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Book Review: Mastering Stand-Up

Mastering Stand-Up. Stephen Rosenfield. Chicago Review Press Inc., November 1, 2017, Trade paperback and E-book, 256 pages.

Reviewed by Susan Gaspar.

Stephen Rosenfield’s Mastering Stand-Up is a fun and engaging read, even if you have absolutely no intention of becoming a stand-up comic. But that’s not why the book exists. Comedy is a serious business, as anyone in the industry will attest, and it takes raw talent, many years of experience, and a lot of dedication to achieve a mere modicum of success.

This book is meant as a resource for aspiring stand-up comics who have a dream of performing well and making a decent living—and hopefully a killing—doing comedy. However, it is also an entertaining read for almost anyone because it’s written from personal experience and includes plenty of anecdotes and memories from the author, which give the reader an insider’s view of the world of stand-up comedy.

If you have performing arts education, training, or experience of any kind—acting, directing, improvisation, music, sketch writing, or playwriting—this book will be helpful in an abstract sense as there are skills and aspects of stand-up comedy that cross the boundaries into those artistic forms. If you have absolutely no personal connection to show business or the performing arts but have always been interested in how some people go about making others laugh, this book will answer many of your questions. However, if you harbor dreams of standing alone on stage with a microphone while you make a roomful of total strangers crack up—especially if you dream of making a living doing it—this book could be invaluable. For the amateur stand-up comic, or one with limited exposure and success, this book could assist in building a professional career.

Of course, there is no personal guarantee of success included with this book, but from the very first chapter it is easy to believe that you will at least make decent headway by following Rosenfield’s advice and applying yourself. He certainly has the experience and knowledge to get you on the right path. As the Founding Director of the American Comedy Institute in Manhattan, Rosenfield has a long list of teaching and directing credits and decades of experience in the industry. His list of past students reads like a “Who’s Who” in American comedy. His book instills you with the confidence that he knows the business inside and out, and that he sincerely wants to share it.

My favorite thing about the book is that it made me feel like Mr. Rosenfield was speaking directly to me. His tone is approachable and friendly, yet accomplished and assured. I also appreciate that the book is broken into five logical and clearly defined sections, which are essentially: who the book is written for, the stand-up comedy forms, the act of writing stand-up comedy material, the art of performing stand-up, and the steps to getting “undeniably good.”

For fans of stand-up comedy, or full-on comedy geeks, who immerse themselves in the stand-up scene or follow the careers of successful comics, the book is worth reading for the anecdotes about famous stand-up comics. Even more valuable are the actual examples of their written material. These examples are broken down and analyzed similarly to the way algebraic equations are dissected and serve as vital teaching tools for anyone studying the crafts of stand-up comedy and comedy writing. Like any practical handbook, the reader might well repeatedly return to the book for guidance.

Unlike many books that teach acting skills or other performing art forms, this one is not dry or stuffy. Rather, it feels like a handshake and a welcome, with a wink on the side, because we are talking about comedy, after all. The very last sentence provides the author’s email address in case the reader has questions. How often does that happen? (Answer: Not. Very. Often. ***rim shot***)


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