June 20, 2007


Bernard Manning and the tragedy of comedy: Sour. Self-pitying. Cowardly. These are the defining characteristics of the stand-up comedian, argues Alexei Sayle. How else can we explain the misanthropic tendencies of performers like Bernard Manning? ( Alexei Sayle, 20 June 2007, Independent)

It's an odd thing, stand-up comedy. You go to some bar or theatre or club you would never normally visit, sit with strangers, and watch another stranger try to make you laugh. One minute you're going about your business. The next you're falling about.

Being a punter at a stand-up gig is nothing like going to a rock concert, or a violin recital, or a play, all of which can drag any and every type of emotion from us. Comedy is alone in focusing on one physiological reaction: laughs.

But how do stand-ups make us laugh? Dylan Moran, a comedian who spends more time thinking about these matters than most, has a theory. "If someone has just come back from holiday," he explains, "and they show you some photographs, and say it was all wonderful, and that the sun wasn't too hot, you're bored out of your mind. Nothing could be more boring than other people's happiness. But if they tell you the hotel was crap, how the toilets leaked, how they all got sick - it's a wonderful story. Something bad will have happened to you in the past, but it didn't happen this time. It happened to them. And you can enjoy it."

Or, as Mel Brooks once said: "Tragedy is when I cut my finger. Comedy is when you walk into an open sewer and die." For whatever reason - our maliciousness; our latent survival instincts; our terror of death - the misfortune of others is fecund comedic material. For this reason, most stand-up is licensed schadenfreude.

Wouldn't know the guy from Adam's off aunt, but the obits have been hysterical, forcing folks to admit that he was funny but that, personally, they found his political correctness appalling....

Posted by Orrin Judd at June 20, 2007 6:26 AM
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