Fringe Diary #9

oH NOOOO! no fringe diary yesterday???? have you deserted us?!?!?!
I hear you folks and don’t worry, I did write you one but didn’t have time to finish or publish what I was typing as I walked so here it is now!! 

The special feature of today’s fringe diary is that I am writing it on my phone as I march the two miles from Hetty’s into town. My legs are getting quite the workout in Edinburgh but don’t worry: I am still eating terribly!!

Yesterday was – excuse my French – flippin’ GREAT, once it got going. I’d booked tickets for Andrew and I to see Rose Matafeo and Demi Lardner and although I was pretty positive Andrew would like both, I hadn’t really told him anything about either of them so it was all riding on my taste.

But of course they were both just brilliant. Just sublime. Both just delightful energetic impassioned performances, simply joyous, wow wow wow. Andrew and I were talking about what felt so different and electrifying about the both of them and I think it’s a larger question about people’s underlying motivations for doing comedy in the first place.

Okay so forgive the mini essay here but the reason why I am generally less interested in straight stand-up by cisgender heterosexual white men is not because I dislike them or anything like that, nor that anybody’s voice has any less value. I think the reason why I would naturally be more interested in stand-up by women and people of colour, LGBTQIA+ and/or disabled performers, is that their motivation for performing stand-up is more likely to come from a compulsion to communicate something about themselves and their world that other people may not understand. Their voices are from the margins. (I say “they” because although I am a woman and as such have a somewhat marginalised voice, I’m still straight and cisgender and middle-class so I’m nevertheless in a position of privilege here.)

I have encountered far more “straight white men” comedians who perform in a way that seems to come from a desire to have control over their audience rather than to share something of themselves. Their style is often quite reserved, they are more likely to keep the audience at a distance, and the tone is more likely to be one that edges on cruel or mean-spirited. Again, I’m not talking about the demographic as individuals, I’m just saying that I have seen this kind of stand-up more often performed by this group of people. It may even be a masculinity thing – it’s very scary to get onstage and share something that you’ve written and that you’ll perform yourself, a rejection of it feels like (and sort of is) a direct rejection of you as a person. So it’s easier to try and be cool and exert less energy and keep that power. I mean, I’ve even performed gigs like that before. But a “straight white man” keeping the power and trying to be cool onstage is just the norm. They’re retaining their high status and it isn’t exciting. Whereas a performer like Dulcé Sloan, who is cool and reserved onstage, who does keep a very high status, is great to watch because her position as a black, plus-size woman means that she is challenging society’s treatment of her. Also, she’s just really funny.

Something I love about the show I run in Berlin, SAUCE, is that the whole vibe is joyous, energetic, silly and a bit girly. (The 7-min spots are reserved for minorities and there are two 5-min show-up-to-sign-up spots that generally go to straight men.) But the difference in the vibe, the fact that no one will come across as “cool” in that setting, it’s not a very hetero, macho bar or club setting but a community salon with home-cooked food, means that sometimes the “straight white men” or more bro-ish comics can really loosen up with their material. The last show I did before the summer, we had three young guys all turn up for the second of the open spots. They all have a somewhat similar, cool and reserved tone to their stand-up. I said that if they wanted to, they could split the time between them somehow and they agreed and disappeared up the street to rehearse. They came back just in time for their spot and said “please introduce us as ‘No Direction’,” and came on in formation as a boyband, each one performing about 90 seconds of their stand-up while the other two clicked their fingers behind them. It was so silly and the best I’d ever seen them, and I wonder if they’d have felt comfortable enough do that in a different setting, with a bunch of dudes trying to outperform each other.

I just love comedy that tries to reach out to you, something really earnest and mad and unashamedly absurd, something that wants to give a laugh to you rather than extract a laugh from you.

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