What Is a Stand Up Special?


  • Frank Boardman Worcester State University




film, humor, performance


The stand-up special is growing cultural significance just as it is maturing and becoming more distinct as an art form. Philosophical treatments of the special are therefore neither frivolous nor redundant. I argue here that such inquiry can be aided by a definitional account of “special” and that an essential definition – if one is available- would serve us best. I then offer a candidate definition of this kind and reply to some likely objections to it.


Belnap, Nuel. 1993. “On Rigorous Definitions.” Philosophical Studies: An International Journal for Philosophy in the Analytic Tradition, 72, 2/3: 115-146

Carroll, Noël. 1993. “Historical Narratives and the Philosophy of Art” The Journal of Aesthetics and Art Criticism, 51, 3: 313-326.

Dean, Jeffrey T. 2003. “The Nature of Concepts and the Definition of Art.” The Journal of Aesthetics and Art Criticism, 61, 1: 29-35

Dickie, George. 1969. “Defining Art.” American Philosophical Quarterly, 6, 3: 253-256.

-----------------. 1997. The Art Circle: A Theory of Art. Evanston, IL: Chicago Spectrum Press.

Gaut, Berys. 2000. “’Art’ as a Cluster Concept” in Theories of Art Today, Noël Carroll, Ed. Madison: University of Wisconsin Press.

Knoedelseder, William. 2009. I’m Dying Up Here: Heartbreak & Hight Times in Stand-Up Comedy’s Golden Era. New York: Public Affairs.

Levinson, Jerrold. 1979. “Defining Art Historically.” British Journal of Aesthetics 19, 3: 232-250.

Lintott, Sheila. 2017. “Why (Not) Philosophy of Stand-Up Comedy?” in A Reader in the Philosophy of the Arts, 4th Edition. Lee Brown, David Goldblatt, and Stephanie Patridge Eds., New York: Routledge: 362-366

Longworth, Francis and Andrea Scarantino. 2010. “The Disjunctive Theory of Art: The Cluster Account Reformulated” British Journal of Aesthetics 50, 2: 151-167.

Rappaport, Jesse and Jake Quilty-Dunn. Forthcoming. “Do Stand-Up Comedians Make Assertions?”

Tafoya, Eddie. 2009. The Legacy of the Wisecrack: Stand-up Comedy as the Great American Literary Form. Boca Raton: BraownWalker Press.

Weitz, Morris. 1956. “The Role of Theory in Aesthetics.” The Journal of Aesthetics and Art Criticism 15, 1: 27-35.

Ziff, Paul. 1953. “The Task of Defining a Work of Art.” Philosophical Review 62, 1: 58-78.

Zinoman, Jason. 2018. “The Netflix Executives Who Bent Comedy to Their Will.” New York Times, September 9, 2018.