When I talked to comedian Gareth Ellis recently, he told me he was going to write Raoul Moat: The Opera about the recent multiple murderer. He told me the music would be written by London-based Dutch comic Jorik Mol.
So, obviously, when Jorik and I had tea in London last week, I asked him:
“How is Raoul Moat: The Opera going?”
“We haven’t met about it so far,” said Jorik.
“Do you intend to meet?”
“And the philosophy of Raoul Moat: The Opera is…”
“There isn’t one so far. I really don’t know what Gareth is planning. I’ve been listening to Andrew Lloyd Webber’s music recently in the same way I listen to Wagner. You cannot listen to that music and not look on it as being anything other than completely and utterly soul-destroyingly manipulative. When you listen to the intro to Tristan und Isolde, it is like coitus interruptus without the coitus. This chord is never released – never released – never released – slightly released – and – the tension is only released four hours later, when the fat lady sings.”
Jorik is now living back in England again after a break at home in Holland for a couple of years. He is doing a Masters in Comparative Literature at University College, London.
“It sounds impressive,” Jorik told me, “but it just means I will never be able to get a job. I’m doing the Masters full-time; I’m doing extra tutorials; I’m doing translations for UCL; I’m trying to gig three or four times a week; I’m trying to write. This week I gigged five times which is a bad idea on all levels. I do not have a life.”
That was last week. This week Jorik is doing four gigs, including one totally in French tonight at the Comedy Cafe for the International Comedy Club (which is run from Zürich). And, on Thursday, he is performing in Streatham at a benefit for dogs in Romania organised by Danish comedian Sofie Hagen.
“Have you ever gigged for non-humans before?” I asked.
“I’ve gigged before for audiences in Holland that didn’t seem to be human,” replied Jorik.
“And next?” I asked.
“I’m writing an essay about Kafka and laughter.”
“I read somewhere,” I said, “that The Trial – which is always billed as the ultimate paranoid novel… Kafka and his friends thought it was phenomenally funny, like a comedy piece.”
“Yes,” said Jorik. “It’s the way it’s been translated into English and the way it’s been appropriated into English. It’s been made to serve a purpose in English culture. The word Kafkaesque does not really apply to Kafka. I want to do a PhD on Comedic Devices and Cognitive Stylistics – two terms I’ve made up.
“When a comedian goes on stage,” explained Jorik, “one of the common stupid opening lines is I know what you’re thinking. But that is actually what all comedy is about.
“Comedy is about leading the lines of cognition in a certain way, from a certain perspective. You are resolving issues that shouldn’t be resolved, you are duplicating narratives, you are leading people up the garden path.
“The cognitive system is in the pre-frontal cortex and it’s basically the thing that asks the questions Where? What? Who? Why? How? and Which?
“If that part of the brain – the cognitive system – doesn’t function, it’s very difficult for you to engage with humour in any way, because humour is about asking the questions Where? What? How? and Why? and those questions being subverted, inverted or converted.
“So I’m going to write about the 18th century: Immanuel Kant, Laurence Sterne, Voltaire and a guy from Austria called Johann La Roche who wrote puppetry plays. It was like Commedia dell’arte. People improvised what was happening in the room, in the street, in politics. It was topical jokes – boom boom boom.
“My interest is in joke shapes: the linguistic shapes that textual humour takes. It’s a linguistic notion of doing something or transgressing boundaries on a physical or social level.
“In Britain, it’s normal for people to say He’s a funny guy, She’s a funny girl, You ARE funny – which is bullshit. Being funny – using those joke shapes and tropes – is learnt behaviour.
“I was talking to people in the German Dept at UCL and someone told me: I can’t really say to students – especially First Year undergrads – This is funny, because their capacity to read German is just not good enough yet. Same thing with French. You can’t say This is funny because they’ll go No, it’s not, because they don’t yet fully understand the language.
“I want to look at texts and how they produce comedy. Was it you who wrote you can’t watch five stand-ups in a row because you get exhausted after a while?”
“Possibly,” I said, “I do think that’s one problem with current comedy clubs – you’re just watching stand-ups doing much-the-same thing – just standing there saying words – with no variation whereas, in the 1980s, the stand-up was interspersed with visual variety acts and bizarre acts.”
“Ah!” I said. “The Iceman! He lives in Bournemouth.”
Jorik laughed, as well he might.
“I want to work with Dr Steve Cross who does Bright Club,” said Jorik. “He works at UCL but is sometimes a stand-up.”
“You do an awful lot of gigs,” I said.
“Coming back here,” said Jorik, “I have to re-establish myself so I have to play the circuit. But I’m really struggling with life-work balance: that’s why I listen to podcasts all the time – to drown out my inner monologue.”
“I can blank my mind out to relax.” I said.
“I can’t,” said Jorik.
“That’s why you have trouble getting to sleep at night,” I said.
“Yeah,” said Jorik. “That’s why I need the mirtazapine. I find it very difficult, because my mind’s racing constantly. The first month I was here in London was rough as fuck. I’d basically been waiting to come back to Britain for two years and I’m the kind of person who wants everything done straight away and that just doesn’t work over here. It took me six weeks just to register with a GP.”
“Your persona on stage is not anxious,” I said.
“Yes, it’s quite friendly,” said Jorik, “and sweet and flirty but occasionally bitchy. When I was 20, I wanted to be an angry comic, but I’m the opposite of an angry comic on stage. It’s weird. I feel I have been lowered down into this persona and, with age – I’m 25 and have been performing since I was 17 – I’m only starting to get away with it now.”
“You may have already peaked,” I joked.
“Yeah,” laughed Jorik. “It can only go downhill from now! I’ve always felt like that. I wake up like that every morning. When I was 4, I read a book about Mozart and that he had composed his first symphony at the age of 3 and my brain shouted out: YOU’VE LOST!
“It’s unlikely I’m ever going to achieve anything in comedy. There are so many people doing comedy right now. It doesn’t matter how original you are. It does not even how matter how good you are. You will not succeed. Success is only what other people talk about when it’s over and done with and you’ve come out the other side.
“It sounds lame, but I now cannot function without doing stand-up at least once a week.”
“Because…?” I prompted.
“It’s just me and my life,” said Jorik, “I was always seen as the weird one. I envy my brother because he is able to go to work then go out at the weekend and have a nice time and live. He runs the supply department for care homes for children with severe disabilities. He’s really happy and is able to function. I have to pretend to be a person. When you do comedy you can sometimes take a step back and just observe: OK. This is functional behaviour. That’s why I want to get into academia as well.
“I could never envisage a life for myself in Holland. I don’t mean being happy – because that’s never going to happen – but just to be functional, just to be working…”