When we watch our favorite stand-up comedians either on our screens or in person, we typically expect to laugh until our sides hurt. However, not everything is just one punchline after another with a lot of comedians. There are some genuine life lessons that we can learn either about ourselves or society as a whole. From talking about the world’s economic state to mental health, comedians haven’t been afraid to let their voices be heard.
Let’s take a look at some of those life lessons that we’ve learned from stand-up comedians over the years that we may not have given too much thought to at first. Once you go back and watch some of these sets, you might have a higher appreciation for just how in-depth comedy can truly be.
Robin Williams on Being Yourself
Most of us go through life afraid to express our true selves to the world. We all feel this need to conform so that people will like us, give us better job opportunities, or just blend in with the general public. Deep down, there’s that little part of us that wants to let loose and be zany without any regard for how those around us feel about it. Nobody was better at embracing that part of themselves quite like Robin Williams.
The stand-up comedian who would go on to become an acting icon thanks to movies including “Mrs. Doubtfire”, “Good Will Hunting”, and “Good Morning, Vietnam” had this to say about being yourself: “You’ve got to be crazy, it’s too late to be sane. You’re only given a little spark of madness, and if you lose that, you’re nothing. Don’t. From me to you, don’t ever lose that because it keeps you alive…That’s my only love: crazy.”
George Carlin on Wealth Inequality
George Carlin was well known for some of his acting roles in films including “Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventures”, “Dogma”, and “Cars”, but it was through stand-up comedy that he really shined. Early on in his career, Carlin wasn’t really part of the counter-culture, but during the 1970s and 1980s, he became a go-to for political commentary. This was especially true when it came to wealth inequality and how lower-income people are being held down.
“There’s a reason education sucks, and it’s the same reason that it will never, ever, ever be fixed,” Carlin said. “It’s never gonna get any better. Don’t look for it. Be happy with what you got, because the owners of this country don’t want that. I’m talking about the real owners now…the big wealthy business interests that control things and make all the important decisions…They’ll get it all from you soon or later ‘cause they own this (expletive) place. It’s a big club, and you ain’t in it.”
Bo Burnham on Mental Health
When YouTube got kicked off in the mid-2000s, it presented an opportunity for otherwise unknown people to capture overnight fame. One of those people that cashed in during the early days of YouTube was Bo Burnham, who has gone on to become one of the biggest names in comedy. Burnham got into fame at a young age, and it wasn’t always an easy transition to go from a famous teen to an adult that’s constantly asked what his next project is going to be.
During his special “Inside”, Burnham prefaced a song by saying that he quit performing live comedy because he was having on-stage panic attacks. “Which is not a great place to have them,” he said. “So I quit. And I didn’t perform for five years, and I spent that time trying to improve myself mentally. And you know what? I did. I got better.”
Craig Ferguson on Self-Reflection
Scottish comedian Craig Ferguson got a big opportunity in the United States during the 1990s when he became part of the cast of the hit series “The Drew Carey Show”. After the show’s conclusion in 2004, Ferguson was tabbed to host “The Late Late Show” on CBS which followed David Letterman’s program. Throughout his time, Ferguson has talked about his alcohol use, divorces, and has done a lot of self-reflecting in his stand-up sets.
Many admire Ferguson because of how he’s grown as a person and has truly shown his desire to help others. In one of the more prominent examples, Ferguson has said that people need to do more self-reflection in the era of smartphones in which we live. “People have always been a**holes,” Ferguson said. “What happens is the technology is just faster…ask yourself before you say anything, which is ‘Does this need to be said? Does this need to be said by me? Does this need to be said by me now?’…Three f***ing marriages it took me to learn that.”
Richard Pryor on Thinking
Richard Pryor is frequently ranked among the best stand-up comedians in history and had many profound quotes during his sets. It’s hard to narrow it down to just one.
A quote that really stands out, though, is “I believe the ability to think is blessed. If you can think about a situation, you can deal with it. The big struggle is to keep your head clear enough to think.” It wasn’t always easy for a guy like Pryor, who was a megastar during his peak.