Stand-Up Comedy – Will It Ever Make Me Laugh?

Before Christmas I watched a two part Imagine programme about Stand-Up comedy.  Now, those of you who know me may wonder why I would spend any time on comedy, as I generally don’t find it amusing.  But that is the very reason why I did watch.

The majority of orchestrated comedy, stand-up and sit-com, usually has a broadly negative impact on me; not only does it rarely make me laugh, it actively irritates me.  But I have witnessed, on many occasions, in cinemas, theatres, and other people’s sitting rooms, that other people do find such things funny, are even attracted by reviews that mention rolling around in the aisle or crying with helpless laughter.

Usually when I say that I don’t like comedy, my interlocutor will tell me that I must try this or that show, performer or act, because they are ‘really funny’.  I nod and smile ‘Oh really?’ just to be polite.

It is such a question of personal taste, and yet, the fact that some performers attract large crowds and make lots of money, interests me.  It’s unlikely to make me crack a smile, but it is nevertheless a cultural phenomenon that I’d like to understand better.

Watching the Imagine shows was, however, a surprisingly gloomy experience: talking heads, popular stand up comedians seriously analysing what it is they think they’re doing, how they calculate the content and performance of their shows, and how long it has taken them to develop their particular shtick.  Interspersed with the interviews were filmed extracts from their shows, presumably illustrating the points they had just made; all of them uniformly, to my eye and ear, entirely unfunny.  I can see that some of them are clever, but there was nothing in it to make me laugh.  It seemed such a shame that they put in so much effort to so little effect on me.

There were however many parallels between the way the comics described how they generated their material and their stage persona to what any writer takes into account in their own work; to take small details of life and to exaggerate, to riff, to change, to improve and then to deliver it in their own individual authentic voice.  A couple commented that early in their careers they had been told their material was clever but that they had not found yet the right voice in which to deliver it.

I’m still puzzling about why I am so put off by stand-up comedy.  Some of it is the shoutiness of so many of them, and the pausing for effect, the craven begging that they be found funny, the laughing at their own jokes, the ‘trying so hard’-ness of it all.

I do however quite enjoy the silly panel shows that are often on television, where the quick witted repartee does amuse me.  Yet it is often the same performers who are on these shows, who, on their own doing the ‘Hello, Swansea’ type shows, will always make me operate the off switch on the TV and radio.

So if there is a joke, I’m still not in on it.

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