Last week saw many international comedians make their way down under for Sydney’s Comedy Festival, and while I couldn’t really afford to catch their main acts, a friend of mine managed to score free tickets to a last-minute improv gig, which many of the visiting comedians were encouraged to participate in. I tagged along, not knowing what to expect but hoping for the best. The show turned out to be a traveling gig, the premise of it being comedians were provided with a phrase (often a non sequitor or absurd situation) that they then had to use as the basis of a joke as part of their ten-minute ‘set’. Sounds potentially interesting, I thought. ‘Gives you a clear view into the mind of a comic’, a tagline for the show read. Being a fan of comedy and an admirer of the skill and intellect it takes to be a stand-up comedian, I must admit I thought I was in for a bit of a treat. It turned out to not be exactly what I was expecting.
As it actually turns out, most comedians, when put under pressure will resort to doing whatever it takes to get a laugh out of most people, which in this case meant throwing women, people of colour, and the queer variety under the bus. Tom Ballard, an openly gay Australian comedian even remarked ‘I normally wouldn’t be saying these things, but they’re just all I seem to be able to come up with’ as he finished his set with a quip about how ‘women are crazy and black people are awful’, which was met with raucous laughter from the audience. Yes, I understand what he tried to say here but it still doesn’t take away the fact that he (and others) resorted to it. Is marginalising a whole group of people the easiest way to get a laugh out of an audience?
Many people I talk to would say that that’s where a lot of humour comes from and that it’s all in jest, why am I being such a stick in the mud, as I flash my PC police badge in their drunk-with-privilege eyes. But that’s not the kind of humour I appreciate. Give me Mitch Hedberg’s absurd observations of life any day, or the kind of comedy that highlights injustice and makes people see their own prejudices, like the stylings of Jamie Kilstein or Stuart Lee. What about you, dear readers?
Is it possible to be funny without resorting to stereotypes and not stepping on anyone’s toes? Do you have a favourite comedian that you appreciate for this reason? How do you feel about humour that does employ that device?