Stand up comedy is like an orange, or maybe a tree, I think an onion is the classic vegetable to use for comparison, however I am going to go for an orange. You see as a viewer of comedy all you ever see is skin of the orange, whereas being a comedian you get to swim around in the juicy insides.
I'm currently making my way into the inside of comedy (past the skin, not quite pip territory). It's fascinating, I mean it's like a world of it's own that you don't appreciate until you take the skin off. I really fancy an orange. There are two distinct observation levels on the inside; that of your direct peers (non-professionals) and that of the experienced comedians (getting paid gigs or professional) and both are really interesting.
Seeing comedy on a regular basis allows you to witness the progression of your peers, seeing changes and refinements to their set almost weekly. There are 4 people who's set I know really well (if not word for word at parts thanks to seeing them more times than I can count) and being able to see how they keep improving is a fantastic thing to be a part of.
Seeing experienced comedians on a regular basis gives you the chance to see how their material actually works. I saw Simon Donald twice last week, doing the same set both times, but not the same, if you understand what I mean. I have seen him 4 times now and the little changes start to pop out at you. I also saw Kai Humphries last week and having seen him a hand full of times it was interesting to see how he altered his material based on the room. I have chatted to Kai a few times, he has a lot of good advice especially when it comes to writing material.
One person who I have met who is well inside the orange is Jason Cook. I sat with him briefly before a gig but the problem I had talking to him was all I wanted to talk about were the shows I have seen him do. I have been to see him every year at the fringe since we first came across him in Die Clatterschenkenfietermaus (minus The Fear, missed that year). I ended up not making conversation at all, thinking he would probably prefer not having an 'enthusiatic fan' asking him questions before a gig.
Doing the Edinburgh Fringe this year myself I imagine I will be seeing a lot more of all these people, not just as an audience member but as a friend in comedy. Someone needs to assault my face with a wet fish. Or an orange, whatever you have to hand.