This chapter introduces the book's thesis. Contrary to popular belief, comedy workers are not anti-social outcasts, but a highly social group with a deep commitment to their comedy communities. The pride in, and emphasis on, community becomes a psychological wage that offsets the unfairness and exploitation of the comedy business, and gives performers the support they need to pursue their dreams against long odds. However, comedy communities are experienced differently depending on intersections of race, class, and gender. Despite the collective identity affirmed by comedy workers from different backgrounds, women and people of color face numerous disadvantages and forms of mistreatment that white men do not.
This chapter offers an introduction to comedy workers in their own words. Performers describe the qualities and personality traits they share, which makes it impossible to reduce them to the most commonly held stereotypes of comedians as narcissistic social misfits. The chapter describes the process through which the interviewees enter the comedy world, and recounts the earliest and most important lessons they learn about comedy. In discussing both topics – their personal qualities, and their early comedy careers – performers reveal themselves to be highly social animals. They move through comedy with great awareness of their surroundings, and strong connections to the people around them.