Here’s a great talk from Stewart Lee about the nature of stand-up comedy and how it changed so profoundly at the end of the 70s (thanks, J):
If you have the full 54 minutes, it’s all worth a watch. For the rest of you, you can skip to about 5-6 minutes in (his actual talk ends at about 34 minutes; questions follow). This is where he explains that UK stand-up comedy used to be a bunch of men in suits and bow ties standing in working mens clubs and telling the same 1000 jokes again and again, like they were a series of much-loved songs performed by skilled covers bands.
Then, following the American model of pioneers such as Lenny Bruce, the ‘alternative’ comedians came in and started writing entire shows that weren’t about one-liners, shows that could sustain a narrative thread for a couple of hours, shows that were entirely a constructed artifice (a subtler version of the kind of thing done by Al Murray).
The detail is fascinating, including how certain kinds of government benefits made it easier to spend a few years developing your act.
As a dissection of the growth and practicalities of the creative process it’s well worth a watch.