Sunday, 22 May 2011


There used to be a running gag on tour with David Devant and his Spirit Wife. One of us would simply say the word “comedy” and it somehow summed up the bitter sweet struggle of being a member of our ensemble and yet at the same time somehow also said our pain is not so bad (this last part was probably implied mainly through the adoption of a W. C. Fields twang). I’ve just this moment started writing about comedy and the ring-fencing man in my head has just said you know very little about comedy you just turn up and do your big silly laugh you don’t even watch much comedy. Hold on I retort the whole TV schedule has become comedy. Comedy is the new rationalism. Comedians are the new Thomas Paine’s of this world very often pointing out our “idiosyncratic follies”. On the whole they are more Poussin than Fragonard (ask your granddad -he’s as likely to be as baffled as you by that comparison but ask him any way). Fragonnard was very much a product of the FĂȘte Galante genre of painting that sought to show the universal foibles of humanity by placing them in a bucolic context. I think the intended response was a gently sigh whilst saying,
“ah humans ha ha we are such a paradoxical species.”
 Poussin on the other hand created order from the apparent chaos of nature through reducing landscape to geometric solids (Ouch! Imagine passing one of those). To show our superiority.
            I’m mentioning this because lately comedy has become rather philosophical which is odd because by definition philosophy is a humourless endeavour. In his engaging paper Art, Criticism and Laughter: Terry Eagleton on Aesthetics Steven Connor remarks, “Aristotle shares with Plato the idea that laughter is derision, or the expression of superiority. Aristotle saw laughter as proceeding from `the joy
we have in observing the fact that we cannot be hurt by the evil at which we are indignant'. Last night at the Simon Munnery gig I tried to remember to put this to the test asking myself if I only laughed at a sudden feeling of superiority. They do say that part of a joke is making the audience feel smart for having got the joke but I have always felt the value here was more to do with a two-way connection – as if the teller is somehow letting you in through a crack in their cranium.
 In the first half of the show we had sat at the back with the air-conditioning simultaneously sending my spine into spasm whilst releasing untold minions of bacteria into my lungs. This was also frustrating on account of the first act being a close up magician who told jokes (or was it the other way around?  A close up joker who did magic). So after a pint I suggested that we sit in the empty front row. What’s the worst thing that could happen? We reasoned after all Simon Munnery doesn’t get cheap laughs. Does he?
Sitting at the front was a very intimate experience. W saw Mr. Munnery drop the microphone and ad-lib a praying to Mecca position to continue the act as if he had never done such a thing before. We the people of Dulwich must have provided a formidable audience. More a padded cell deadening all of the comedians mighty blows to our chains than a cathedral to the joy of shared observation resonating within its lofty arches. Things came to a head shortly after the Mecca improv when my friend’s mobile text alert went off in the front row. There can be times as a performer when the tawdry nature of it all can suddenly waft into your brain. Your repetition of the same story and reflex movements become suddenly writ large. Mr Munnery, as I explained was doing very well indeed and his improv looked genuinely improvised. He had not long been back on his feet when the text alert went off. Sonically speaking it was not very offensive (earlier the crowd had been close to mobbing a girl with a Valerie ringtone) but it resonated in a very unexpected way. One could not have designed a ringtone more suitable for getting under the skin of a comedian whose metaphysical patter is full of existential angst. The sound then that poked its way into Simon Munnery’s brain shortly before he quickly wrapped up his act was a simple clown car horn. Hee haw. A bit like the noise Brum makes in fact. This sound must have continued to bounce around inside his head getting louder and louder saying you are just a clown and the people of Dulwich are bored. In fact he was utterly brilliant and for the first time in years I feel like a fawning fan. He really speaks to me that Mr Simon Munnery.

A little less conversation

In his Manual of the Warrior of Light Paolo Coelho sets down the teaching that a Warrior never backs out of something he has agreed to do. Otherwise he will spend his life making feeble more and more convoluted excuses. There is a very simple clear lesson here about learning to say no. I think as a middle aged man I  have learnt this but even so sometimes things all come together at the same time making me wish I had said no more often. This is by no means a slur on the activities I was involved in its just that I am a homebody who needs to get out more. In a week where I have to go out more than once I get nervous. So I get nervous quite a lot. I realise that fear is not conducive to a happy or fulfilling life so I try not to be nervous. It’s just that my head is happier floating up in the clouds and going out means connecting with other people. It’s a bit like taking the boys to the park – they always enjoy it when we get there. I really do enjoy conversation. No no really.
            Obviously there are some friends with whom conversation is easier and more open. I have made friends with someone recently who makes me feel completely at ease when we talk. Recently we bumped into each other on our way into town for an evening out. He was going for a drink with a client and I was on my way to sing at the launch of David Koresh Super Star. On the tube he introduced a game he once played with close friends whereby small and trifling lies were introduced into the conversation. Great I thought I find a friend who I feel at ease talking with and he encourages me to lie.
Yesterday I bumped into this lying friend at the school fete. He sat down with my wife and I as we sheltered from the blazing sun gently moaning to each other about how so many people fail to connect when talking. The friend started to talk about his work coaching gymnastics and I felt a sudden rush of adrenaline as I realised that this was my chance to introduce an anodyne lie into the conversation. “Yes me and Frank (not his real name) met on the bus (It was really the tube!) last night.” Frank continues, “Yes there was a drunk man.” “How horrible!” says my wife. “Yes he was nearly sick!” I continue remembering that I have now reached the outer limit of excitement allowed in harmless lying. I imagine Kant spinning in his grave. This kind of delinquent amoral lying is all new to me and feels like a midlife crisis waiting to happen. But having been cynical before I rather enjoyed the connection it brought between Frank and me. That glint of conspiratorial recognition in his eyes as I mentioned the “bus”.