Friday, August 05, 2011

My comedy ethos (whatever ethos means)

Ethos is a Greek word meaning "character" that is used to describe the guiding beliefs or ideals that characterize a community, nation, or ideology. So, yeah, what I think is good. Or what I think is good for me.

What do I want from my comedy stand-up thing? What do I want from other people's?


From other people it's simple: surprise me. Take me in a new direction. Give me something that I'm not expecting and no doubt I will laugh. It's easier to explain with comedy characters - in sitcoms or fiction - they do things that you can't believe (but can believe from them). You couuld say the same about Jimmy Carr or Frankie Boyle. The jokes fit with the character but surprise you. Eddie Izzard is the same. Weird but in keeping with his personality and character on stage. Sarah Silverman or Dennis Leary or Woody Allen or Steven Wright.

  • If you're odd it's good.
  • If you're mad like Emo Phillips it's great.
  • If you're clever or very clever and stupid at the same time, that's even better.
  • If you can carry a theme or continue a joke and come back to it 15 minutes later - I love that.

So I guess that's what I'm hoping to do. There are a lot of random blokeish jokesmiths; gagsters
who don't express a personality and don't surprise that much.

For me it's like writing a play - if you have one witty line - the laugh lasts for 5 seconds. If you have a farcical plot you can keep the tension and the laughter going for half an hour.

Personally

I've no real desire to talk about the events of my life. I always think of Samuel Beckett's "Not I." No, not me, sir, definitely not me. Too dull. Going to the supermarket. Eating crisps and working.

Maybe working. People learning English and getting it wrong is funny.

Writing "I like cock" instead of "I like to cook."

Always amusing. But I've not managed to integrate any of that yet. I'm kinda kind really. I don't want to take the piss. I don't like all this modern day piss takery: talking about gingers, about recently dead people or people being 'Special.' It's all just a bit too easy. Or else you can google and come up with a million jokes on these subjects. These things don't fit with my character.

I think I want to look at things logically and explore that area - the gap between logic and stupidity and where they interlock. Yeah, and that doesn't sound in the least bit amusing - but when was theory every amusing, huh?

"Write hard and clear about what hurts. "
Ernest Hemingway


I think comedy should be a place to explore your fears. The things you wouldn't normally say. So it can be on the edge of political correctness. It might be people talking about cheating or immigration or disabilities or the fear of life after having a stroke. The death of your father, your current bad relationship. The 1970s tropes of fear of immigration and the otherness of people of different gender, race or sexuality are clearly still relevant today. We just don't want comedians saying, 'People from Xxxx are stupid. Gay people are scary and stupid. Women are stupid, and overweight women and blonde haired women are especially amusingly stupid. But is it possible that there is comedy in the perceptions of one race by another, or the interactions between people from different cultures - of course there is. There is a possibility to understand through humour or at least to own up to our own lack of understanding. Our own intolerance, our naivity and cupidity.

We can explore our fears in jokes. Create connections that people had never previously thought about. Why is X like Y? What do you get if you cross Z with K?

I like that. Communication and disorientation. Shaking up thoughts and mixing up people's established ideas. Not confirming prejudices but challenging them.

All that sounds poncey and like I have an agenda. I don't. I'm thinking aloud. I really have no idea what I want or what I'm doing. I don't really care if people are challenged or not. More that I don't want to do the opposite. Conform to a boring stereotype and feed out more of the same. Jokes about Amy Winehouse. Jokes about being a sad man or wanking or problems with girlfriends or ugly stupid people. Of course any of these rules are exploded by someone just being really really good and really confident in what they do. If you're a brilliant artist you can paint the same brilliant picture again and again with a few variations and people will love you. Mark Rothko did that, Samuel Beckett did something similar; and Samuel Beckett would make a magnificent stand-up comedian.

So there might not be a place for obscure comedy topics like bullfighting in Birmingham any more, but who knows...

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