Northern California Comedy Guide

Comedy has its own language. There are many terms that are used regularly, whether it's about killing an audience, dying on stage or topping a joke, people who are becoming initiated to the world of comedy need to know what some of those terms mean.

Below is a list of common terms to help you to enter the comedy world.

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Northern California Comedy Guide

Comedic Terms and Terminology

These are some commonly used comedy terms:

ad-lib - a line that is made up on the spot during scripted material. 

beat - this has two meanings. Either it can be used to describe a section of material (see "bit" below) or mean to take a a pause for some comedic effect. 

behavioral jokes - using non-verbal elements to comedic effect. This often uses emotions, character elements, body language or sound effects. Think of Richard Pryor walking as if he were white, etc. 

bit - this has two meanings. It is a section of material, or a part of a section depending on context. It may also mean an entire self-contained comedic piece with its own purpose.

blue - "dirty jokes". Material with a lot of sexual material, "potty humor" or inappropriate language for its own sake. 

bomb - to fail in a comedic performance.

booker - someone who hires comedians to perform. 

callback - making reference to earlier material. 

capper - the last topper (see below), geared towards getting the biggest laugh. 

catch phrase - phrase designed to be a trade mark, something that the audience will remember the comedian for. 

closer - the final joke in a set. 

creative misunderstanding - a purposeful mistake in the interpretation of an idea for a comedic effect 

dying - similar to bomb, except currently in the process of bombing.

Emcee or MC - introduces the performers and hosts the evening.

gag - a joke.

gag file - a file or journal of jokes to be used in the future or to develop material. 

get it - often used to describe the understanding of a joke.

headliner - the star of a larger show. The "name" that is used to sell an evening of comedy. Usually performs last. 

heckler - someone who interrupts, usually by shouting insults. 

inside joke - a joke targeted to only a few people in an identifiable group. Others would not have the information to "get" the joke.

joke file - a file or journal of jokes to be used in the future or to develop material. 

killing - to perform extremely well. The opposite of dying. 

line-up - a list of pieces to be performed (improv) or the comics set to perform. 

long form - collection of improvised scenes or games based on a single audience input.

LPM or laughs per minute - a theoretical measurement of how quickly the laughs come during a show. The idea being that the more LPM, the better the performance. A set with a low LPM would have to get more tight. 

mic - abbreviation for microphone. 

on the road - traveling to perform. 

one-liner - a quick joke. 

one-nighter - a one night gig. 

open-mic night - a night that allows anyone to get on stage. 

opener - the comedian that is first, or opens the show in a line-up. 

opening line - the first line of a routine. 

POV - point of view. 

premise - the central concept to a routine. 

punch line - the line that is supposed to derive the laughter from the audience. 

regular - local comedian who appears regularly.

reveal - that which exposes the creative misunderstanding or humor. 

running gag - a recurring bit that repeats often during a routine. 

scene - a single location and scenario that two actors perform within.

set - a stand-up comedy routine of any length. 

short-form - a single scene or game performed in an improvisational show based on an audience suggestion.

showcase - a performance offering exposure to its performers (often instead of compensation). 

sketch - a prepared scene for comedic material to be presented in a theatrical setting.

skit - a sketch, but with a slightly less professional connotation.

stage time - the amount of time on stage a performer has. 

tag line - the final line of a comedic setup. Usually a line that leads to the end of a bit and allows the moving on to the next piece.

topical humor - jokes about current events. 

topper - a gag playing off a previous gag. These top one another building on laughter leading to the capper.