Sunday, 22 May 2011

comedy

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 Fête 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.

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