Monday, August 8, 2011

Funny Tunes

I saw a musical comedy band last night called Dead Cat Bounce, they were brilliant - when they were playing - they had everything; charm, rhythm, the right notes, good jokes, lust inciting moves... when they were playing. As soon as they stopped playing and started to conjure banter from deep within their leopard print trousers my skin started to crawl and I just wanted to dash on stage and start plucking strings for them so they'd have to do another song to shut me up.

Oddly enough, it was only earlier on in the day I'd been chatting with another comedian about people who don't see musical comedy as a legitimate genre. The argument is that when you finish playing a song people naturally clap which means the comedian hasn't earned their rapturous adoration through comedy skills but more through their ability to play music. In my eyes this is ridiculous; even the absolute worst comedian in the world will walk on and off to a half decent applause in any club worth playing. Personally, I don't see any difference between this and a musical comedian who gets a clap at the end of the song.

I've seen two musical comedians this week; the aforementioned feline springers and a musical comedian called Vikki Stone who is playing a solo hour with a backing band. With both shows I was perfectly content to sit and listen to the music and admire the intelligence, structure and the jokes that went into them but I entirely switched off as soon as the performer began talking to me.

Personally, I prefer a very natural style of comedy. I like people who can convince me that this is the only time they're ever saying this and that they really could just be having a one on one chat with me. I like my stand up very conversational; Carl Donnelly is a master of this for example. When someone's delivery is very performative it switches me off because all of a sudden I can see the strings holding the joke together and drawing you to the punch line.

The thing with stand up is that you have to really work it through to find out where the pauses need to go and how the rhythm of the speech is going to come together... I can't even begin to imagine how you would go about shuffling those pauses around in a song that's fully constructed already. It's not just a case of working out the best rhyme for cock; it's about knowing what chord is going to work best for a joke... choosing eloquence and clarity over standard musical choices... choosing the right instrument for the song in the first place (let alone carting it to each gig)... there's a hell of a lot more than meets the eye.

Music and character comedy scares the crap out of me. Once you've started a song or a piece of scripted character bit, you can't really stop if it's not working... you just have to plough on regardless and suffer the horror - perhaps just picking out a few kind faces in the crowd who are smiling and using them as emotional lifeboats. When I do my normal stand up, if all goes badly then I just have to tell the audience it's going badly, admit that they're not loving me and then do something else - I can't imagine not having that as a get out clause.

Musical comedy can certainly stay; and with as much kudos as any other genre of comedy deserves, but can we please sort out all the bits in between?

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