First Published in The Irish Daily Mail
Saturday 13th April 2013 – Article Written by Shay Healy
Comedy is the new tragedy. Somehow or other, stand-up comedians are now competing for gigs with singers and band, in venues that run the gamut from back-rooms in pubs all the way up to stadia. (Showing off my Latin).
There’s a famous story in comedy circles that tells of an old vaudevillian comic, who is lying on his death bed. His best friends bends over him and whispers,
“Harry..is dying easy?”
The dying man just about raises his head off the pillow and says “dying is easy…comedy is hard!”
I wish someone would put up billboards with words to that effect around Ireland, but mostly around England, something that will stem the flow of mediocrity that passes for humour today. Sausage machine stand-ups are spewing forth into the public arena, already cluttered with the banal observations of angsty bores, wittering on about their dysfunctional families and surroundings.
Basically, what has happened is that “My mother-in-law” jokes, which were a necessary staple for the old style joke-teller, have been replaced by anodyne “my mother says ,” jokes that dribble out as a series of unfunny jibes at their parents, who probably went through a lot of hardship to put their “comic genius” through college, so that he could get pissed with envy at the Edinburgh Festival.
Its hard to pinpoint when this glut of mirthless merriment began. There was a time when there weren’t comedy clubs on every street corner and Lee Evans wasn’t gurning and sweating seven days a week on tv. In 1988, the opening of The Comedy Cellar, on the third floor, (geddit?) of the International Bar on Wicklow Street, was Ireland’s first dedicated comedy club.
The first stand-ups in Ireland were test pilots. Daring and brave, they eschewed the gags of old and began bringing a more narrative style to their comedy. Dave Allen, an erudite Irish comedian, who enjoyed success in England, is spoken about with reverence by latter-day Irish stand-ups. But strip his material down and you’ll find there are quite a few hoary old “Paddy” jokes re-pointed and realigned to be “daring” by Irish standards.
This is the same ploy exploited all these years later by Brendan O‘Carroll on his way to a Bafta. The “Mrs. Brown’s Boys” scripts are riddled with really old jokes, padded out with cheap laughs from hearing a working class “ordinary” woman saying f..k on the BBC.
Good luck to Brendan on his success. He has worked hard and nobody handed him his fantastic television ratings. But I’m not envying him because his success has turned into big money, nor do I begrudge any of them that are earning good money. It’s not about that. It’s about the fact that audiences have become insensate from an overdose of comedy, to the point that they’re not sure what is funny anymore, so they laugh at everything.
How else can we explain that British comedian, Michael McIntyre sold-out two concerts in Dublin’s O2, a year before the actual dates. Did I miss something? He looks like the kind of guy whose mother spits on her hand and attempts to smooth down his prickly little quiff as he walks out to go to “work”.
And what’s with the peripatetic delivery, walking up and down, up and down, walking and talking, talking and boring. McIntyre is not alone in this uncool, unprofessional presentation.
Does Billy Connolly walk up and down. No. He does funny walks when they are called for, but he isn’t constantly padding from one end of the stage to the other.
Does Chris Rock pace up and down incessantly while he splits open society’s weaknesses with coruscating wit?
Does Tommy Tiernan march to and fro, as he hammers the nail into another aspect of our suspect culture”
And dare I ask, where in Britain are the political stand-ups, the fiery satirists, the angry everymen? Not a Bill Hicks in sight, North, South, East or West. And in Ireland, Abie Philbin Bowman, is on his own.
Maybe all this walking about on stage is the cause of the panel shows,. At least the stand-ups are sitting down while being witless. These glib artisans are beloved for their devotion to scatology and the double entendre.
When they take these stand-ups out of their comedy environment, they sparkle like muddy water. John Bishop is a good example. Good luck to him for becoming a superstar millionaire, but inside him is a traditional old-style joke-teller trying to get out.
But it is the British public, with their lame sense of humour, who are responsible for the success of stand-ups like Michael McIntyre and John Bishop. There is something very curious about watching them flock in their droves into huge arenas, to watch a small figure on stage, in front of a big screen. Have they not figured out that they could buy the video and watch it on a big screen, at home, thereby saving themselves a couple of hundred quid on tickets, drinks and bars of chocolate.
I’m all laughed out.