Going to a comedy show is a bit like going to a fairground. You generally know what you're in for, you know that it is likely to be safe, you expect it to be amusing, and you expect there to be variety and surprise.
You may not like every ride. Some rides will be for you, some won't. Some rides might be more suitable for those with less of a nervous disposition, some family friendly, some horrifying. There may be some rides that you are familiar with and yet still enjoy, and others which you have not experienced before. You might like these unfamiliar rides, you might not.
The comedians are the tour guides, and the rides are the jokes. The comedian has to entice you onto the ride by making it look interesting and worth the time and bother. The ride then has to be enjoyable, and have a level of surprise. Some rides are like a long winding entertaining tale that ends in a sudden enthralling drop, so are enjoyable along the way and surprising at the end. Others are more short and abrupt, and just as you are getting used to the ride it goes off in multiple different directions with many surprises.
If the comedian gets it right by enticing you onto the best rides, keeping it interesting, and keeping it surprising, then you will know they're in a safe pair of hands and trust them enough to go on more of their rides. If the comedian misjudges and entices the you onto a ride that don't suit you, you might not want to go on another one. If the rides are too long without being interesting along the way, you may lost interest and want to get off before the surprise. If the rides don't have enough of a surprise element, you might not bother getting onboard another ride.
So to sum up my magical fairground theory of comedy, the comedian's job is to:
People ask me, "What's doing standup comedy like?"
The language used to metaphorically describe standup comedy is rather dire. If the audience like them, the comedian "killed", and if they don't, they "died". Comedians say "You smashed it" and deliver "punchlines". The language tends to be conceptually similar to a battle between the comedian and the audience.
But is comedy like a battle? And is it useful to think of comedy this way?
To me, comedy is like doing little word puzzles and sharing them with others. Sometimes these puzzles may be impossible to complete, and sometimes they may be possible but not aesthetically pleasing to others. Often, the puzzles work just right, and when shared the right way are enjoyed by most people. Sometimes an audience will like whatever puzzles they see, and sometimes audiences just don't like your kind of puzzle.
And there's little point getting overexcited if people really like your puzzles, or disappointed if they don't. They're just puzzles for gods sake.
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Yesterday on the train I overheard a conversation which ended in one of the people giggling a little and saying "Ha, if they do that, we'll be laughing all the way to the bank." I know that this is just a saying, a turn of phrase, an idiom, and shouldn't be taken literally, no that would be stupid.
So let's imagine this person did get some sort of windfall and planned to laugh all the way to the bank. So they're driving along on the way to the bank, laughing, and the amount of laughing they are doing makes them inadvertently swerve the car which arouses the suspicion of a nearby policeman. The policeman pulls them over and asks them for their driving license, but the response they get is a hearty laughter which keeps going no matter how much they insist the driver takes this situation seriously. Because it is serious, swerving around on the road can be dangerous and there might have been children walking along the road at the time. Think of the children! Eventually the person would end up in a police cell, still laughing, and by the time it got to their court date they would have likely had some sort of psychological assessment which would likely not be in their favour. So instead of doing time for the road swerving, they'd probably end up in a psych ward full of other people laughing incessantly about inappropriate things. Meanwhile their partner leaves with the kids, and the money that they thought was so funny to laugh about all the way to the bank is dwindled away because of court costs and child support.
And the cruel thing about this situation is that the person is still not at the bank, so according to their own rules they must keep laughing. They're stuck. Their life is over. Thanks to an idiom.
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I have long been a fan of stand-up comedy and have always wondered what makes comedy funny. Lately I have noticed a number of metaphor that are used in the comedy industry, and in day to day conversation when people talk about comedy.
The main thing I have noticed that many metaphor in comedy are related to some kind of force. The force is created by the comedian, then applied to the audience. The force causes the audience to have an involuntary reaction, and does damage to them. The audience know this and volunteer to be broken. Let's look at this further.
Let's start with the comedian. If the comedy is funny, then metaphor used toward comedians tend to be around the delivery of the force.
When it comes to the audience, the metaphor tend to be around having force applied to them, causing involuntary reactions and having damage inflicted.
This got me thinking. If comedy is about audience members going in and voluntarily offering to be broken by the comedian, and the comedian applying a force to do the breaking, what actually is it that's going on? What is the force? And what is the force actually breaking?
My take on it is that the audience of a comedy show go along as an escape from the day to day reality of their lives. They take along their everyday sensibilities, beliefs, and perceptions, and in the safety of the comedy show they offer them up to be broken. The comedian has an understanding of the common perceptions that the audience want to have broken, and through their unique viewpoints and attitudes, they apply the appropriate force of words to challenge and break such perceptions.
If the comedian tries to break perceptions that the audience doesn't have, the comedy doesn't work. If the comedian chooses perceptions that the audience has, but doesn't apply the appropriate force to break them, the comedy doesn't work. When comedy doesn't work, the audience often get disappointed or angry that their perceptions are left intact. They say that the comedian "died out there". But if the comedian chooses appropriate perceptions, and applies the appropriate amount of force, the audience enjoy having their perceptions broken and have the involuntary reaction of laughing. The comedian "killed".
So it's no wonder people revere successful comedians, and that the thought of being a stand-up comedian scares the bejesus out of most people. Imagine it being your job to put yourself in a position where you either kill or get killed, all for the amusement of others! To most people that sounds crazy, but for the comedian it's part of the fun of it.
For more articles about comedy and metaphor, click here www.richardlindesay.com/home/category/metaphor.
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