Apparently its the market. It’s the market that will decide if stand up comedy will revel in the new power that a legitimization of comedy on the market place brings, by “selling out” to do bland gigs in big venues and make shed-loads by selling DVDs and advertising bad beer, or whether this new power will be used responsibly to evolve comedy and act as comedy was meant to be, for the promotion of the conscience of those watching.
In a rather bland piece for the Independent my personal hero, (pause for effect), my personal hero, Stewart Lee, Mr. Stewart Lee, stand up comedian extraordinaire, Stewart Lee, makes a horrible claim. He says that we the audience are the ones that will decide whether comedians take hold of their responsibility seriously. By responsibility I take it he means something like this:
There’s a deeper argument to be had here about whether the stand-up comedian, who shares anthropological roots with the holy fools and tricksters of myth, should even be a success. Aren’t we supposed to be outside society, looking in, poking fun?
Yes Stewart Lee. Yes this argument needs to be had (you have started it a long time ago), and explored it and, Stewart Lee, I want you to do more of it. While I am a Capitalist, Stewart Lee, personal responsibility doesn’t start with the audience, but with the performer. (I think that’s sort of what you are saying in a round about way but I guess I might be wrong?! Stewart Lee?)
The most important part of the article is the last paragraph:
There’s a generation of comics hitting the boards, influenced, without even knowing it, by stand-up comedy’s velvet revolution, when the late 1970s Comedy Store and Comic Strip crew toppled the light-ent idols, or at least wobbled them a little. Michael McIntyre has handed them the keys to the Imperial Palace. But we don’t seem to know what to do with our power and influence, and we run from beer endorsement to cash-in novelty book deal to Channel 4 vehicle like moths in a planetarium. With great power comes great responsibility. Will public demand force an evolutionary leap in the art form of stand-up, or will the potential money to be made mean the safe middle ground becomes ever more crowded? In many ways, it’s out of our hands. You are the audience. You have the power. The future is up to you.
In one of my favourite comic skits lampooning the bureaucracy, this time not of big Government which is bad enough, but of big business, the fifth episode of Stewart Lee’s Comedy Vehicle for BBC2, we see an example of what this new found power might look like. I recommend the whole thing to you, but the skit can be found on youtube here. The Kusturica-esqu trumpet (think of films like Underground or Black Cat White Cat) when the whole thing kicks off is a polished diamond of comedy, worthy of a crown in heaven.
The whole Independent article can be found here.
- Stewart Lee: Vegetable Stew – review (guardian.co.uk)