You Can’t Put Funny In A Bag

by Kat Arnsby

I went to see a stand-up comedy show last night. It was a particularly brutal affair, a competition where new and inexperienced acts have five minutes to impress the audience or they get ‘booed’ off. Nasty stuff; the constitution of a rampant lion would be required to participate in this kind of game.

It made me wonder how many comics of potential worth have been destroyed on their first time out because they were in front of the wrong audience. Last night’s crowd was a middle class melee of mummy and daddy’s money. I was probably the oldest in the audience, and I’m 31; so when a working class guy approaching 60 wandered onto the stage, I felt a rising sense of dread on his behalf.

He’d obviously made an effort to converge with his impression of the demographic by wearing a suit, which only served to make him a joke in the wrong way, as he and the doormen were the only ones not wearing trainers. His woes were impacted by his obvious nerves and the fact that the previous act, a trendy Scottish girl, had had the audience eating from her sporran.

The beginning of his set was weak, he didn’t slag himself off for a start, which is clearly the done thing (done by EVERY other contestant), but then he moved on to material that could have turned into a clever and political line of gaggery. Sadly, it turned into soul crushing silence as drunken heckles about his suit caused him to forget his set and blunder about until the compere gallantly saved him from the rising boos. He walked past me on his way off the stage, and his face was a wounding picture of fear and defeat.

He was followed by a short guy, short enough to make his entrance in a black rucksack, who then launched into a set that would have been offensive from a full size man. Anyone who has a passion for stand-up has seen the kind of set I mean, a set where a differently abled person makes it okay to laugh about their disability and the way it affects their life. I don’t have a problem with that type of humour per se, but I still want the same as I want from any comic; material that is fresh, and funny in an unexpected way. This guy didn’t have that.

Nobody booed him, because who would? How is okay to boo a disabled guy? It’s okay to try and destroy an Everyman, they really need taking down a peg or two, but we’d better not upset the disabled, because that’s bullying. I would have preferred to hear the rest of the suited man’s stuttered set, and lose the two minutes the short guy spent making ‘hilarious’ faces because he was 1m tall next to a 2m mic stand.

At the end of the show I felt sorry for both suit man and short man. I felt sorry for suit man because he was too average for anyone to listen to his words, and I felt sorry for short man because he thinks he’s a great comedy writer and he’s not, he just looks unusual and is happy for people to laugh at that.

The end of the show also brought about a personal resolution to have a go at open mic stand up, so watch another space, because this one’s about to get booed.