mention that you do comedy people immediately consult their limited library of reference points and assume that you do stand-up comedy. i don't do stand up comedy. i have done, i enjoyed it...
i prefer improvisation.
stand-up is really very fundamentally different to improv. i'm going to have to generalise, but basically stand-up is one person on stage telling jokes that they have thought up, written, improved, worked on, honed and then put into an order that makes them compliment each other and provide a calculated series of laughs. you know that, you've seen stand-up, everyone has. stand-up is well known and the 'stars' of stand-up comedy are like rock gods in the comedy world.
improv is better. i reckon. improv is better because stand-up comedians try and do it and they usually can't, and when i saw 20 improvisers do stand-up as an experiment they were largely brilliant. that means improv is harder (fight me). you probably won't have seen the improvisers-try-their-hand-at-stand-up show (most of the population of the world didn't make it), but the standard of stand-up was surprisingly high. actually, using the word 'surprisingly' takes away from how good it was. it was consistently brilliant.
as a contra, try watching an episode of Mock The Week - a quiz show that's apparently a bunch of stand-up comics improvising funny answers to questions and mini stand-up routines based on suggestions. but you see that it's not improvised, right?
you see that they have rehearsed the show and had all day to come up with the 'funny', right?
you can tell by their delivery, right?
okay, if you don't see that you should definitely get yourself to an impro show, because your mind will literally be blown out of the top of your head. literally.
i find impro better because it is about improving the world. it is about collaboration. it is about people working together to make something wonderful happen. an impro group will work as a team to build something out of nothing using only the power of their wit and the relationships they've formed with each other. new worlds, new characters, new situations. new places, stories, relationships, issues, songs, ideas... more more more
"improv is constructive, stand-up is destructive." - methere's a tag line for you.
stand-up seeks to - yes - explore the world, but then it deconstructs it into it's component parts to find the subtle and not-so-subtle nuances that make life on earth ridiculous and amusing. it is holding a mirror up to ourselves and taking the piss out of the crazy nature of living. "people do silly things at weddings, don't they?" "the government are a bunch of numpty's, aren't they?" "here is a pun" that sort of thing.
stand-up uses what's already there. improv makes something new.
there are of course, exceptions. there are a lot of great stand-ups who do great comedy. it tends to be the ones that have a constructive comedy routine that make me laugh the most.
- eddie izzard, for example. he creates weird and wonderful situations out of every day objects. he adds to the world to find the comedy. (he is also a trained improviser, trained by a brilliant improviser i know called alan marriott.)
- bill bailey... creates songs for his performances.
- ross noble is brilliant. ross noble improvises his entire set and it's different every nigh... what..? wait a minute.. yes, he improvises every gig. oh. he's an improviser.
- daniel kitson is warm, generous and offers you comedy on a plate of his mum's best china. he also writes plays.
- steve coogan created alan partridge.
- russell howard .. is animproviser.
- michael legge .. is an improviser.
- nina conti is hilarious, has a fantastic relationship with her ventriloquist puppet monkey and... oh yeah, hang on, she's an improviser too.
what about the americans? bill murray, tina fey, larry david...?
there are brilliant stand-ups who don't particularly add to the world to make their comedy, but they are less in numbers. stewart lee, dylan moran, lee evans in his heyday. god bless their existence.
if i was going to publicly list stand-ups who i think are vastly, vastly over-rated (of course i won't, that would be terrible).. that list would include ricky gervais, jason manford, russell brand (ohmygod), michael mcintyre (holyfuck)... people who are more famous than talented. a bit like paris hilton.
i don't do stand up. that's brilliant, i do improv. it is less well-known, but it is better. do you remember who's line is it anyway?.. ? good wasn't it?
there are shit-loads of impro shows going on, every day. just because it's not on TV all the time doesn't mean the improv community isn't alive and thrilling. the only reason it's not really on TV is because TV execs want to know the exact content of something before they give it money. before it goes on air. that's probably why 'improvised' mock the week is rehearsed so many times and then heavily edited. you see that, right?
basically, our choices about what comedy we get to watch on TV is governed by people in business suits. not even funny people in business suits.
you could have more of it in your life. and it's cheap too. a fiver will usually get you a whole evening of hilarious comedy that'll will only happen the one time. and if you speak up, the show could be all about something you shout out. better than telly, that.
start here for your next show. if we all start going to them, the TV executives might notice.