Started thinking about comedy shows because I read an article on Eddie Murphy’s recent 51st birthday (that’s right, Beverly Hills Cop was a looooong time ago). And a website posed the question – which was better, Raw or Delirious? So that started my journey back into stand-up. (By the way, I think Raw is the smarter comedy, but Delirious is iconic as hell; and when he passes, he should be buried in that red leather suit).
What is the role of comedians? Historically, jesters were to entertain the court (research done by watching Game of Thrones). I believe comedians are the most important custodians of modern society. Because they not only inspect the root of the issues, they are able to flip it, make you laugh and see their point of view. Hands up anyone who gets the bulk of their US political information from the Daily Show?
A comedy show can take you to a place of foreboding, and allow you to think something that may be taboo. Anyone who is familiar with Dave Chappelle’s character Clayton Bigsby will know what I’m talking about.
Comedians have a keener eye on society than anyone can ever know, and in some instances can predict the future. In the Chris Rock Show (1997-2000) he joked about OJ writing a book called “I didn’t kill my wife, but if I did, here’s how I’d do it”. Well…
Also, in Bigger and Blacker he talks about how black people need a new leader, and then in Kill the Messenger he riffs on Barack Obama. Pretty nifty.
I know, Eddie Murphy’s latest stuff has been a bit weak, but watch Delirious and Raw. You will see a cocky young man, strutting out on stage in skin tight leather, absolutely decimating the audience with observations, voices and dirty jokes. For instance, in horror movies white people stay in haunted houses and try to investigate the cause, hunt the ghost etc; whereas a black family would just leave:
That bit isn’t about houses, or real estate, or even race; it’s about practicality, and I think about it all the time.
It can be a way of getting something of your chest, whether that is political, the comedy industry itself, anything at all. Ricky Gervais seminal classic “The Office” wasn’t about an office, it was about comedy itself, the blindspot where David Brent thinks he is being absolutely hilarious with funny sayings, ‘dead-on’ impressions and dirty jokes, but he is actually tragic. We laugh not at him pretending to moonwalk, we laugh because a middle-aged man moonwalking in an office in Slough is simultaneously the worst and best thing we could ever see.
Similarly, Louis CK has a lot to say about Americana, and has a bit on the over-usage of certain words, (in particular ‘hilarious’). I love that bit, but moreover, my favourite little descriptor is two fat Americans he was standing near, and how one just made the bare minimum effort to speak “like he was secreting words out of the front of his head” – such fantastic imagery, and an example of how a good comedian will make you laugh, a better one will make you think, but the best comedians make you see what you think, but didn’t know you thought.
Often quoted is the fact that most people’s number one fear is public speaking – these people do that, and not only speak on stage, but they make you laugh, and if it’s a really good bit, it will make you think. They’re not in a band, they’re not surrounded by other people; it’s just them and a mic. Standing in front of strangers who have paid money to be entertained. Comedians show the truth of themselves, and of life, and serve it up in 3 minute morsels, making it go down easier and effectively, deeper.
Billy Connolly by and large doesn’t really write out what he’s going to say, which is astounding because a joke isn’t funny if it’s not worded correctly. Sure you can get by on bluster and attitude, but a precisely crafted joke is a thing of beauty. You know when someone tries to retell a famous comedian’s joke, and they mess it up? Oh man, only Nazis and cancer are worse than that.
Ever been to a stand-up comedy night and the guy on stage has sucked real hard? There is nothing sadder than an unfunny comedian. You see them sweating, not quite knowing what they are doing, and as an audience, you are willing them to say something funny, so you get into ‘nice aunty playing with a retarded child’ mode; laughing and encouraging any meagre attempt at a joke, just hoping, hoping that they have something left that made them think they could do this in the first place.
And then there are observational comics – the purist being Seinfeld, where you think “oh I live that every day and never noticed it before.”
Much has been made of Louis CK, and rightly so. He has an astute view of the world, and takes us on the journey of how gets by. He’s everyman trying to be as good as a parent as they can be without fucking hating what it’s doing to his own personality. Also, I admire on an interpersonal and strategic level the decision to have Dane Cook on his show and put to bed the furore around the matter of ‘stolen jokes’.
Also, Chris Rock stand-up specials point to a lot of things that he obviously feels strongly about – race, relationships and politics. The line “Americans are the only people in the world who go hunting on a full stomach” is so perfect, because it encapsulates imagery and ideology in one simple sentence.
So, what are your favourite bits of comedians? What made you laugh, and more importantly, do they still stick with you?