Last night, I went to a drinks party held by the comedy agency Mirth Control. Most of their acts were there plus a few non-performers like me.
I got talking to one of the other non-Mirth Control acts and they told me that one of their friends had – of course – said: “Oh, that’ll be fun! Lots of comedians in a room together! Lots of laughs!”
But, of course, when comedians get together, they are not their stage personas. And, with the friend’s comment in mind, this non-stand-up comedian asked me: “Are comedians humorous or humorless?”
I had and have no answer.
I always tend to say all comedians are barking mad. If I were more PC, I might say they were “psychologically interesting”. Which they certainly are.
Though there is, I think, a slight psychological difference between stand-ups, storytellers and actors-pretending-to-be-comedians (of which there are a depressing number).
The other cliché about comedians – in addition to being barking mad – would be Pagliacci – the sad clown who makes audiences laugh but who is sad inside.
So comedians… Neurotic, sometimes tortured schizos with social disorders.
So far so good.
But are they – in themselves – humorous or humorless?
They are obviously interested in jokes and humorous situations but, in a sense, why on earth would they make jokes or try to make other people laugh socially when they can make money by filing away anything humorous and using it on stage?
I think that is sensible.
But, then, I do not understand Twitter, which is awash with comedians giving away one-liners for free. I have no idea what logic is at work here.
Also, in the humorous-humorless question/answer there is the analytical factor at play.
I am a terrible audience member partly (I think) because my background was in television and you tended to keep quiet during recordings, even if they were performances by comedians.
And also partly because I am often listening to the style in which they say something rather than just what they say. So, though internally appreciative, I don’t react externally.
I remember standing with comedian/compere Malcolm Hardee at opposite sides of a pillar in his Up The Creek comedy club during an early performance by comic Charlie Chuck. I looked at Malcolm and he looked at me and both of us were crying with laughter. I think it may have been the only time I ever saw Malcolm cry with laughter.
But Charlie Chuck was not doing standard gag-based stand-up. It was the surrealism and the passionate physical performance mixed with the surrealism that pushed both Malcolm et moi over the edge.
Malcolm, like most comics, tended to watch other comedians’ stand-up acts without laughing at them; but then might say: “That was brilliant” or “That was very funny”. And he would mean it. Because he had been analysing the content and delivery at the same time he was appreciating the act.
I tend to do the same thing. My redeeming feature, apparently, is that I smile appreciatively if I think I can be seen by the performer, which is slightly reassuring.
I had my comeuppance a few weeks ago when I was four rows back, enjoying a particular comedian who did not know me but, apparently, I was sitting there stoney-faced with my arms folded. So the comic made it his mission to turn by taciturn humorlessness into laugh-out-loud enjoyment. I could not manage the laugh-out-loud bit believably, but I manage to chortle enough to deflect his attention away from me.
None of which answers the question Are comedians humorous or humorless? but, like comedy performances, blogs cannot always be golden pinnacles of orgasmic success.