The comedy industry is its own disease
A sell out, by definition is ‘Anyone who sacrifices artistic integrity in an effort to become more successful or popular’ (I am citing UrbanDictionary.com). ‘Sell-out’ is a term mainly used with reference to music, for example Will.I.Am, the boringly named rap/producer, is regarded as having ’sold-out’ when he released ‘Where is The Love?’ with the Black Eyed Peas, as prior to this they were making what was thought to be interesting and progressive dance rap.
Nick Cave fans were devastated by him duetting his song ‘Where The Wild Roses Grow’ with Kylie Minogue, but I personally never had a problem with it as it’s a brilliant song and he kills her in it. Not all accused are guilty, and being not guilty doesn’t necessarily mean that you aren’t dreadful. The music industry worked out a long time ago that if you say to a pretty 15 yr old boy “Do you want some money and some sex?” you can get him to do anything. I don’t blame Justin Bieber, it’s the industry’s greed and exploitation of art for profit that’s at fault.
In the last five years, stand-up comedy has come aboard this ship of fools: comedy is now an enormous, smiling, PVC monster with whitened teeth and an amputated soul. At the turn of the millennium the walls of the average London tube station would be decorated with posters for bands, holidays, films, etc, and then you might have glimpsed a Lee Evans poster. Now, upon commencing our subterraneous commute, we are confronted with plastic idols, from John Bishop to Sarah Millican to John Bishop to Alan Carr to John Bishop to a Russell of some description all the way to John Bishop. This is not necessarily depressing on account of any lack of talent, but because of the grotesque way in which comedy is marketed and because there is only a mainstream; because the general populous will think that that is all that comedy can be. At least the music posters on the tube include people like Anthony And The Johnsons.
The individual comedian has not done the selling-out; the industry has. Management & production companies, promoters and channels such as Avalon, Live Nation and BBC3 respectively, comprise the cloud of smog from which the candy floss is delivered. Lots of brilliant comedians appear on TV but none of them appear brilliant. The reason for this is that the most popular stuff is, objectively speaking, the worst. The platforms from which the Russell’s and John Bishops of today are told (and highly paid) to speak are built of sand; they cannot discuss anything of substance because they are on Michael McIntyre’s Comedy Roadshow, Live At The Apollo and that other weeping sore on the broken spine of a dying rat, Stand Up For The Week. The aim of these programs is to provoke gurgling noises from a mass of exploited and forgotten people, who remain unchallenged, unimproved and willing to believe that this is the best they can get.
There seems to be a lethal misnomer in the common perception of comedy today, which is that it is only for making people laugh. By this law, music’s only purpose is the plain making of sound and art exists just to fill your eyes. False. Comedy is the communication of an idea through humour. In the same way that love when communicated by song can be enhanced by certain notation, ideas can be enhanced by comedy.
A comedian’s job must be to make you laugh and think all at the same time. I don’t necessarily mean cerebrally; the explorative and bizarre are wonderful elements of comedy. Lady Gaga, Dan Brown and Michael McIntyre are all at the pinnacle of their particular commercial ventures and the reason for this is that what they do is simple; it involves zero percent of your brain. I love Tom Waits, Richard Yates and George Carlin because possess a courageous realism; they represent an exceptional truth, trying to create some sense and wonder for you from the chaos of their souls.
Unfortunately, it is easier to sell art of a lesser value because it is, fundamentally, easier to understand; there is rarely any career longevity but comedians are disposable and the puppeteers will keep on getting paid. Great stand-up, like great novels and great music, is part of the progression of humanity and is a mirror to the human experience. But progression has ceased, stultified by the greed of the industry. Stand-up comedy is in its 80’s synth pop phase (I mean that as an insult). We have to wait for grunge to save it.
Alfie Brown show Soul for Sale will run 2-26 Aug, 18.25, at the Underbelly, Edinburgh FestivalTagged in: comedy, edinburgh festival, sell-out
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