Confused Views: The sound of silence

After seeing a comedian's live stand-up routine painfully fail to take off, Matt ponders the importance of reviews and popular opinion…

I never read reviews anymore, not mine or anybody else’s. It really depresses me how much attention comics pay to that stuff. 100 words that the classical music critic’s wife writes for gin money can make or break somebody’s year. That’s clearly ridiculous and a position that any intelligent person should be able to think their way out of. If you want an opinion, ask somebody you respect what they thought. Comedy criticism is basically what a c*nt thought of something they didn’t understand.” – Frankie Boyle, My Shit Life So Far

I rented an action movie the other day that a friend had recommended. It had some muscle-bound movie star in it, a paper thin plot and featured more explosions than a fever dream experienced by Michael Bay, I’d been told. Apparently, he said, it’s the sort of film that you need to “switch your brain off” and enjoy.

However, somewhat inconveniently, I found that when I switched my brain off I collapsed into a heap on the floor, noisily shit myself and died.

This is the sort of trouble you can get yourself into when you take things too literally. Another example is that I was once arrested for misinterpreting the expression ‘hair of the dog’ and trying to cure a hangover by eating the neighbour’s Labrador.

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However, I recently found myself in a situation where I wished the more literal meaning of a phrase would have come true. I’d never seen a comedian ‘die’ on stage before last week, and so I had no idea what an unpleasant experience it is.

At a big stand-up comedy event I saw a comedian I really like try out some new material to polite titters and awkward silence. It was horrible. It was like someone trying to silently squeak out a fart in a lift only for it to turn out to be a noisy stinker. Unfortunately, this lift had about a thousand people in it. I found myself wishing that my experience seeing a comedian die on stage had involved a warm-up act spontaneously combusting or a ventriloquist being devoured by his own puppet.

It was a really miserable experience and one that’s painfully lacking in people to blame. I don’t think it’s fair to blame the comedian. They were trying something new out. How else are they supposed to know if it’s going to work?

I’ve seen this particular comedian before and they’ve killed (again, not literally). I also suspect that the material had been tried before and worked. It just didn’t work in this particular venue with this particular audience. What can you do?

How about we point our crooked, accusing fingers at the audience? The humourless bastards! Well, not really. We weren’t a hostile bunch and it wasn’t like there was a great deal of heckling. (I only heard one instance, and it was about as stinging as an attack by the front end of a bumblebee.) All of the other acts were well-received. This one just didn’t seem very funny. I was quite deeply affected by it as, had it been me up on that stage, I would have been devastated.

Perhaps it’s no coincidence that I’ve found a way to make jokes to an audience that protects me from this ever happening. You can sit straight-faced as you read my column all you want, I’m never going to have to watch you do it. Hell, you can loudly boo, heckle and chuck handfuls of your own faeces at your PC monitors for all I care. It’s you that’s going to have to clean it up.

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I know there’s the comments section, but that’s far from the same thing. That’s not an immediate reaction, that’s a considered response (and often one with an agenda). Not laughing at a joke someone tells you means that you didn’t find it funny.

Logging in with your username and password to type up an insult is entirely different. I can’t understand what motivates someone to log into a website to type ‘NOT FUNNY’, and I think that if you’re writing that, perhaps you’re saying more than you realise. That kind of feedback is not something to take seriously.

Of course, positive comments are to be taken seriously. Obviously.

The deal is that writing and/or performing takes a lot of confidence and it’s important to protect yourself and, to an extent, your ego. It’s unfortunately the case for a lot of people that one negative comment will sound so loud that it will drown out a thousand positive ones.

I’ve heard many instances of writers simply dismissing all comment, good and bad, and relying on their own judgement. I do this to an extent, but try to take in the positive comments too. It’s like the best of both worlds. I’ve never bothered putting together any kind of theory as to why positive comments are more valid. They probably aren’t. Rather, I like getting them better and have decided to piss logic down the drain to suit my own wants.

Perhaps the reason is that I already know that a lot of people aren’t going to find my column funny or entertaining. I already know that much of what I’m saying is unpopular opinion (particularly the stuff about how brilliant I am, which most weeks will be about seventy-five percent of the column).

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In a way what I’m doing is reaching out into the world and saying, “Is anyone else like me?” Well, that and saying a lot of juvenile swear words and fart jokes, you shit-sniffing bum cloud.

So, to conclude what has ended up being a rather muddled affair: I don’t want honest feedback. I want delicious, sexy lies that boost my ego. I don’t ever have to worry about finding out the truth, as I have no intention of performing live. I’m like a charisma black hole, sucking charisma away from other people whilst emitting none myself.