Tears to the eye

Lewis Porteous

There is nothing I enjoy more than queuing for longer than advertised, voluntarily entering a poorly ventilated fire-trap with inadequate seating facilities and subjecting myself to the lies, tired shock tactics and thinly-veiled self-publication of a disappointingly ineloquent stranger who all the while insists on maintaining the embarrassing ‘illusion’ of spontaneity throughout the overlong affair.

Yes, it’s fair to say that British stand-up comedy has entered something of a golden age, and is finally establishing itself in the eyes of the public as the vital, cerebral art form we fans have long regarded it as. If you are yet to experience stand-up’s taboo-shattering potency for yourself, just head down to a local beginners’ night and prepare to have your convictions completely smashed to pieces.

You thought shallow dissection of gender differences was as edgy as it got? Well, just wait ’til your hear these mavericks ‘riffing on the, admittedly inaccurate, differences between the people of Glasgow and Edinburgh. It’s like men from Edinburgh are all like “oh yah,” while Glaswegians talk in broad Scottish accents and utter expletives! Don’t write in to the Guardian asking how they come up with this gold; just go see for yourself before the well dries up.

The more mercurial comedians may even throw in some crass generalisations about Aberdeen and Dundee, if you’re lucky. These could range from “they’re all like ‘oh it’s so c-c-c-c-cold this far up north’” to “oh, I’m so hungry, I could really use some marmalade, one of my city’s most notorious exports,” respectively. Details that you’d need a really keen eye to spot, you know?

With our independent comedy clubs fostering a staggering array of prodigious new talent, Britain’s mainstream comedy elite cannot afford to rest on their laurels and this is shown in their increasingly challenging TV work. The astonishingly prolific Peter Kay has recently succeeded in elevating himself above other exploitative nostalgia-merchants by means of purging his latest material of comedy itself, ingeniously presenting audiences with carbon copies of things that they recognise, effectively cutting out the problematic middle man.

But that’s just one way to stay ahead of the game. Indeed, more and more comedians are adopting exciting new methods of crafting material so that they may no longer feel the need to fret over what the industry refers to as ‘the joke problem’.When ‘Sunday Night Project’ sensation Alan Carr mused, during his recent ‘The Secret Policeman’s Ball’ set, that a bipolar acquaintance didn’t even have a personality to split in the first place, he brought the house down, proving that misdirected malice and a sexually unambiguous persona are ample substitutes for wit, logic and effort, as far as a crowd of baying idiots is concerned.

Still, purists can rest easy: mainstream comedy is still capable of pushing boundaries without going down the path of the aforementioned pair’s superb, conceptual meta-comedy. For those of you unfamiliar with the work of the inimitable Ricky Gervais, the best way it can be summed up is thus: someone says something that a minority group is bound to find offensive directly to, or within earshot of, a member of said minority group, silence ensues and a camera zooms in on the bemused faces of all present.

His varied body of work explores long held notions of acceptability, while calling to mind established classics, largely because he is tirelessly comparing himself to ground-breaking innovators, under the assumption that people who haven’t seen the latter’s work and are only familiar with their gleaming reputations will just give him the benefit of the doubt.

Of course Sweet Lady Success is a cruel mistress and can be fleeting. It’s consequently of great importance that artists keep abreast of and evolve with changing socio-political climates. Sure, right now it looks as though there’s a lot of mileage to be had in exploring attitudes to reality TV, incorrectly understood mental illness and contrived awkwardness, but Kay, Carr and Gervais take note: there’s a new wave of great comics — at a club near you — who’ll purport that they first understood the term ‘credit crunch’ to be the name of breakfast cereal, or biscuit, or crisps or whatever! They’re the future — adapt or die. A golden age indeed.


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