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Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Comedy musings

What's So Funny? alumnus Chris Molineux has a new comedy blog called "standup stuff". Two entries so far and it's excellent (except for the annoying propensity to insert apostrophes into the possessive form of its, but I'm a bit of a grammar nerd). I have no idea where it'll evolve to, but the first two entries (and the next few) are about his recent, and first, experience doing stand-up in the U.K. Chris actually went to school in England but hadn't been back and had never performed there. He brings great insight into the British scene, from his admittedly brief time there a few weeks ago. Here's an example:
[T]he intros the comics are given involve no credits. In North America, credits are the backbone of an intro for every comic. Less so in larger centres such as L.A. or New York but in general you let the MC know all the most impressive (to the crowd) things you have done and he bundles them to together to form an intro. This serves to build up enthusiasm and expectation in the crowd. Americans in particular, are very impressed by any brush with celebrity you might have had and mentioning it in advance serves to legitimise you as a performer. I have said before that in America, crowds will laugh for you because they think they saw you on HBO, but in Canada crowds laugh at you because they think they saw you on CBC. While less inclined to worship at the altar of celebrity, Canadians still feel an act is legitimised by their credits. In the UK, not so. We discussed this before the show and I was told that credits are never listed off as it would seem arrogant and/or raise the expectation, which here was seen as a bad thing. This little fact also seem to run in line with what I had already witnessed; that the comic should appear as much as a friend as an entertainer.
Check out the whole thing here:

Speaking of British comedy, comedian Lee Hurst was in all the British papers yesterday. It seems he smashed an audience member's cell phone and has had to pay a fine. Now, I think it's ridiculous to see people in the crowd filming a set for a few reasons. One, they can't completely concentrate on the performance so they lose out on a level of enjoyment they might otherwise have experienced. Two, nobody wants to see shaky, grainy footage with bad sound of a comic. And by "nobody", of course, I mean me. I speak for everyone. Three, it's a bit disruptive, not only for the performer but for people near the camera-phoneman.

So for those reasons, I'm all for Hurst smashing the camera. But get a load of his reasoning. He says TV writers record his jokes, then turn around and sell the gags to TV shows:
"TV programmes have writers to write for performers and I have had gags stolen and sold to the BBC and ITV and then that material is gone," he said.

"You are then accused of stealing your own material from a comic on national television. There are thieves amongst the circuit and thieves amongst the writers. There is nobody to protect us, we have to protect ourselves."
Comedy thievery has always happened, long before cell phones. What's to stop them from scribbling down notes? Take away their pen and paper and they've got their memory. There's any number of ways to steal material. But if he's that worried that thieves lurk at all his shows, why does he even perform?

Here's my favourite personal story on temperamental artists and surreptitious chroniclers. Years ago, I saw a no-name jazz singer-pianist at a little restaurant in Victoria. The show was memorable for two reasons: 1. A family friend of hers climbed a little ladder to take a photo of her trio, lost his footing and fell backwards onto the drum set in the middle of a tune, stopping the show until the ambulance came. And 2. Another old guy was sitting at a table recording the show on his cassette player. Keep in mind she was a nobody. He was doing what I had done countless other times: making a recording for his own personal use. The recording quality would be so poor, anyway, that it would be of no monetary value whatsoever.

After the show, she was sitting at the guy's table demanding that he give her the tape. I thought, "Hmm, what a prima donna. Who does she think she is? Ella Fitzgerald? What possible difference would it make?" The guy, to his credit, refused to give up the tape. They compromised. He would keep the tape but had to promise it would only be for his personal use.

And who was that unknown chanteuse? Diana Krall. I guess she knew she'd be a somebody someday. I wonder if that old guy has tried to make any money off it. Maybe he could sell it to a British TV show.

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