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Friday, March 16

World Record Stupidity

Why do I do it? Why do I see the self-destruct button and push it so gleefully to see what it does? Last night I was involved in the Comic Relief stand-up event in Manchester to end all. A world-record 24 hour marathon involving about 120 acts. I was second on. Second in a line-up of 120. Wow. I was in a good mood, even though it was going to be a late night performance and an even later-night drive home. Somehow I reckoned I could do anything. My comedian brain was engaged and I was raring to go.

I got to the gig and there was a photographer around. He asked me for £5 for photos he was going to take of me during the show and in general. After he snapped a few during my soundcheck (and I really liked them), I acceded. I may be tight with money, but it was for charity and my vanity. I can't resist either. Some of the shots he got made me look like a serious musician/comedian. I was happy with them. I should get a CD in the near future. Nice.

My confidence was buoyed by the interview I gave for the radio, where I also got to play a song. They wanted a clean one. I did my spoof Eurovision song-contest entry. I cleaned up a few swear words and even took out the line about the pope being a nazi. Well, no need to cause needless offence, I thought. It went well.

But for every action there is an equal and opposite. I'd performed live on the radio without making a mistake and I'd been pleasant and inoffensive. The audience of this gig looked like a short-attention-span sick-minded bunch to me. A number of them were comedians, who wouldn't find my usual shit especially funny. I wanted to do my sickest material, in the assumption that it would either bomb or be a legendary performance - preferably the second.

Despite my best attempts to signpost the sick material as ridiculous and hedonistic, the novelty wore off before I'd completed the song (I did the noble thing and stopped it at the 2/3rds mark, rather than plough on to the end - though I didn't admit that I'd done that). Not only that, but someone (well, two people, or maybe just one person with a nodding mate) took real offence at it.

I'm not going to defend the song, nor even explain what's offensive about it. What I would say is that it contains combinations of words that I would not use in polite conversation, or be proud to say that I use on stage. That's the point of the song. It's a ridiculous saying of the wrong. As the complainant pointed out, it's not comic fodder, and it's a lazy use of cheap laughs. I'd perhaps disagree a little with the word lazy, since it was a carefully crafted combination of cheap button pushes. However, the fact that someone came up to be in distress after the gig shows that I wasn't being funny (in this man's opinion at least). To cause offense when you intend it - perhaps to silence a heckler - is a good thing. To cause offense at a charity gig, where the offense has been taken by a charitable person who feels like the stage has been used to make a mockery of the very cause that everyone's there to support... well, that's above unfortunate. It's just wrong.

Now, I'm feeling a little guilty about the effect of my ill-judged decision. But only slightly. Most people would brush it off and say that the pursuit of the laugh comes first - anything else is secondary. I think the comedians were generally supportive, rather than embarrassed. Indeed, one of them steamed into the situation with this guy, who was actually being quite reasonable in his complaint to me, and leaped to my defence. As it was, I was going to take the guy out of the way a little and give him the full unqualified apology that he deserved. I might even have been able to distance the gig a bit more from the material he disagreed with, but the intervention got in the way of my diplomacy.

I'm left with the unresolved resolution we reached. The guy left (well, he was probably going to find something offensive at some point) and I couldn't truly defend my right to sing joyous songs about the most disgusting of subject matter. I'm in a quandary. I love the work of Bill Bailey and he can do his songs in front of an audience of virtually any age range without having to defend his right to do it. He doesn't have to resort to filth. It's just cheerful silliness. In fact, it's exactly what I want to do. Yet I stand up in pubs and sing silly songs with occasional rude words/euphemisms in them. Not what I'd plan for myself. So why do I do it? Well, I find it funny too... and I do it well... so I do it.

And I find dark humour funny as well. The think you're not supposed to say, under the right circumstances of trust, is deeply cathartic to say because you know you can and it's not going to be taken the wrong way. Unless it is. Or if you say something that's so wrong that it's almost too wrong and people laugh at it, then perhaps it's just simply surreal. Absurd, even. And I love the absurd. "Did he just say that? Did we all just sing along with those words? In that way? Why? That's just weird!" That's dead centre of my humour. Dark and surreal stuff can both achieve the same frisson in my brain - misfiring synapses, ending in amusement.

Unless it goes wrong.

Let it not go wrong.

Let me learn better how to judge whether I can do the naughty naughty hedonistic pleasure of my wrongness from time to time. Or let me buy the audience's trust more readily...

There were moments last night with this firecracker of a song, when it was genuinely funny that it was unfolding the way it was... but it backfired. And when a firecracker backfires, then there's a mixed metaphor somewhere.

It's not like I'm even a controversial sort of person, or an in-your-face guy with issues. For goodness' sake, I'm sitting here, as I write this, listening to a Mary Poppins soundtrack. I like cuddly bouncy things. Somehow I can just get a bit wrong sometimes.

However, having unburdened myself a bit on this blog, and having chatted on the subject with gusto, and with my passenger back to Reading last night, I can't feel like I'm taking too much baggage away from the situation. A gig is a throwaway thing. It's history immediately. A smile and a hug (thanks to those who gave both) is enough to put it to rest.

Anyhoo. I had some really positive moments last night and the photos will be a nice reminder of it. Plus, I leeched a recording of my radio interview from the net. Listen again is ace. Downloading a radio interview with yourself is narcissism in extreme... and it's also surreal. Plus, I was interviewed by a woman in the venue, but she was collaborating with a guy in the studio, so I didn't hear all of the conversation at the time. Now I have. It was interesting to see how it all fit together and how the awkward pauses sounded.

The life of a comedian, eh? Who would want that!?


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