Why my words made no sense... | Brendon Burns clears up his article about comics dumbing down

Why my words made no sense...

Brendon Burns clears up his article about comics dumbing down

Last week I wrote an article for The Scotsman about how comedians position themselves. Sadly whomever sub-edited my piece did the polar opposite of their job, by changing the meaning of my writing (while adding more words and lengthening the copy they were supposed to edit down).

My original text, comparing so-called ‘alternative’ and ‘mainstream’ comics read

‘So where does that leave the comics not broadly appealing enough for the shiny floors of the Apollo and not anywhere near interested enough in what they don’t talk about for the Alternative comedy society. (OK, we get it, you’re not Michael McIntyre, very exciting. What exactly are you though?)’

And after subbing, it became, in print:

‘So where does that leave the comics not broadly appealing enough for the shiny floors of the Apollo and not anywhere near interesting enough to provide the alternative – in what they don’t talk about for the Alternative comedy society? (OK, we get it, you’re not Michael McIntyre, very exciting, what exactly are you though?)’

The thrust of the article is about how pandering to critical acclaim is still pandering and how sometimes comics feel forced to explain the mechanics of what they do just to ensure no one thought it was an accident. And it discussed how comics deliberately congratulate audiences and critics alike for comprehending callbacks etc, to insure good reviews and hopefully be perceived clever enough to comprehend their own work. A fairly facetious yet light-hearted point to make, one would've thought.

Particularly as I ended the piece with:

‘Mainstream exposure isn’t the Death Of Comedy it’s the subsequent period where it starts to eat itself looking for the leftover scraps. When it plays into the pretensions. From mainstream to alternative and back thrice again. The whole thing is cyclical. So in lieu of this modern trend of slagging my peers off just to get myself over with blind cynics I’d like to declare that whatever it is that alternative isn’t and whatever it is that mainstream is, I’m neither… Do you see what I did everyone? Huh? Huh? Do you remember the beginning? Good for you.’

Given the nature of the piece, one can imagine how much I HATE having to write this correction/explanation – but I have to. Because I've lost count over the past couple of days of how many people have approached me and said they went back to the beginning of the piece and could make no sense of it.

Neither could I, nor anyone who has read it. Because after the subbing – it made no sense. 

Brian Logan at the Guardian, through no fault of his own,  has even written a piece declaring the thrust of the article was that I don't think mainstream comics are ‘interesting enough’ and that comics are trying too hard to be clever. The latter is a particularly baffling interpretation as I'm quite sure I made it clear that I find most ‘clever’ comedy to be a subtle form of dumbing down and a bit of an insult to people's sense of humour and level of comic comprehension.

The editors have now changed the piece online - hopefully this article will set the record straight. I never labelled anyone as mainstream or ‘not interesting’. And I'm quite sure I made the alternative label very blurry indeed. The fact that I'm now forced to explain even this because a sub-editor had no comprehension of how a callback works really does hammer my point home somewhat. I know. I know. Iccch! I just dissected the frog and it died.

Published: 13 Aug 2013

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