Last night's Komedia show was in aid of charity, and to celebrate the work of the North Laine Community Association.
Let me digress a little. If you've never been to Brighton, you must at least know that it's the UK's Number One LGBT/Goth/boho/Alien/anything-goes seaside town. Why, they even let me walk around the place! I don't say that London isn't more cosmopolitan (although it's really hard to see how), or that Manchester isn't more exciting (although again it seems ridiculous), but Brighton is certainly reckoned to be in a league of its own, and a Mecca for comedians of the fringe persuasion. Just like Edinburgh is. In fact I rather believe that dozens of comedians spend their lives shuttling between Edinburgh and Brighton, as a complete way of life.
Surely you've heard of Brighton's famous Lanes? That's the touristy quarter full of narrow alleyways full of restaurants, coffee houses, pubs, clothing shops and jewellery shops just inland from the jolly seafront, and squashed between the main shops and the green strip of parkland called the Steyne, that snakes inland from the Pier. The Royal Pavilion, that extravagant seaside palace with its onion-shaped domes and minarets - created by the Prince Regent before he became George IV - is just off the Steyne. And North Laine is a trendy area still further north.
North Laine is much more for the locals than the tourists. It's got pubs and shops and cafes, but they are cheaper and more down-to-earth than in the Lanes. It's also very much a residential area, full of characterful little terraced houses that have a 'conservation area' feel to them. A little world of its own, right in the centre of Brighton. I imagine one must feel rather privileged to actually live there. A bit like living in the old heart of Bath. But North Laine does not look at all like Bath: architecturally it's all small houses with pastel-painted brick fronts, and there are no grand sweeping crescents of honey-coloured Cotswold stone.
The Komedia is at the southern end of North Laine, and consists of a cafe at street level with a couple of auditoria within for shows and films. Last night's performances took place in the intimate Studio Bar downstairs.
So how did it go? Well, once at the table with V---, the natal French lady who is one of my friends, she took this photo of me with the Leica. The light level was very low, so the shot has not come out all that well, but I think you can see that I was fully prepared for a fun evening:
But was my funny bone tickled? Despite my having absolutely no sense of humour?
Now I'm not entirely a stranger to small-space comedy nights. I've been for instance to a couple of the monthly shows at Winchester (see my post On stage! Acting my head off in full view of the audience! on 22 January 2011). So I know the style. The ten comedians I saw last might were much in the same vein as the Winchester lot, but with some differences that became apparent after a bit.
For one thing, they did not actually tell any jokes. Not one of the ten told a straightforward old-fashioned joke with a punchline. It was all much more conversational. That did make it more informal, and avoided the dreadful pause you get at the end of any joke - that second or two of emptiness when the comedian's worth as a human being lies in the balance; that second or two before he or she is either rewarded with an explosion of laughter, or destroyed with the blank crashing silence of an audience Not Amused. (Why do comedy people torture themselves like this? It's insane) No. They offered only casual, throw-away sound-bites, and it didn't matter if a few of those failed to raise more than a titter or two. It was all right. You could pass on smoothly, and try another. You did not die. A great survival technique. Although I must emphasise that this was a friendly audience who were very willing to chuckle over anything remotely funny, and who bore not the slightest ill-will towards the compère Chris Brazier and the acts he introduced one by one. It was all for charity after all, and not visceral entertainment for the bloodthirsty and baying Roman mob.
Second, there was the minumum of swearing. By which I mean use of the F-word. For a long time it has been de rigeur with British comedy, especially on stage, to punctuate one's act with 'f---' whenever you've forgotten what comes next and need a breathing-space, or just want to raise a laugh by saying what most of the audience will of course mutter to themselves in private, but wouldn't dream of saying loudly in public. Perhaps I merely speak for myself. It was for instance (and maybe still is) Billy Connolly's trademark technique on stage, and I think he used the F-word really quite cleverly, with great timing and expression. But it must never become the whole of one's act. Being potty-mouthed is in any case starting to become unfashionable, like cheating on your taxes. Beware: a new, pursed-lipped Puritan Age may be dawning! (That's why, search as you might, I don't think you'll find a single example of my using 'f---' in this blog. I aim to satisfy the Witchfinder-General on that score, if nothing else)
Third, it was all rather politically correct and inoffensive. In fact, I literally didn't hear a joke about the government, ours or anyone else's, apart from one or two vague mentions of Syria as a throwaway line, although how one can be funny about Syria beats me. But then, as I must keep on insisting, I have no sense of humour. There was no taking advantage of Brighton's reputation as a Place Where Audiences Want To Hear Forbidden Things. Nothing then on gay or lesbian attitudes. Or trannies. Romesh Ranganathan, who was the final act, and who had been a teacher, drew on his school experiences to discuss how kids behave, but that was the most daringly non-PC stuff that I heard. I don't think there was even anything racial, even from Romesh, who was Asian, and therefore perfectly entitled to get naughty about Asians if he so wished. But he didn't. It was all really rather polite and sweet and in good taste. The late Bernard Manning must be thrashing around in his grave.
I rather think these ten comedians were trying hard not to ruffle the sensibilities of the semi-posh and somewhat well-off North Laine residents who packed the audience. That might have hobbled their acts a little, which would otherwise surely have been hard and jagged, and sickeningly offensive.
Fourth, each of these comedians - should I be saying 'comediennes' as well? Four of the ten were female - was dressed in a very toned-down way. The men looked as if they had pulled on miscellaneous drab clothes rescued from a stale laundry-basket. Here's a selection to illustrate my point (Chris Brazier; someone whose name I can't recall; and David Jordan):
The ladies had made more effort, but were determined to keep the colours muted. Here's Sam Savage, Kathy Spencer, and a Norwegian girl called Ingrid:
Ingrid (the bottom photo) made the baggy pants she was wearing part of her act, by cleverly showing how you can wear huge pants in various ways to compliment your social life. I thought she was very funny. Fancy being confident enough to do more than one British accent! (I've only got the one accent, which I make do for all kinds of impersonations - Welsh, Scottish, Irish, Cockney, South London, West Country, Brum, Yorkshire - you name it - whenever I do a comedy turn at the dinner table while the Ferraro Rochers are being passed around. Not that I really ever do, being po-faced and unhumorous you understand) I thought that the girls filled their tatty jeans and sweaters better than the blokes, and I made mental notes to emulate them, but otherwise they were as drably attired as the fellers. I think this must be a Technique For Seeming Down To Earth And Not La De Dah. In other words, snapping one's fingers at sartorial display is massively cool. (Thank God I didn't take the Prada bag along. Or wear my pearls. Thought of it, though)
So the comedy we had was mostly confined to tales of everyday things that will go wrong because of human frailty. Which depended heavily on the tale being referable in some way to one's own life. I personally live an odd life, with plenty of vital stuff missing from it - like sex, and a job - and so some of the best things went right over my head. Now if any of them had mentioned waking up in the morning, and putting clothes on back to front, or inside out, and tripping up, and spilling things, and not being able to read labels, simply because one was too lazy to put one's glasses on - now that would have struck a big chord with me!
I think they could have explored the dark humour in things like making the touchscreen of one's mobile phone behave when you have fat fingers, especially when typing out a 'quick text'. But I suppose it's been done to death already. Or how a breakfast Ryvita will develop hidden cracks as you butter it and then spread marmalade on it, so that as you raise the goo-laden slice to your mouth, half of it breaks away, messing up your bra, your jeans, and your slippers before flopping upside down onto your kitchen floor... I'd have laughed a lot at at that!
But on the whole V--- and I both agreed that the show was a great success.
Apart from the raffle at the very end. We won neither the 'rope sculture' nor the '1950s handbag'. But by great good luck we didn't win the bottle of ASDA rosé wine either. Phew!