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Recession humor enjoys global boom

Audiences are increasingly turning to comedy to ease the recession blues.

By Andrew ClarkContributor / July 19, 2010

Chris Coxen – also known as Barry Tattle – performs at Mottley’s, a Boston comedy club that offers ‘Bailout Night’ on Wednesdays. Patrons who show pink slips get in for free and can bring a friend.

Joanne Ciccarello/Staff

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What's the difference between an investment banker and a pizza?

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A pizza can feed a family of five.

Recession humor is everywhere. On TV. On the Internet. The worse the economy gets, it seems, the more Americans need to laugh.

That's creating a business opportunity for comedians.

Every Wednesday in a small, cramped basement at Boston's historic Fanueil Hall, Mottley's Comedy Club presents the "Bailout Show." The comedy can be about the economy or not. The twist is that people who bring a copy of their layoff letters or unemployment check stubs get in for free along with a friend.

"A lot of people lost their jobs and need a good laugh," says Jon Lincoln, host of the weekly "Bailout Show" and Mottley's co-owner. "Comedy offers an escape for people, but at the same time shows them they aren't alone. Oftentimes comics talk about what is going on in the world and they spin it to be funny. No matter how bad things get there is always time to have fun." (Since there's no comic employment rate or national comedy index, the impact of the recession isn't easy to pin down.)

Comedy television programming has shown signs of increasing as well. Last year, viewership of Comedy Central's weeknight programs "The Daily Show" and "The Colbert Report" increased by 8 and 9 percent, respectively, according to Forbes. The average age of viewers also increased for both programs by roughly five years each, a sign that the shows are reaching a broader audience.

Though the recession has closed some comedy clubs, new ones keep popping up around the United States. In Boston, some clubs have reported ticket-sale increases of up to 10 percent. In Syracuse, N.Y., a nearly 3,000-seat venue is selling out for stand-up shows.

"Clubs seem to have weathered the recession reasonably well," says Yoram Bauman, a comedian and instructor at the University of Washington in Seattle's Program on the Environment who calls himself the world's first "Stand-Up Economist." [Editor's note: This sentence was changed to accurately describe Dr. Bauman's position.]