As some of you folks will have heard by now, Facebook is being a major dick, and is currently testing a system of paid sponsored posts. Under this system there will still be free posts, but by using a free post you will only reach about 8% the people who “like” and care about the thing you do. Paying will let you reach 100%. I don’t know if they’ll start doing this for real, yet, but it’s definitely looking that way.
For groups like HOWL this is very bad news. We are not-for-profit, and don’t make a penny from anything we do (we lose money actually). We do it this way because we feel it’s best for you guys. We’re not trying to simply run a comedy night with HOWL, we’re trying to create a community, one that relies on everyone involved. Even now, it’s a wonderful, amazing thing, that is becoming something really special (I feel) and soon, instead of it growing, it might become very difficult to maintain, as we can’t afford paid posts, it’s as simple as that.
People have suggested to me that we charge entry for HOWL. I just want to say now, WE WILL NOT DO THAT. This is for a couple of reasons: 1) It destroys everything we set out to do with HOWL. 2) If we charged I would want to give that money to the wonderful comics that come down and put on a show with us every month. They deserve money way more than Facebook.
What this means, is that we’re going to need you guys more than ever. Basically we want you to keep doing what you’re doing and sharing things, liking things and writing about things to do with HOWL. Tell people you know in Leeds about HOWL if you think they’ll like it. Nothing is as great as word-of-mouth. Write on the Facebook page too, it’s as much yours as it is ours. Get others to write on it too. Don’t be scared to join in is what I’m trying to say.
Also, I’ve had a few ideas about stuff to make more of a community out of this, but I also want to take suggestions. What would you like to see us do?
Here are some of the ideas I’ve had so far:
A HOWL forum - Somewhere everyone can post anything they want that other HOWL fans might like. Somewhere for people who like HOWL can find other people who do, and all of the people who often come on their own can start getting to know other people. I like this idea because it allows us to get some big, long discussions going.
A (live) Podcast - We tried a Podcast a while back and it never made it onto the web. It’s something we could bring back if we knew we had people who might want to listen. It might work better as a live event for badge holders. What do you guys think?
Again, if any of you guys have an idea you would love to suggest to us, or some idea of how to make this whole thing better, please give us a shout on Facebook.
This is a guest post by Kev Eadie, a good friend of HOWL who will be undertaking a project related to the typical setting of live stand-up: basements. Here’s an introduction to his project.
What is it about basements that seem to lend themselves to stand-up comedy so well? For the duration of August, I’ll be doing a blog* in which I’ll document some of my experiences of basement stand-up comedy during the Edinburgh Fringe Festival 2012. This is just a kind of ‘test-post/prologue’, in which I’ve decided to touch upon how both the spatial properties and subterranean nature of basements might compliment stand-up performance and reception. Feedback appreciated. I hope you enjoy it.
Many of the comedy nights and comedy clubs which form the foundations of the stand-up industry are situated in basements. There is evidently something about this setting which enhances and/or even produces certain phenomena, which may benefit the art-form. Many commercially successful comedians for instance, who are privileged in that they are able to have increased control over where they gig, will still opt for these intimate, subterranean venues.
Initially, we have to address the obvious, which is that basements – mainly by virtue of their low ceilings – have great acoustics for enhancing laughter. Hard-surfaced furnishings, which these venues are often equipped with, can allow the laughs to bounce around even more. And in-terms of encouraging laughter the basement doesn’t stop there. Other factors which have been shown to increase laughter in audiences include being ‘packed-in’, sat in informal seating layouts and/or on borderline uncomfortable furniture. All are situations which basements lend themselves nicely to. Even the aesthetics of basement architecture, often dishevelled and asymmetrical, can be seen to complement certain values of stand-up comedy. Interestingly though, you could find or reproduce all of the above in an over-ground venue – therefore, there is something not only about the typical spatial properties and layouts of basements but also something about the knowledge that they are underground which attracts us into using them for stand-up comedy.
A possible reason behind this stems from the fact that stand-up is an intensely human activity. It enthusiastically celebrates two of our defining characteristics: language and laughter. By carrying out the ritual of stand-up comedy in a basement we are arguably mocking death with life: we have used the basement to cross a border into the netherworld, functioning at our most human in an environment in which human life is supposedly unable to survive. Furthermore, the basement is the perfect instrument with which to emphasise our humanity, in the way that other manmade underground sites just aren’t: a sewer system or the London Underground for example, present us with little other than practicality – whilst a basement, communicates the concept of the individual of the human soul.
So perhaps the pleasures of stand-up comedy in basements involve something more than just good acoustics. One of these pleasures, as argued above, is that through virtue of being located a few feet under and being of human character, basements serve as an ideal platform for us to use when mocking death. In the basement, to varying degrees, we will have our sense of immortality intensified. To do that which makes us feel most alive whilst faced with a heightened sense of death is quite a glorious, even instinctive thing – similar to the endemic of bonking that broke out in New York during the aftermath of the World Trade Centre attacks – it neatly follows the ethos of ‘if I’m going down, I’m going down in style’.
So, I argued that Jimmy Carr and Michael MacIntyre are alternative comedians. If you’ve got to part two I respect you, I really do. I’m not actually arguing that these acts are paragons of alternative comedy; nor am I arguing that alternative comedy is dead or irrelevant. In fact, I think that a new definition of alternative comedy is required. In the same way that alternative comedy in the 80s was a PC reaction to the working mens’ club comedians that preceded them, current alternative comedy is a reaction to the mainstream comedians of today. I am not anywhere near au fait enough with the conventions of American comedy to talk about it, so I will mainly focus on the UK.
The current mainstream comedy in the UK relies on humour taken from collective shared ideologies and cultural tropes, as can be seen by observational comics such as Peter Kay, as well as the ironic use of these types by comedians such as Jimmy Carr, albeit in different ways. This can be seen by the subjects often viewed as ‘hack’, such as The Only Way is Essex, and chavs. These are culturally relevant ideas that are drawn upon to create humour. The reaction of alternative comedy is rather
than to talk about subjects that are culturally relevant to the majority of society, to instead focus on subjects that are personal to the comedian, which is where the uniqueness of alternative comics comes into play. Andrew O’Neill, described in the Guardian as the ‘definition of alternative’, discusses his day-to-day life as a transvestite, and his journey of conversion to occultism. These are in no way subjects with which the majority of an audience can identify. Whilst O’Neill’s style is also very much alternative in the traditional sense, it is obvious that one of the reasons he is viewed as alternative is the actual content of his material.
In the same way, Bethany Black rarely uses the techniques associated with the stylistic conventions of alternative comedy, but it would be difficult to find someone who wouldn’t describe her as such. Stewart Lee, the current king of UK alternative comedy in the eyes of many, disproves this rule, as his material often has little content in it that is personal, but it would be ridiculous to say that one must be ‘born’ an alternative comedian, or that it is dictated by one’s life experiences. There is an element of American influence in a lot of the alternative comedy that is more personal, whereas Lee’s comedy is inherently more ‘British’, and is still very much a response to mainstream comedy, as can be seen by the regularity with which he talks about it.
What I’m trying to say is that alternative comedy should not be defined by what it is as much as by what it’s not. It changes as what’s mainstream changes. It’s not necessarily true that what is alternative will always transition to the mainstream, but when people think about alternative comedy, the romanticised images I mentioned earlier spring to mind, of comedians who are personal, political, or even satirical of comedy itself. Considering the ideologies behind most alternative comedians, I don’t see any good reason why we shouldn’t stand by these ideas.
Having recently finished my degree at Leeds University, I wrote my dissertation about the use of irony in stand-up comedy and I thought I’d write an article or two basically summing it up in case anyone on here was interested. When people talk about the ‘irony’ used by comedians, the most common type of comedic irony is double-voicing, in which the comedian essentially creates two ‘voices’ - a ludicrous voice, which is used to say something outrageous; and the comedian’s actual voice in which they chastise the ludicrous voice and reassure the audience that they don’t mean what they said. This is exactly the same use of irony that can be seen in the ‘so wrong it’s right’ attitude of ‘lads’ mags’ such as Loaded and FHM, which explains the fact that Jimmy Carr won 2011’s Legend award; it makes sense that similar kinds of humour would have similar audiences. There is a divide in opinion as to whether this form of humour is lowest-common-denominator, and used as an excuse to make offensive statements, or a simply another form of subverting the rules of comedy.
The reason I mentioned Jimmy Carr is that his humour best exemplifies this kind of irony. Here’s one of his jokes I transcribed to show you what I mean:
“you can say pc’s gone mad and no-one minds people quite like it if you say pc’s gone mad political correctness has gone mad they like that but if you say pc’s gone fucking spastic like a mong rapist people get quite chippy”
Comedy relies on shared knowledge between the audience and comedian - part of the appreciation of comedy comes from the audience recognising these shared cultural tropes and feeling included in the joke. In the Carr joke, the audience will recognise ‘PC gone mad’ as a stereotype, many of them may agree with it. By using the so-called ‘ludicrous voice’ to replace ‘mad’ with a string of words that would be considered incredibly un-PC to say the very least, Carr essentially satirises the stereotype of ‘PC gone mad’ by implying that people who identify with ‘PC gone mad’ are actually the most reactionary people in society. Carr therefore identifies himself with the idea of political correctness by showing what happens when it is ignored.
Another element of this type of irony is the acknowledgement of offensiveness in a joke. It seems from a study I conducted that by admitting that a joke is offensive, an audience is more likely to deem a joke acceptable than if a comedian makes an attempt to deny that the joke is offensive. Another example from Jimmy Carr:
“this next joke is just a simple piece of word play it’s just a little turn on a very common phrase yeah just a little bit of wordplay the joke’s not about about what the joke is about if you follow me it’s about the wordplay yeah you know it’s gonna be offensive if it comes with a little warning beforehand they say there’s safety in numbers yeah tell that to six million jews really london really a round of applause cause to my mind that should be the most offensive joke not just in the show but in the world ever”
Carr admits the joke is offensive, and even shifts the onus of blame to the audience for applauding it. By admitting that a joke is offensive, a comedian distances themselves from the ideologies behind it. Any attempt to defend the joke is essentially a defence of the ideologies contained within the joke. This is another way Carr uses two ‘voices’ to distance himself from the jokes and show an awareness of offensive topics and how to use them.
Whilst Carr doesn’t fit any of the more romanticised images of ‘alternative comedy’, its purest definition (an awareness of the ‘rules’ of comedy and a willingness to subvert them), suggests that there is an element of alternative comedy in the use of this kind of irony. Carr takes an offensive topic, uses it to make a joke, and then chastises himself and even the audience for appreciating it. The joke has a desired effect, and the audience come away with the impression he didn’t really mean it. This double-voiced irony isn’t consigned to Jimmy Carr; it can be seen across mainstream comedy. Micheal MacIntyre’s ‘man drawer’ routine creates an image of the man of the house as protector and provider, and undermines this stereotypical view of masculinity by confessing to his own inadequacies. Does this mean that even the most mainstream acts can be considered alternative? Does it mean that alternative comedy is no longer a relevant idea?
Sorry this was a little dry, I wanted to get my theories out the way so I can talk about my opinions in the second part.