Tuesday, 18 August 2009

Lessons learned at the Edinburgh Fringe


Jokes about rape, fisting and paedophilia are a bit clichéd these days. Several young, quite competent stand-ups plunged into the filth for their laughs, and it quickly became tiresome. Because while it may be fun to construct a line about, say, a girl being double-teamed by a goat and panther, it's not really "edgy" any more. As I watched these comics I realised how naively hacky a lot of my Grey Bloke scripts have been, and that I need to work much harder on my writing in future...

I also came up with a game to play during stand-up sets by male comics: Count the seconds until he alludes to his penis. It doesn't usually take long.

On the other hand, Mr Stewart Lee, Mr Jamie Kilstein, Mr Simon Munnery and Ms Bridget Christie (who is also Mrs Stewart Lee) managed to perform sixty minute shows without a single genital reference - and were hilariously funny throughout. I didn't get to see Mr Richard Herring because I cunningly lost my ticket to his show.

My Grey Bloke cartoon about Carol Thatcher was included in Ava Vidal's "Minority Report" show, so I got to see that with an audience for the first time. Turns out it's excruciatingly slow, with nary a titter until two minutes in - though the one laugh it got then was gratifying.

Best non-stand-up thing I saw: Mercy Madonna Of Malawi. That's Madonna in the picture above.

6 comments:

rewboss said...

I think it's true that a lot of comedians get confused between "edgy" and "offensive", and assume that anything offensive is automatically edgy. I think Ian Hislop said something similar about the Brand/Ross/Sachs debacle: what went out on air was schoolboy smut, but edgy comedy and drama should remain mature even while it pushes at the boundaries of what's acceptable, and that's something that probably shouldn't be left to just anybody.

I think a good example would be Mel Smith and Griff Rhys Jones doing a sketch in they discussed attitudes towards displays of affection between men, ending in Mel giving Griff a passionate French kiss. It was genuinely funny and had a serious purpose (as I recall, this was in the middle of the AIDS scare).

somegreybloke hacky and slow? Probably compared to today's hip fast-and-furious culture, but I think the medium does make a difference: it might not work so well at the Fringe, but that doesn't mean it won't work on YouTube -- and apparently it does work, if a glance at your channel honours is anything to go by. That's not to say you shouldn't look to see what you can improve (because we should all be doing that), but from where I'm standing, you're definitely doing fine. Graham's delivery is always going to be more Humphrey Lyttleton than sxephil, and actually, I think people really enjoy that. I'd look at it slightly differently: you managed to hold an audience's attention for a whole two minutes before delivering the actual joke. Pretty good, I'd say.

Mike said...

Thanks, Rewboss. By improving the writing I just mean putting in more jokes, even if they're not massive laughs - because a lot of the time I'm quite lazy and figure one or two funny bits is enough. Then again, you never really know what's funny till other people see it...

I was quite envious of the stand ups, who get instant feedback on their material and can tweak it next day if it doesn't work. Though I wouldn't have wanted to be the ones I watched die.

rewboss said...

I once did a bit of standup, believe it or not: there's a club in Berlin that does English language standup every couple of weeks, and I was just getting into my stride when I moved a couple hundred miles away. Believe me, nothing improves your act more than being faced with an audience of which 60% is Germans waiting for the rimshot so they know when to laugh. (They also don't understand that heckling is all part of the deal, which you think might be a relief, but just adds to the "am I talking to zombies?" feeling.)

But then, the beauty about YouTube is that you do get feedback in the form of comments, ratings and subscription counts. Sure, most comments are trolls and idiots, but you can still pick up on general sentiment. I've had a few "I'll never do that again" moments, and one or two "I could be on to something here" moments as well. I've noticed that the "Finally, a decent German video" comments outweigh the "Speak English, douchebag" comments, for example. Of course, my advantage here is that I'm not (yet, haha) as popular as you, so I'm actually able to read everyone's comments.

Mike said...

Simon Munnery actually had a drummer onstage with him at Edinburgh, mainly to provide rimshots after jokes that fell flat. Which of course made them funny again.

Have you ever tried stand up in German?

rewboss said...

No, my German vlogs are the nearest I've ever got to German standup. First, although my everyday German is quite fluent, maintaining a flow of witty speech in German without it sounding meticulously rehearsed is... difficult. Hence half the jump cuts in my vlogs.

Second, Germans don't really "get" standup. When a German comedian gets on stage, the audience expects an act, usually involving silly accents and funny clothes, or else viciously biting political satire. The difference is that while in Britain humour is the oil that keeps life running smoothly, Germans use humour as an escape from real life. The idea that an ordinary person can talk, without any props, about everyday things and encourage an audience to laugh at themselves is completely alien to them. It's one of those niggly cultural differences that has sunk many a business contract, as the Germans think their British contacts aren't taking them seriously while the British think the Germans have no sense of humour.

Of course, Germans say they love British humour. What they really mean is that they laugh at Mr Bean and Benny Hill, but that's not the same thing. If the British had the same attitude to humour that the Germans did, Jack Dee would be dressed like a Pearly King, have a thick Hollywood Cockney accent and keep reminding the audience that he's really depressed.

The Germans do have a sense of humour, they just use it for a different purpose. I've been caught out several times by this by the simple technique of forgetting that Germans don't often recognise irony. Only yesterday, after I remarked to one of my wife's friends, with an air of wistful regret, that one of my friends was "less irresponsible" now he's married than he used to be, my wife patiently explained to me that while what I said was technically correct, the word "irresponsible" carried with it negative connotations...

Sue said...

I find it hard to accept the words "Simon Munnery" and "hilariously funny" in the same sentence without the intervention of the word "not".