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The Strange Parallels Between Boxing and Stand-Up Comedy
"Boxing and Stand-Up Comedy? What in the world do they have in common?" I wouldn't blame anyone for asking that question after being told that they and their respective participants indeed have a boatload in common with one another. This author is in the fairly unique position of having partaken in both fields. I boxed at the amateur level when I was younger and have been performing stand-up comedy for many years. It's no surprise to me that many comedians are big boxing fans and many boxers are big fans of stand-up comedy. If one were to analyze the two crafts they would come to the conclusion that they have much in common. In both situations, you are out there on your own. Sure, in boxing you have a corner and a team to assist you leading up to the fight and in between rounds, but once the bell rings it's you and the person across the ring engaging in battle. In stand-up comedy, the comedian's opponent is the audience and the goal of every comedian is to "destroy" the crowd and leave them gasping for air. Sound familiar?
Boxers and Stand-Up Comedians Share Similar Backgrounds and Demeanors
Even the word for the appex of a joke (punchline) has the word "punch" in it. They both have various styles and methods of performing. Some boxers come out swinging like a prime Mike Tyson while others feel out their opponents throwing jabs and quick counterpunches (ala Floyd Mayweather). The same is true of comedians. Some comedians such as myself come out swinging with both hands so to speak and don't bother feeling out the crowd but rather deliver bit after bit and get them laughing right away. Other comedians take their time and slowly win over the crowd after a feeling out process that could take 5 to 10 minutes and by the 20 minute mark have them in stitches. Some boxers stand with their feet planted and rarely move laterally while others are perpetual motion. The same is true of comedians. Some comedians stand with their bodies in front of the microphone making the audience laugh with little to no movement while others rely on their physical act outs to generate a large percentage of the laughter.
Having befriended and interviewed numerous boxers and comedians I have discovered that the vast majority of us come from dysfuntional and in many cases tragic backgrounds. We are both come from the same torn cloth. Humor comes from pain and one's desire to inflict pain and risk being hurt derives from pain as well. It's the same type of individual who enters either field and in some cases the same person has engaged in both. There are a surprising number of people who have both boxed and went on to do stand-up. Richard Pryor immediately comes to mind. On his legendary special "Richard Pryor Live on Sunset", Pryor performed a hilarious bit referrencing his Golden Glove boxing days prior to getting into comedy. Bob Hope is another comedian who boxed and Jake La Motta was a boxer turned comedian. Who can forget the final, melancholy scene in Raging Bull when a corpulent Jake La Motta is shown telling jokes in a smokey nightclub?
Both Are Lonely, Difficult Professions
Another thing that comedians and boxers have in common is the fact that they both work in extremely lonely, difficult professions. Ask any boxer or comic what it's like to be on the road or in training camp for weeks on end and they will almost certainly characterize it as lonely and depressing at times. At least a boxer has a team of people to interact with. A comic only has himself and maybe one other person to converse with ---that's if he is even close to the person he is working alongst. At any rate, both find themselves in relative solitude.
In addition, both occupations can be considered very difficult ways to make a living. Each requiring tremendous courage and the ability to face and triumph over adversity. When a boxer is losing round after round and is in danger of either being knocked out or losing a decision he must find a way to turn things around or suffer the consequences. Similarly, a comedian who is having a rough set either due to not generating consistent laughter from the crowd and/or having to deal with an irreverant heckler, he/she must draw upon their experience and talent to win the crowd over or suffer the consequences. In both professions, it's not uncommon to be booed by those who paid a handsome price to see a certain level of performance. Having stated all of that, at least when a comic dies he lives. When a boxer dies, he dies.