The Wrong Show is an independent and alternative comedy night in Leeds. This is our blog. Here you will find comedy reviews, features, and interviews. We were formally known as HOWL. First Wednesday of the Month, The Fenton, Leeds.
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’.
You can comment on this post, read it again or read more stuff in August at: *Down to the Basement.