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. Our home is The Fenton, Leeds.
By Callum Scott
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.