Comedians: humorous or humorless? Me: a terrible comedy audience member

Laugh oh laugh oh laugh

Laugh oh laugh oh… Are comedians humorous or humorless?

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?

Well…

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.

What’s with all the comedy gags on Twitter?

What’s with giving all these comedy gags on Twitter for free?

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 attempt to demonstrate an appreciative smile

I attempt to demonstrate an appropriately appreciative smile

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.

2 Comments

Filed under Comedy

2 responses to “Comedians: humorous or humorless? Me: a terrible comedy audience member

  1. I think most comedians have a sense of humour but there’s a small minority who in real life have no sense of humour at all. Stand up is a set of learnable skills …. You dont need to be funny yourself to be funny on stage. In fact I’m constantly amazed how conservative (with a small c) and slow witted some comedians are off stage. The most obvious manefestation of this is how many of them talk about “the industry”. Hardly anyone in primary industry ever talks about there business in this semi-abstracted over self important way. It’s a bit sad the number of people who see it as a career in the conventional sense like banking and insurance. But then again why not? I’m sure those industries are full of a small minority of office jokers who are funny when it’s socially inappropriate.

  2. Why do comedians give away gags for free on Twitter?

    Well, in my experience, for a multitude of reasons, including, but not exclusively;

    1) Twitter is a decent test for a short joke, if it gets retweets and good feedback from other Twitter users then the joke probably has legs. It’s not 100% fool proof and a joke which works on Twitter may not work live and vice versa but it can often give an indication that you are on the right lines.

    2) Twitter’s limit of 140 characters is perfect for encouraging brevity in joke writing

    3) Twitter effectively date and time stamps your joke which can come in handy when attempting to prove provenance of a gag.

    4) “Industry” people are on Twitter, I’ve picked up writing jobs and live work from people enjoying my jokes on Twitter. My first paid writing work was a direct result of putting jokes on Twitter.

    5) It’s a way of creating an online fan base. I’m a comedian who has no TV or radio profile and yet by giving away content I’ve gained 14,000+ followers. Some of these people show up at live gigs.

    6) In a way Twitter forces you to write, you need to give your followers something otherwise they will unfollow you and it also provides you with raw material for jokes, especially topical ones, by generating subjects and trending topics for you to joke about.

    I’m sure there’s many other reasons but that’s the ones off the top of my head. There are, of course, also downsides to putting free jokes on Twitter but so far, for me anyway, the pros have outweighed the cons.

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