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What Is a One-Person Show?

By Erik J.J. Goserud
Updated May 23, 2024
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While not synonymous with a one-man band, a one-person show has several overlapping characteristics. It can be used as both a saying and a literal phrase. When used as a saying, someone might say “that guy is a one-person show” when referring to a basketball player doing most of the scoring for the team. More commonly, it is used as a literal phrase for a single person putting on entertainment for one or more spectators.

A one-person show can involve a man or a woman and usually takes place in a live setting in front of an audience. The performer can be any combination of a musician, comedian, magician, or spoken wordsmith, among other things. Some examples of competitions between one-person shows include comedy tournaments, slam poetry, and singer or songwriter contests.

This type of show often has a shtick or a gimmick that it is known for. For example, Gallagher was a famous magician known for smashing fruits and vegetables with a hammer in his act. He is a one-person show. Tommy Emanuel was a famous acoustic guitarist known for his ability to make his guitar riffs sound like a full band. He almost always played solo.

The one-man band is perhaps the most popular term under the umbrella of one-person show. This involves a single artist or entertainer performing live on a stage or on the street. The performer plays multiple instruments, mainly guitar and vocals. Entertainers, however, may get more innovative with the ways they make sounds, using their arms and legs attached to strings that play percussive noises.

These kinds of entertainers play in all places, from traditional music venues to busy street corners. They commonly play for tips and set up their performance areas near busy pedestrian streets or crowded events. The one-person band commonly performs the duties of many people at once. What the one-person show lacks in the number of performers, it makes up for in the diversity of the solo performer. A talented and unique one-person show is able to make a living at the craft, whether it be full or part time.

A monologue could be considered a one-person show. The man or woman performs comedy or a speech in front of people without the assistance of other persons onstage. A spoken word would be a similar one-person show, as no backing bands or outside entertainers are brought in to enhance the performance.

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Discussion Comments

By Buster29 — On Nov 07, 2014

It takes a really strong performer to maintain an audience's interest for two hours. I personally liked the one-person-show by actress and comedian Julia Sweeney called "God Said HA!". She told her true life story about battling cancer while trying to break into and stay in show business. She also talked about her mostly dysfunctional family and her views on religion as a practicing atheist.

Sometimes I think a one-person-show can get a little tedious if the pacing is not good, but when it's done right by professionals, I'll forget I've been looking at the same face onstage for an hour or two.

By Reminiscence — On Nov 06, 2014

I think the late writer and actor Spalding Gray put on the best one-person-shows I ever saw. All he did was sit behind a large desk and deliver his monologue to the audience. Every so often, he might have someone pull down a map or light a sign, but he did all of the story-telling, and he played all the characters. I really loved his show "Swimming to Cambodia", where he described his experience as a character actor in the movie "The Killing Fields" and also explained the real history of Cambodia.

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