irrational rant #1 — Standup
You're watching standup and you find yourself thinking what is this unseemly festival of joviality and why aren't I enjoying it?
First off, let's get this out of the way: standup comedians are owed some serious respect. They have to be highly skilled and need balls of steel to do what they do. And that's just the women.
Jokes are good things. Laughter is fine, too. My mates make me laugh, for example. It's just that the idea of spending the evening with people who are on constant laughter alert puts me back into my shell and sets off unkind thoughts. All that shit about laughter and medicine; it's more like a really annoying narcotic that might be fun for the user but is tiresome for everyone else.
Don't mind if I do. I've been to comedy shows where the audience has apparently come prepared to laugh, with a mindset of perpetually teetering on the edge of uproarious laughter, at risk of falling in at the slightest push. Ugh. I have no desire to spend my evening with such people, to watch the performance with them and, worse, to be breathing the same air as them in the bar beforehand and afterwards.
So it's probably best if you don't invite me to go to a standup comedy gig. And the thought of going to such an event in a large theatre or worse, a huge arena (the Hyena Arena?) really doesn't make me happy... in fact it makes me want to sit in a darkened room and listen to sad music.
...being there, it's watching it on TV. Friends on social media have sent me footage of comedians on huge stages telling jokes to complicit audiences. They actually expect me to enjoy it. I end up saying things 'I admire the skill', in the way you might compliment a band on its rhythm section if you're not enjoying their set but you're with someone who's a huge fan and you don't want to hurt their feelings when they ask what you think. TV standup though: who wants to see close-ups of the public laughing? (Or even just enjoying themselves?) Not to mention reaction shots of the performer. Horrible.
Two words in that paragraph to dwell on for a sec:
— Skill: ugh, what a damning indictment. It is possible to admire the skills of say, an Olympic sailing or equestrian team but that doesn't make their sports worth watching. I'm skilful at the washing up but you wouldn't want to watch me do it.
— Complicit: the idea that the audience are in on a deal but they have their part of it to keep up. It's as though they've been handed a memo a few days before the event telling them how best to prepare and how to ensure that a broad smile stays on their permacheer faces. Who is capable of being that jovial?
All entertainment involves some form of artifice and knowing collaboration between performer and audience. There is just something so fucking nauseating about this jollity pact when it comes to standup.
And what the the audience are up to does matter: [leaving aside COVID considerations] when it comes to music, if a band has fans I'd rather not spend my time with, or if it acquires such people over time, this can be very offputting in terms of your feelings about the artist.
On the subject of music...
In the 1990s it was said that comedy was the new rock'n'roll (a phrase that has long since descended into cliche but is worth recalling here). Newman and Baddiel, then young and good-looking, were packing arenas and they were feted as pop stars. I was unimpressed.
Talking of where comedy and music meet, honourable mentions to:
— Frank Sidebottom, whose gigs involved daft, tinny music and audience singalongs. Subtly subversive AND actually enjoyable.
— Ted Chippington, who regularly supported 'rock' acts with his sounfunnyitshilarious comedy routine.
— The Mighty Boosh, whose stage adaptation of their TV show made me happy.
— Jerry Sadowitz, magician/comedian/cunt, whose '[splutter] did he just say that?' shows planted landmines in the audience's comfort zone and really did make rock'n'roll [sic] seem staid by comparison.
And while I'm being nice for a moment, no discussion of standup is complete without giving props to Stewart Lee, whose comedy — for me — inspires admiration rather than belly laughs but whose deconstruction of the comedian's art, involving more footnotes than main narrative, is headspinningly brilliant.
Still, when I go to a gig I want to spend the evening with like-minded souls being transported by music, not to be told jokes while surrounded by cackling, guffawing twats.
I've occasionally wondered what makes me hostile to standup comedy. The idea of trying to be funny alone on stage is terrifying and maybe my irritation at standup is a product of my own lack of backbone. Then again, it takes some nuts to freeclimb up El Capitan, fly a plane or take a penalty in a big match, and none of those things irks me in the way standup does.
Writing this has helped crystallise my thoughts, as blog posts should, and may even have rekindled a love of misanthropy.