The Stand Up Comedy and The Parrhesiast

Simone Cantino


In the present essay the author examines the american Stand up comedy as a form of art and entertainement which involves many different aspects (for instance One man show and Preaching). The intent of this essay is to look into the correlation that the comedian creates between laughter and the search for truth (both personal and universal).

By comparing different bits and excerpts taken from the comedy acts of american authors such as Lenn Bruce, George Carlin and Bill Hicks, the author finds a relation between the elements of satire in the Stand up comedy genre and the concept of ‘parrhesia’ and parrhesiast.

The purpose of the essay is to demonstrate how the peculiar figure of the stand up comedian can assume a precise philosophical and ethical role. The act of showing the people their own hypocrisies and self deceptions by using the laughter is a way  to stimulate a reflection and, potentially, determine a growth of self awareness in the mind of the people of the audience. Stand up comedy should be seen not only as a form of entertainment, but also as a way for developing a critical thinking and can be considered, in some cases, a tool for achieving some kind of revelation and change.


Satire; Stand up comedy; Comedian, Truth; Lenny Bruce; George Carlin; Euphemism

Full Text:

PDF (Italiano)


Benedetti, Carla, Il tradimento dei critici, Torino, Bollati Boringhieri, 2002.

Brody, Dylan, “Exchange: Stand Up Sociology”, Contexts, 10.2 (2011): 12-14.

Barry, Julian, Lenny, New York, Grove Press, 1971.

Bruce, Lenny, How to Talk Dirty and Influence People, New York, Playboy Press, 1965.

Budd, L.J, On Humor: The Best from American Literature, Durham, Duke University Press, 1992.

Carlin, George, Brain droppings, New York, Hyperion Books, 1997.

Carlin, George, Last Words, New York, Free Press, 2009.

Carlin, George, Napalm & Silly Putty, New York, Hyperion Books, 2001.

Carlin, George, When will Jesus bring the Pork Chops?, New York, Hyperion Books, 2004.

Cohen, Sarah Blacher, Comic Relief: Humor in Contemporary American Literature, Chicago, University of Illinois Press, 1978.

Collins, K. L. - Skover, David, The Trials of Lenny Bruce: The Rise and Fall of an American Icon, Naperville (IL), Sourcebooks, 2002.

De Tocqueville, Alexis, De La Démocratie en Amérique (1835-1840), tr. it. G. Candeloro, Milano, BUR, 1999.

Foucault, Michel, Le Gouvernement de soi et des autres (1982-83), it. tr. Il governo di sé e degli altri, Corso al Collège de France, Ed. M. Galzigna, Milano, Feltrinelli, 2009.

Goldman, Albert, Ladies and Gentlemen--Lenny Bruce!, New York, Random House, 1974.

Kofsky, Frank, Lenny Bruce: The Comedian as Social Critic and Secular Moralist New York, Monad Press, 1974.

Kercher, Stephen E., Revel with a cause: liberal satire in postwar America, Chicago, University of Chicago Press, 2006.

Kuh, Richard, Foolish Figleaves? Pornography in--and out of--Court, London, Macmillan, 1967.

Limon, John, Stand-Up Comedy in Theory, or, Abjection in America, Durham and London, Duke UP, 2000.

Oliar, Dotan, “There’s no Free Laugh (Anymore): The Emergence of Intellectual Property Norms and the Transformation of Stand-Up Comedy”, Virginia Law Review, 94.8 (2008): 1787-1867.

Provenza Paul, Dion Dan, Satiristas! La rivincita della satira, Monza, Sagoma Edizioni, 2013.

Seizer, Susan, “On the Uses of Obscenity in Live Stand-Up Comedy”, Anthropological Quarterly, 84.1 (2011): 209-234.

Thomas, William Karl, Lenny Bruce: The Making of a Prophet, Hamden (CT), Archon, 1989.

Wallace, Ronald, “Sick Jokes”, The Antioch Review, 62.4 (2004): 702-712.


American: The Bill Hicks Story, Dir. Matt Harlock, Paul Thomas USA (2009).

Chewed Up, Dir. Louis C.K., USA (2006).

Doin’it Again, Dir. George Carlin, USA (1990).

IT’s Bad for Ya, Dir. George Carlin, USA (2008).

Lenny Bruce: Swear to Tell the Truth, Dir. Robert E. Weide, USA (1998).

Live at the Beacon Theater, Dir. Louis C.K., USA (2011).

Live, Dir. Lenny Bruce, USA (1963).

Revelations, Dir. Bill Hicks, USA-GB (1991).

Richard Pryor: Omit the Logic, Dir. Marina Zenovich, USA (2013).

Thoughts & Prayers, Dir. Anthony Jeselnik, USA (2015)



Article Metrics

Metrics Loading ...

Metrics powered by PLOS ALM


Between is published by the University of Cagliari - Maintenance for this OJS installation is provided by UniCA Open Journals, hosted by Sistema Bibliotecario di Ateneo.

Between Journal was founded in 2011 with the financial contribution of Fondazione Banco di Sardegna (years 2010-2011).

ISSN 2039-6597 

CC-By lockssDOAJ seal SPARC Europe