The embarrassing enthusiasms of an ageing misanthrope

In the past couple of years that I have re-submerged myself in the world of live comedy and I have discovered the joy of preview shows. Works in Progress.

I love them and I actually feel grateful that I get the chance to see these sometimes half formed ideas, or robust structured hours that require some polish. It still amazes me that comedians do this.

Think about the painter that takes their sketches out and says “what’dya tink?” to an pompous RA over opinionated member. The composer that hums a nascent tune to a passing Classical Chill Out CD owner and then asks their opinion. The comedian that scribbles an idea into a Tesco version of a Moleskin and stands in front of a paying audience and speaks out loud for the first time, something they feel and hope is funny. Must be terrifying.

It is why I think that the art form of the comedian is one of the bravest, the rawest and the trickiest. Alright, alright. I know we are not talking about bomb disposal, a Paramedic on a Friday night, or a teacher with the future of our children in their wherewithal. But we are talking about artists. People that balance what they do with who they do it for. People that have to make what they want to make. Say what they want to say and then for pragmatic reasons, try to shape that into a vaguely commercial form. Something that we the public will fork out for, will support.

With the increase in awareness and availability comedy in so many delivery forms and outlets, lots of people have become ‘experts’ in comedy, very quickly. And then you can take that opinion and push it out to 30 people. Really easily. We do.

Funny Looking was never imagined as a review outlet. Sometimes I will say, out loud even, “all reviewers are cunts”. I don’t think I mean it. Some reviewers raise the form high and show a dignity in their writing, an honesty and more importantly a high degree of self awareness, that lets the reader know that this is what that performance means to them, personally. Bruce Dessau stands out to me as a reviewer that balances knowledge, honesty and opinion. And I certainly don’t agree with everything he says. But he says it compellingly well.

Two things stood out recently. One was the conversation I had with the three people I took to see David Trent at the “How The Light Gets In festival of ideas” in Hay on Wye. This was a preview show for This Is All I Have, his show for this years Edinburgh Festival and the follow up to the hugely brilliant Spontaneous Comedian. This was the second time I had seen the preview show, the first at Mach Fest. It is a testament to to what I think about the show so far that I returned to see it again and if I get to Ed Fest this year, I fully intend to see the final product.

Another testament to the show, as well as the rolling swell of laughter throughout, was the fact that three people who had known nothing of David Trent were discussing the show, how much they enjoyed it, how much they got from it, how clever and funny it was and how original they considered it. There. That is my review in this paragraph. I’m not going to talk about any content. It was a preview. Bits will change. Come in, go out. I will say, there was real progression and development since Mach and my very favourite bit, a video piece was still in it. But what right do I have to even offer this observation? I feel arrogant even committing that to Flog.

There was a point in the show, not even noticed by one of my party, where somebody left. The show wasn’t for them, they didn’t want to stay, they were not enjoying it. They left. (On a secondary note their stated reason for leaving was at massive misreading of a bit that nobody else in the room agreed with).

Great. I’m not enjoying this. I’m leaving. I get that. I respect that. (They were massively wrong in my opinion but they stuck to theirs)

What I struggle with is:

I’m not enjoying this.

It isn’t funny.

I’m staying to the end no matter how unfunny it is to me.

I’m going to make sure I enthusiastically tell you how unfunny it is.

Paid reviewers. Maybe I understand. But others. Leave. Forget it. Let it go. Why would you tell us why it isn’t funny? How can somebody be definitive?

This links to the second point I have been thinking about. It comes from a rare comment on the website. Very welcome but intriguing.

On the previous Flog, about the Brian Gittins Radio Show Archive we have going, (for shits and giggles), (you can see that here), somebody left a link at the bottom to a review of Gittins at Glastonbury from the prestigious local-to-Glastonbury website. The reviewer didn’t enjoy Gittins. So much that they would have left – but: ‘stayed to the end so I could write about it.’ swiftly followed by ‘If I’m honest, the hokey cokey segment at the end did actually have me crying with laughter’. So a bizarre, confusing, mixed bag of a review, left at my doorstep by somebody I do not know, wanting to let me know they don’t like Gittins.

It all seems like a lot of effort for something so meaningless.

A couple of recent podcasts have really resonated for me. (And I listen to a lot of podcasts) Tom Allen on the brilliant Comedians Comedian podcast and why comedians as artists deserve our support. It is so worth a listen to and moved me with it’s honesty. Also John Hodgman on the Nerdist podcast, talking about the schism between the world of being a nerd and the negativity of hipsters. Have a listen to them both. They are worth your time.

Then again my enthusiasm for them might move you to take the time, effort and consideration to find an obscure review, telling me something I like is disregardable and un liked by you. I’ll be alright with that. Or take the honest route and walk out. You might still be wrong though.

David Trent will be appearing at Group Therapy Comedy in Manchester on Saturday the 30th of June.