don’t know if this would make any sense to anyone but me
I think I can call this goal completed – from September to November 2006 I went to, if I haven’t forgotten any, five standup gigs. Saw Josie Long twice, David O’Doherty once, Mark Thomas once, along with two charity benefit gigs with many other comedians.
And to be honest, that got me feeling a bit jaded and disillusioned with standup comedy. Maybe it was too much to see in too short period of time. But more than that, I think I was looking in standup for something that can’t really be there. I was really looking to see the potential of it as a storytelling artform – as Josie Long tells it, “the directness between having an idea and trying it on stage. The only editor is yourself and you are completely in control of what you write and perform. In this way there are no limits to it. If you can imagine an idea then you can try it, and try it that night pretty much.” I like that a lot.
But the thing is, standup comedy is reliant on laughs. A standup comedian is judged on how many laughs he or she gets, and they live and die by it. Essentially, it’s about pleasing as many people in the audience as possible. (and if they don’t, they often get heckled and humiliated and driven offstage.) And that to me seems to by its very nature go against creativity – I think I made a comment not so long ago on here to Cyn about how I don’t think great art can be made if it needs to please as many people as possible – for example for financial reasons.
Josie Long, who I’ve already mentioned in another entry, was great – I liked her show so much that I went to see her for a second time, on a shared bill with David O’Doherty (who was okay, though I didn’t find him as good as I thought he would be, and nothing matched his song about his dog that he did on the Daniel Kitson radio show) – but, one of the things I hate most is hearing a comedian use the same material twice. I mean, I understand that nobody can be such a comedic genius to be improvising all the time. I very much understand that. And yet, there is a suggestion of spontaneity in the average comedian’s show (apart from I guess the Steven Wright/Mitch Hedburg type of comedy), so it feels disappointing when you see/hear it for a second time (or many, many more times, as is typically the case), presented as if it just came off the top of their heads. I mean, I understand how standup works. I’m not complaining about this. I’m just saying how it tends to make me feel.
I also went to a couple of charity benefit gigs. And the lesson I took away from that is to never go to another benefit gig. The comedy was below par, it felt like most of the comedians couldn’t really be bothered (hopefully not just because they weren’t being paid), and worst of all, the thing that struck me the most, was that most of the comedians didn’t bother to write any material that related to the cause of the benefit gig. Not even a half-minute or so worth of material. So why bother? I’m not saying that I think writing material is easy. Not at all. But not even one joke? Something to make it relevant to the cause?
Around that time, I also got involved in some internet discussion (i.e. argument) about Josie Long on some comedy forum. Everyone was trashing her (even though most of them hadn’t even seen her perform) and making personal attacks on her. I couldn’t stand by and say nothing, said something, didn’t make much difference, got tired of the impossibility of having that type of debate on the internet and pulled out. But what became apparent was that most people have a very fixed idea of what standup comedy is. And it’s predicated on laughs, and if you get laughs you’re good, if you don’t you’re not. I mean, I laughed a lot when I saw Josie Long’s show. But she also did material that didn’t quite make you laugh, but more made you smile, or feel happier or more hopeful about the world. Now, that was more than enough for me. In fact it was better – it was exactly what I was looking for. But they argued that comedy isn’t comedy if it isn’t laughs, and I looked up the actual word in the dictionary, and I hate to say it, but going by that, they were right. Comedy: “Entertainment consisting of jokes and sketches intended to make an audience laugh/ A film, play, or programme intended to arouse laughter.’
I had always thought comedy to be something that made you happy, for some reason.
So I got a bit jaded and disillusioned with standup.
And then I went to see Mark Thomas. And he was great, and his show was about something, something that affected me deeply. He was making a difference to the world, in human rights and social justice, with his comedy, and making us believe that we can make a difference too. I felt inspired. And I got less jaded and disillusioned about standup. But still, I wonder how much you can do with it, when it’s based on laughs, on pleasing as many people as possible on the night. What I might have been looking for, though a few standup comedians (Daniel Kitson, Josie Long, Mark Thomas) have done it, might have been more in the field of theatre. Standup is theatre anyway, but when you call it theatre, there’s more room to work with. There’s a less fixed idea of what it is. And generally, theatre performers don’t have to worry about being heckled off the stage. They’re not humiliated if they don’t get the requisite laughs on the night. There’s just more possibility there, and I think that’s where I’ll look in future. 6 years ago