According to some historians, Charley Case was the first person to perform stand-up as we know it today.
There’s a lingering question about stand-up’s development, however: Who was the first person to actually do it? Some scholars point to Charley Case, an African-American vaudeville performer. According to Eddie Tafoya in his book The Legacy of the Wisecrack, in the 1880s or 1890s Case got on stage in New York’s vaudeville theaters and did something no one had ever done: He performed comic monologues without props or costuming.
Little is known about Case today. He’s most widely known for the absurd ballads he penned, including “There Was Once a Poor Young Man Who Left His Country Home,” which was later performed by W.C. Fields in The Fatal Glass of Beer, a 1933 film based on the song. Various articles list a few of his jokes, like one in which Case and his brother Hank are sleeping in a bedroom with their father and they hear a noise downstairs. “I think there’s a burglar loose in the house,” the father tells Hank. “You should go down and find him.” “I haven’t lost any burglars,” replied Hank. “Make Charley go down.”