Eddie Didn't Do Standup - Some Keys to Poe's Humor - What the Standups Do

Eddie Didn't Do Standup: Some Keys to Poe's Humor

At the outset, let me state unequivocally that Edgar Allan Poe did not do standup. This sad news will not come as a shock to most. We have not normally pictured him as precursor to Johnny Carson or David Letterman. Even allowing that standup as we know it is a twentieth century phenomenon and that our forebears were more likely to attend humorous lectures of the sort given by Twain, we cannot even make Poe into a humorist who delivered understated humor to a sea of waiting listeners.

Using the via negativa, however, does allow us to establish in some measure the kind of humor in which Poe did engage. It also offers us the opportunity to look at three ways in which we can both feel certain that he was trying to be humorous and that we can examine the extent and nature of his humor.

What the Standups Do

There is no mystery about the name "standup." It refers to the posture most comedians in our ken assume when giving their acts. They stand in front of their audiences, ready to catapult their listeners into laughter.

Most often they use the tools of verbal humor to do their job. They paint ludicrous word pictures which convulse listeners. What subject matter do they use?

They can use anything in the world, but most use themselves. Rodney Dangerfield made a career out of his getting no respect. Louie Anderson, like a host of male and female heavyweights, uses his weight to evoke the laughter of the crowds. A few, like Bob Newhart, reveal their quirks in skits rather than merely telling us straight out what the quirks are.

Then there is also the physical comedy. Gallagher and his ilk smash watermelons and reduce indestructible furniture to kindling. David Letterman has full paint cans tossed seven stories to splatter in the streets below. Others volunteer to juggle eggs and, being unable to juggle at all, drop them every one.

We do not laugh just because someone breaks eggs or talks about his own liberal poundage; but put these things in the right context, and we laugh uproariously.

The good standup artist shows his virtuosity by getting us to laugh at the most unlaughable situations.