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

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapterpeer-review


This chapter examines 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. Though nowadays better known for increasingly ‘mature’ roles in films such as Shopgirl (2005) and It’s Complicated (2009), Martin was the stand-up comedian of the 70s: famous for an eclectic mix of banjo-playing, balloon animals and silly prop gags. 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: affirmative components of the performance itself, they serve to underline the pleasurable sense of belonging to the group that is so acute across Martin’s career.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationThe Laughing Stalk: Live Comedy and Its Audiences
PublisherParlor Press
ISBN (Print)978-1-60235-242-1
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jan 2012


  • stand-up comedy
  • laughter
  • audiences


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