I’ve had to see a lot of live comedy this past year because it’s what my boyfriend does for a living, and, although I knew the experience could be an excruciating one, I’ve seen things that could make Pollyanna cut her own throat.
It’s a profoundly lonely feeling to be depressed at a comedy gig and it has led me to wonder about the psychological driving force behind the perpetrators.
Having met them before, during and after performing, it occurred to me once that not only are they usually not at all funny, but, people who choose to become comedians, are the LEAST funny people in society (and I mean that in a kind way).
It makes perfect sense, if you think about it. Most people don’t act as if there’s a wit famine at any given moment — but comedians do. If someone makes a half-hearted observation about biros or biscuits or anal sex, which is slightly original and funny, most people laugh and move on to the next thing — it’s not a big deal, we know the next even funnier sentence is coming soon. There’s such an abundance of hilarity amongst most of us that we can be quite confident in letting the laughs fly away but the professional clown is listening like a mathematician and instead of laughing, may respond: “that’s quite good” or “that could work” then, they might ask your permission to “use it in a bit.”
They don’t expect anything to be funny, therefore, when it happens, they try to nail it down so it can’t escape. They obviously want to monetise it, too. And, monetising natural human emotions — as with sexuality — can only lead to great sadness.
I’ve sat hiding behind a glazed-eyed-grin whilst a conveyor belt of men (occasionally a woman) drag us innocent audience members into their own personal psycho drama. The awkward dynamic could be sadism or maschocism or both.
I find myself wondering, if they were bullied in school or is that too much of a cliche? Are they going back to that scenario but one where *they* are in charge of when people laugh at them? Or, are they enjoying the feeling of being bullied and awkward again - trauma bonding I think it’s called - you go back to the painful moment and relive it. Over and over and over again.
Standing before us, enjoying the fact we can’t walk away because if we do, they’ll make a “joke” as we run for the door. The “Go on, leave me, just like every woman does!” - might elicit a murmur of mirth from the other captives but there will be a grating undercurrent of “and we know why. . .”
Or - are they the victims of too much encouragement from indulgent parents? I often sit with hatred pumping in my heart for whoever has given the toddler with a neck beard on stage the impression they’re ever so interesting to look at and listen to. Is there some insipid girlfriend at home who wails with laughter every time they pronounce the word “dangerous” “dan-ger-roos”? Because if so, they need to stop, for everyone’s good.
Almost always, stunningly lacking in self-awareness and social skills, they just can’t stop practising material on you while your brain screams out “please stop, please stop.”
It may not seem like a critical mass situation of international emergency but, this problem is unfortunately getting worse. Comedians were once very special people who would rise to visibility through a meritocracy osmosis but, as can be witnessed any night of the week at “The Turgid Haircut” or “The Insipid Alan” - social media is tragically encouraging to anyone who can get a ‘like’ for their hot take on the latest terror attack or rape (ooh - edgy) all the way to picking up a mic. We also live in a time of “self care” and “mental health” - we’re all told to encourage people with their dreams, but, in so many of these cases, it’s encouraging someone with no hands to be a hairdresser.
Why do they do it to us? Why does someone who would make a perfectly good IT professional, plumber or dad, put us through the agony of playing out this pantomime. We KNOW they are less funny than the average audience member but they have the mic, and when we have to clap out of the politeness the dynamic demands, we enable them. Would we pour a double whiskey for an alcoholic?
It’s a taboo to be “mean” these days. After all, are they doing any harm? I would argue, yes. To themselves, to us and to culture.
I used to critisise female comedy because I found it disappointing and lazy but, I’m now convinced that we are all way too hard on women and are inclined to have some kind of sympathy when it’s a big lump in a black T-shirt whose forgotten the lines and is involving us in their own unraveling. There’s an “ah, bless him for trying” aspect where as with a woman, who might manage to feign a cheerful mummy front, there’s more of a “who the hell does she think she is!?”
Man or woman, would it be kinder to tell them before they’ve wasted 20 years on an ego excursion? Are we complicit in a delusion, when Errol in Clapham talks about how he can’t stop eating toast and we smile because it’s rude not to - and he sees Richard Pryor reflected in the pub window.
I’m not sure, but I’m still recovering from Friday night and reminding myself that there is wit and hilarity out there. It’s just a matter of avoiding comedians.