Posts Tagged ‘Edinburgh Festival’

24th January 2013

This is my latest blog for The Independent. I wrote it just after seeing Les Mis, which might explain it’s somewhat radical tone…spot the George Orwell “Animal Farm” reference for extra revolutionary points!

I miss when life was simpler. Comedians were the idealistic losers and business men the bullies in sharp suits. Now, with a financial website  encouraging struggling corporations to learn from the world of stand up and a BBC documentary detailing the huge amounts of money comedians can make in corporate bookings, things aren’t so simple. Increasingly, instead of sticking it to the man, comedy is charging it to him instead.

Who can blame big business for trying to take a leaf from comedies notebook? In a climate of collapsing high street chains and stuttering growth, it’s the one industry that seems to be doing well. It also reflects how companies are trying to rebrand themselves; they don’t just want our money anymore, they want our love.

In our public consciousness, the ultimate alpha: the ruthless businessman has been replaced by well meaning good guys in fleeces. Multinationals seem desperate not to be taken seriously; the cheeky loan ads that encourage borrowing on a whim, the matey messages on chain store sandwich wrappers, the banks offering pictures of your dog on your visa cards, presumably to put a brief smile on your face before it’s declined. They’re all designed to do the same thing, make us relax; convince us everything is fine, that they’re on our side. In Goodfellas Joe Pesci, shot a waiter for suggesting he was funny, today he’d probably hire him as a PR. They may not pay corporation tax and they certainly won’t let you visit their factories in China, but have you seen this funny viral they sponsored?

Who can blame comedians either, after years of struggling, from accepting the bone thrown to them from the top table? Anybody seriously thinking that comedy is a quick way to make a fortune is almost endearing in their naivety. It’s like thinking that being an Olympic athlete is an easy way to money because you can melt down your gold medal afterwards. The only way anybody could cope with the scorching rejection, chilling indifference and aching hearts that accompany most comics journeys to success, is a deep obsessive love for the art form itself. While there may be more people getting into comedy, the people who stick at it long enough to actually succeed have to work just as hard, if not more so. The only difference is the way their hard work and talent is being marketed to the public.

Show business has never been able to escape the latter part of its word. The giddy heights of creativity that comedy is capable of can only be reached because it is supported by a steely hearted pyramid scheme. At the bottom are thousands of hopefuls, running new material for barely the cost of their travel home, all investing money, time, hopes and dreams, crossing their fingers and hoping that if they stick at it long enough, they will be one of the privileged few at the top.

The Edinburgh festival is the jewel in the comedy crown but it is also the American subprime mortgage disaster in miniature. Thousands of unknown acts converge on the city every year, spending money they don’t have and betting on what their stock will definitely probably be worth in five years time. Most consider breaking financially even a sign they have hit the big time.

Despite all this, as a comedian I find this merging of two very different worlds deeply unsettling.  Stand up should be about challenging power not endorsing it. We are the release valve for a society bombarded with unachievable goals. How can we do that if we are the ones in the ads?

The public is being short-changed if the only comedy it gets is shiny and safe because we do not live in shiny and safe times. It has a right to be angry about what is happening to the world and they deserve comedians willing to storm the barricade with them not cling to safety inside. Comedians happy to join the corporate party to share drinks and tax avoidance tips with the great and good might well live to regret it. After all, when the mob finally press their nose against the glass and look from comedian to businessman and businessman to comedian, they might not being able to tell the difference.

12th September 2012

Chortle
★★★★

Like a lot of young comics, Gráinne Maguire seems so young and physically frail that her command of the stage is quite astounding.  She opens her show by mocking her own appearance and fashion choices; among gags at her own expense, she tells us that she’s ‘not the ghost of a Second World War geography teacher’.  It’s a perfectly measured joke.  Not only is it funny in its own right, it leaves Maguire in control of any humour deriving from her lack of glamour.

Maguire reveals that her cheerful disposition derives from her expectations that are so low that they’re enshrined in law, after a text message she sent to a dodgy landlord was cited in court as evidence that one of his properties wasn’t as bad as others claimed.  The story is charmingly told and helps to contribute to an intriguing self-portrait that provides the bedrock of this charming show.

The Irish comedienne uses a childhood tale of a disappointing holiday to banter with a young man in the front row whose inability to describe his own experiences beyond the single word ‘Pontins’ had her wondering aloud whether it might be something he ‘needs to talk about’  It was a terrific way of dealing with a recalcitrant punter and handled without the slightest hint of cruelty.  The audience loved it.   Later she directed a question about ‘secret crushes’ to the young man’s girlfriend and she named someone at her school rather than a celebrity, Maguire neatly brought it back to the earlier banter by suggesting that the young woman and his boyfriend ‘need to sit down and work through their issues’.

Maguire’s own secret crush provides an additional layer to her show as she reveals that she’s passionate about politics and that she’s recently joined the Labour Party.  This proves a surprisingly fertile source of humour and her account of an incident at the end-of-conference bash  gives her another chance to emphasise her low expectations, this time in a romantic context.  She also manages to offer a wonderfully cynical verdict on Kate Middleton which she uses to good effect later in the show when imagining her own future prospects.

It’s natural for comics in the earlier stages of their career to talk largely about their own lives and it’s one of comedy’s curiosities that some manage to do this with a lightness that others just can’t manage.  Maguire speaks almost exclusively about herself but this never becomes a problem as she possesses so much charm.  This is an excellent show, which establishes Maguire as someone to watch out for.

11th September 2012

Here’s a blog I wrote for the Young Fabiens

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For as long as I remember, I’ve always wanted to be a comedian. I thought comedy was magical, I remember watching Blackadder and Yes Minister with my Mam and Dad and wondering how they managed to flip normal words and situations inside out and turn them into something magical. As teenagers, friends and I obsessed over Alan Partridge and The Fast Show and, when I moved abroad for the first time, it was Father Ted that stopped me getting too homesick.

The town that I’m from has produced a startling amount of comedians for a place that is little more than a shopping centre surrounded by a housing estate. Tommy Tiernan, an Irish comedy God went to the local boys’ school alongside fellow comedy legend and star of Black Books, Dylan Moran.  Both comedians went on to win stand up comedy’s most prestigious prize, the Perrier Award at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival.

I thought comedians were geniuses and never dreamed that it was something I could do.

After leaving university, I spent a year working in Spain.  I had a vague idea of auditioning for a drama school there but I no longer really had the heart for it any more, instead I just taught English and worked in an Irish bar. It was fun but I found just working and going out at night boring and a bit depressing. I started going home early from parties just so I could listen to Radio 4 comedies on my flatmates computer. There I would be, at 4 am in the morning, in Madrid, listening to stand up comedy from the Edinburgh festival, feeling like I eavesdropping on a magical kingdom.

One night, homesick and miserable I heard Tommy Tiernan interview my old drama teacher. He had also taught Tommy too. He had run a drama club after school and had been one of the most inspirational and wonderful people I had ever had the privilege to meet. Here he was chatting to my hero about how important and special comedy was. It was like a lighthouse beaming through a long cold night. I knew even if I failed horrifically, I had to at least try. I moved to London, enrolled in a stand up course, did my first gig and I haven’t stopped since.

Stand up comedy is not a glamorous job. I still have a part time day job temping so it involves working from 9-5, then either jumping on a train to some place in the middle of nowhere to do a twenty minute set or arriving at a club in London to try out new material. I also write occasionally for Radio and TV shows; which is stressful but very exciting.

I wouldn’t describe myself as a “political comedian” although I do have material attacking the coalition and have a few jokes about my love for Ed Miliband. It can divide rooms; Conservative older crowds tend not to like an Irish girl criticising their government and lots of younger, student gigs don’t like any suggestion that a mainstream political party might be alright.

If I’m booked to do gigs in certain areas in the South East and suburbs outside of London I prepare myself for audiences that will not share my enthusiasm for Ed’s leadership choices. I joke that Labour HQ could use me as a budgie to gauge which marginal areas are returning to Labour on the basis of their responses to my set. I’m in a privileged position, in that I can communicate what I think to new audiences every night; if you are laughing at someone’s joke you are temporarily seeing the word from their angle, but I am ultimately a clown not a politician. A comedian that wants to be taken seriously should be approached with as much caution as a politician trying to be funny.

Comedy at its best is about reassuring people that they’re not alone, that the worries, insecurities and embarrassing failings that we think are ours alone are shared by a room full of strangers, laughing along in recognition. A really great comedy gig is a truly cathartic, beautiful life affirming experience that briefly transforms how you view the world and affirms the dignity of being human, the wonder of being alive and the importance of silliness and joy.

I’m very proud to be a stand up, when you have a bad gig, it can feel wretched, but when a really good one comes along, it feels like a landslide victory.