Audienceship and (Non)Laughter in the Stand-up Comedy of Steve Martin

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In an attempt to tease out the dynamics of the more often discussed overarching performer/audience relationship in live stand-up; to explore the conditions of intra-audience agency; and, further, and most significantly, to explore the pleasures of the medium, it would seem appropriate to turn to the point of laughter, that physical and most gratifying manifestation of both intra-audience and performer/audience relations. A concrete marker of the crucial bonds or contracts promoted and exploited in stand-up, laughter is a most fruitful focal point for analysis. As such, it is my intention here to examine moments of laughter and, more importantly, (non)laughter, in the recorded live comedy of Steve Martin - a performer whose unique status as the first 'rock 'n' roll stand-up comedian (playing to audiences of 25,000, and attracting the kind of cult following more akin to that of rock bands) surely renders his work ripe for discussion of audience response. Specifically, here, I look to certain types of gags that recur across Martin's work, from the intimate gigs relatively early on in his career, to the huge stadium gigs at the height of his fame; and illustrate how an intriguing range of moments of (non)laughter - spanning stunned silence through to resounding cheering - may reveal much of the audience's crucial role in the creative process. Rather than mere (negative) response, I argue, these moments of (non)laughter are extremely telling signifiers of intra-audience dynamics, or 'audienceship': affirmative components of the performance itself, they serve to underline the pleasurable and powerful sense of belonging to the group that is so acute across Martin's career.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)128 - 144
Number of pages16
JournalParticipations: Journal of Audience and Reception Studies
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 1 Nov 2011


  • Audienceship
  • Steve Martin
  • laughter
  • stand-up


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