How young is too young to be a stand-up comedian?

So last week, everyone was talking about Susan Boyle this and Susan Boyle that. But for comedy fans, Simon Cowell had made a bit of news by inviting a 13-year-old aspiring stand-up comedian from Idaho to take part in this summer's edition of America's Got Talent. I don't care how talented Trevor Hattabaugh is (here is the local TV news report on Hattabaugh out of Boise), because I'm not sold on the idea of kids that young performing their own stand-up.

Talk to almost any legendary comedian and he or she will regale you with stories of how, in their youth, they entertained family members and schoolmates with jokes — usually copying the acts of older stand-ups they admired. Eddie Murphy famously made his Saturday Night Live debut when he was 19, and a hit stand-up CD when he was 21.

But most teenagers are not Eddie Murphy. What do those kids have to joke about onstage? What could they possibly have for material? There's a certain amount of living you have to do — don't you?! — before you have more to offer the world than an amusing one-liner or a juvenile routine. Not that that's stopping kids from getting onstage. In fact, here in New York, an outfit called Kids 'N Comedy puts on a monthly showcase at Gotham Comedy Club. I can see how it would help coax teens out of their shells and build performing skills. But still. Not sold on the idea of kids doing comedy. Even when footage exists of famous people such as Seth Rogen doing stand-up at 13. Actually, let's examine that.

He had a lot of poise back then. In fact, probably more stage presence and confidence then than now, now that Rogen tends to giggle after every sentence. But insight? Just scratching the surface, really, which is what you'd expect from a 13-year-old.

Here is Trevor Hattabaugh way back when he was 12, which was last year, performing in Wiseguys at Salt Lake City:

Cute, but really, is this worth putting on national television for a contest with a $1 million prize?

Here is Wyatt Giangrande opening a show at the Comedy Castle in Michigan. At 12, Giangrande talks about joining the wrestling team and hitting puberty:

Now take a look at Lil JJ. I remember seeing him a few years ago on a BET stand-up contest show called Coming to the Stage. Here he is bringing the attitude early and often in front of a crowd at the Apollo:

JJ, now 18, has followed that up with his own Nickelodeon show, Just Jordan, and ABC Family's The Secret Life of the Teenager. And he raps. And he put on a "Teens of Comedy" tour, an "Almost Grown" variety show and DVD. If you'd like to hear him talk more recently about Facebook and MySpace, you can check that out here.

Even after watching all of these videos, I still cannot get excited about the idea of letting kids get stage time in comedy clubs before they've had much of a life to joke about. Or am I wrong about this? If so, please convince me.

Sean L. McCarthy

Editor and publisher since 2007, when he was named New York's Funniest Reporter. Former newspaper reporter at the New York Daily News, Boston Herald and smaller dailies and community papers across America. Loves comedy so much he founded this site.

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4 thoughts on “How young is too young to be a stand-up comedian?

  1. I think you’re right. Stand-up is exploring who you are and what your sense of humor is, so I can’t believe that a kid could do it. Because how could you know who you are and what makes you, as a person, funny? I guess you could be a mediocre stand-up comic and be a kid. All it would take is studying other comics, really. But you couldn’t really be good or unique in any way. The common person is just intrigued by the fact that it’s a KID telling jokes, regardless of whether it’s funny. You just don’t see it that often, so immediately they have a gimmick that grabs people.
    But hey, Chappelle started when he was 14, too, right? Some are just naturals.

  2. It’s really no different than the young music acts that labels were pushing in the late 90’s. Nsync, Christina Aguilera, Britney Spears, even Jonny Lang.
    None of them were worth listening to, but some like Aguilera and Lang have developed into talented artists. Some of these comic kids will probably get really good. Others will turn out like Britney and self-implode.
    So it’s a gimmick really. The material isn’t going to be groundbreaking. But a 24 year old new comic isn’t going to be groundbreaking either. These kids are just getting the crappy material out of the way earlier.
    Does it belong on TV? Not in my opinion. But I don’t watch TV anyway.

  3. I’d say pre-high school is too young. I’ve just started doing open mics and I’m 16.

  4. I remember looking over a press kit for this kid as it got mixed-up in the pile of entrants for the Seattle International Comedy Competition.
    Let me spoil his big closer for everybody–he takes off his shirt to show off his steroid enhanced pre-teen body.
    It’s a moppet being cute and everyone pats him on the head for it…but he’s one of these kids whose parents allow him to do everything–he’s a dancer, he’s an actor, he’s a snowboarder, he’s a rapper, he’s pageant show kid and now he’s a comedian.
    Truth is…the kid doesn’t know who or what he is yet…so, after seeing the act once, I can’t imagine ever wanting to see it again.
    Perfect for America’s Got Talent, of course…but not for a weekend at your local comedy club.
    That said…I think we’ve all seen some talented 16-17 year olds who might just have what it takes to be more than a novelty flash in the pan. When did Chappelle start?

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