Creation vs procreation

Is parenthood the enemy of good comedy, asks Alan Gernon

‘There is no more sombre enemy of good art than the pram in the hall,’ wrote British critic Cyril Connolly in 1938, alluding to the death of creativity when one becomes a parent.

I thought of this quote when I had to pass on performing a stand-up gig recently as my second child had just been born. So I guess that means I agree with Connolly? Well, not totally. And anyway, we keep our pram in the boot of the car.

My first gig back was a month later at Dublin’s Capital Comedy Club. ‘He’s only been held back by his inability to stop having children,’ they joked on their website in my profile before the gig. It made me sound like a single mother mad for child benefit, or Octomom, or yer man who was hiding kids in his back garden in California. I was only a father of two, quite moderate compared to our parents’ and grandparents’ eras.

About four years ago, following an impulsive stand-up debut in Sydney’s Comedy Store while backpacking, I returned to Ireland and launched myself on to the Irish comedy scene with relish. Before I knew it I’d not only got married but reached the finals of most new act competitions and performed nationwide with the likes of Ardal O’Hanlon, David O’Doherty, PJ Gallagher and other acts I’d only seen on TV.

I was a couple of steps up the rickety step-ladder that was the Irish comedy circuit. Then my wife fell pregnant (although ‘fell’ isn’t exactly the correct term as to how it happened, fact fans) and my priorities changed. I took a step down from the ladder for a while and placed my feet firmly in Mothercare, the nursery and finally the labour ward in Drogheda Hospital.

As the due date loomed family and friends wondered if it would be a boy or a girl or if they should buy pink or blue. I told them to buy black and hope it’s a goth. I couldn’t imagine comedy legends like Richard Pryor pottering about Mothercare. Maybe Motherfuckercare. So, I gave performing a break for a while as my home life was suddenly as busy as Shane McGowan’s tooth fairy.

But it didn’t stifle creativity. In fact, it gave me a brand new perspective on life. My writing blossomed. And anyway, as kids are generally the funniest demographic on the planet shouldn’t they be an inspiration? I recently asked my two-year-old daughter, who is funnier than any comedian I’ve ever met, to tell me a joke. ‘Welcome to the Joke. This is the Joke.’ she replied giving the most succinct explanation I’d ever heard of the set-up and reveal structure behind most gags. Indeed, Connolly totally ignored the fact that many artists and authors had been moved to create because of their children, whether it be for emotional or financial reasons.

Maybe the pram in the hall is more of an enemy to some sort of bohemian lifestyle that some creative people, too messed up to be parents, cling to. And there seems to be an historical rejection of the notion of having a family by a certain type of creative person. There’ll also be some who might use the pitter patter of tiny feet as an excuse for their life’s bitter scatter of tiny feats.

As I write, sipping coffee wearily from my ‘World’s Number One Dad’ mug (that thousands of others have counterfeit versions of) I realise kids might limit your energy or motivation to perform but that creativity is a compulsion.

Going back to Connolly’s quote I don’t know good art but I know what I like. Being a dad foremost, and whatever else second. They don’t have to be mutually exclusive. And what’s a better creation than your child who’s a lot funnier than you are?

Published: 7 Jan 2010

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