The Irony Umbrella – Live Comedy

jimmy carr

Comedy’s in a weird place at the moment. The huge commercial success of the medium on television has brought in a lot of people who are starting out in stand up. Cynically I would say that some of them are careerists rather than artists. I know that sounds pretentious, and I don’t care because I’m an artist, God damn it. It’s meant that there are a lot of copycats on the open mic circuit. There are people doing their own interpretations of John Bishop, Michael McIntyre, Peter Kay or Lee Evans’ styles of comedy. I have no issue with this. Everyone starts out this way, and they slowly develop their own style.

The problem comes when people start to take influence from acts like Jimmy Carr or Frankie Boyle. I have a lot of issues with some of the jokes of both of these acts, mostly in recent years when their style has become less subtle as they begin to play exclusively to their own fanbases, but in my heart of hearts, I truly believe that their material doesn’t come from a place of hate, and a great deal of it is incredibly well-crafted. I’m a full believer that comedy should be censorship-free, and that’s why it works so much better when TV isn’t involved. Acts like Carr and Boyle both have incredibly well thought-out bits of material that utilise offensive language or ideas to make a salient point. One of Carr’s jokes I am incredibly enamoured with uses the idea of ‘PC gone mad’. By replacing the word ‘mad’ with a string of incredibly disablist and unpleasant language in order to provoke shock from his audience, Carr proves that in reality, political correctness isn’t such a bad thing.

When someone’s starting out in comedy, they rarely have such a keen eye for these things. In reality, one of two things tends to happen. Either the new comic lacks the understanding of how to inject irony into a joke, or they see acts like Carr and Boyle and think, “Well, people like racist, sexist, homophobic and disablist jokes so I’ll do that.” The outcome of both of these is the same. You end up with a lot of skinny white boys telling jokes with prejudices they don’t understand and will never experience.

That’s a shame, and I sincerely hope that this trend will change soon, but there are a couple of things that I find abhorrent that it’s possible to express in a comedy club with no sense of irony. Apart from the usual misogyny that is slowly but surely crawling under the flimsy irony umbrella, classism is absolutely and utterly rife. There are very few comedy club nights that won’t feature a ‘chav joke’ in some form or another, and they range from the largely harmless to the genuinely vicious. Travellers come into it a lot as well, especially since Gypsy Weddings became so popular. In my opinion, people doing these jokes should think for a while about who they’re poking fun at.

Transphobia is another common prejudice to hear in a comedy set. Obviously false anecdotes about trips to Bangkok are common enough to beg the question of how people in Thailand reproduce when, by anecdotal evidence, everyone there is born biologically male. Comedy comes in cycles, and I can only hope that this current trend dies off soon. And people wonder why comedy audiences are largely made up of white men.