A while ago I (lol) went to see the Trevor Griffiths’ “The Comedians” at the Hammersmith Lyric Theatre. It’s about a group of aspiring stand-ups in a comedy class in 1970’s Lancashire.
Sounds like a laugh a minute, but it’s really not. It’s actually more of a serious meditation on the philosophy of comedy. It’s full of little gems to make you think.
‘A comedian draws pictures of the world. The closer you look, the better you’ll draw…’ And:
‘It’s not the jokes. it’s not the jokes. it’s what lies behind ’em. it’s the attitude… ‘
Again, there are parallels with advertising.
Good comedy is all about finding a truth about the world, and dramatising it. ‘Most comics feed prejudice and fear… but the best ones illuminate them, make them easier to deal with… We’ve got to make people laugh til they cry.’
Bad comedy is glib and superficial, and concerned with rehashing stereotypes for cheap entertainment. Good comedy really challenges the world, tries to change something.
‘I want to be rich and famous,’ says one of the budding comics.
‘And good,’ says Mr Waters, their tutor. ‘You’ve got to be good first. You can’t do that later.’
Watching the play made me remember Luke Sullivan’s scorn of the successful but infuriating Mr Whipple ad campaign. As he puts it, ‘As an idea, Whipple isn’t good…’ and (quoting Bernbach), ‘a commercial needn’t sacrifice wit, grace, or intelligence in order to increase sales.’ (in ‘Hey Whipple, Squeeze this’, if you’ve not read it)
Anyway, I’m not sure if ‘The Comedians’ has finished its run or not, but I’d really recommend it – failing that, the play is worth reading. Its analysis of comedy still rings true today, even though it was written a while ago.
As a case in point, we went to see Dylan Moran recently and he was definitely on the side of this idea of ‘laughing until you cry’. His deadpan delivery was hilarious, but so much of his show was frighteningly real. It was honest, scathing, whiney… almost to the point of nihilism. He talks about how you suddenly wake up and realise your life is over, or that you’re with the wrong person.. And there’s his account of a man attempting to pull in a night club, and after failing over and over again, he goes to the fast food van, ‘For a slice of deep fried never.’ (probably the best line in the whole set).
The whole thing was hilarious, but also therapeutic, as it was so depressingly true. Laughing at the little absurdities of modern life, it could take you one of two ways. One, you feel better about how ridiculous things are. Or two, you think sod it, and book a one-way ticket to Beachyhead.