Anger is an energy

Ted Shiress on channelling his bitterness

All comics have a particular personality trait which they magnify a hundred times then use as the cornerstone of their act. Perhaps the one I try to use most is sheer, undiluted brutal bitterness. Getting on stage and letting every drop of rage out of me, while giving the impression that life is awful and the entire human race disgusts me, has been something that has always appealed to me. However, are I and other comics of that genre really these depressed, morbid and hateful individuals we make out to be?

No, I don’t think we are... but I can’t be sure. Ever since I properly found my voice in comedy I feel I have lost the ability to clearly identify my emotions; I seem to enjoy being bitter, or, at least, a particular kind of bitter. If something annoys me, what do I do? Write a routine about it and genuinely enjoy performing it. If something happens which nearly annoys me, what do I do? Write a routine that tweaks the events slightly making it seem like I’m genuinely annoyed, then feel like a king when performing it.

If nothing happens that could even remotely annoy me, what do I do? Moan about having nothing to use as new material, or try my best to write a few jokes but then discover they are simply no good.

Having cerebral palsy, no girlfriend and the Tories being in charge are three things that annoy me. I can’t deny this, but they are things that I have become accustomed to and I don’t let get in the way of me enjoying my life. However, these are the three subjects I rant about the most on stage, and if you judged me on my act you’d have a right to think I’m a very angry person who lets these three phenomena deeply affect him.

It is almost as if I enjoy telling people how much these things suck, I’m not a psychologist but perhaps somewhere inside this gives me a sense of superiority, like I’m detaching myself from my demons and making out they're not there. Is this getting too deep?

It sometimes seems like the line between comedy and tragedy becomes incredibly blurred; this was definitely the case for Billy Connolly who started as a folk singer – but I believe his songs were so depressing that they actually made people laugh. Maybe to a lot of people, and me included, comedy is a form of release, a way of venting our spleens in a very safe environment. The phrase ‘laughter is the best medicine’ seems clichéd but in many ways it is true, there is laughter in everything, it’s just sometimes it takes an audience to find it.

In general, there are few things more horrid than the feeling of being laughed at openly, but the feeling of being on stage and controlling what bits of you are laughed at is very empowering.

I remember reading a few out-of-character interviews with Jack Dee and he seems to always come over as a cheerful, pleasant man; however, I have also seen certain merry-seeming comics being interviewed and come over as horrendously sour. It is almost as if when you blitz a particular personality trait in your comedy you get bored of that trait in ‘real’ life. I chose the word ‘comedy’ rather than ‘act’, because I feel it can exist off-stage as well, one’s comedy persona is the personality you emulate which you feel gets the most laughs.

Psychologically, the most dangerous thing to happen to a comedian is when the mental line they have between their ‘real’ self and their ‘comedy’ self becomes blurred. In the various accounts I have read from comics who felt the need to take a break, their main reason seems to be a feeling of lost identity, not knowing who they are off and on stage.

However, there is no smoke without fire, and someone cannot be convincing pretending to be happy about something they are totally depressed about, or visa versa (this doesn’t apply for ‘character’ acts but that is a separate topic altogether).

Therefore there must be a middle-ground, which is why most comics discover they are most comfortable using a particular personality trait they already have and just exaggerating that to absurdity.

In many ways comedy can be the best counsellor anyone could ask for, being bitter on stage is always a massive release and, if you do it right, can be incredibly funny to watch. It can also give you so much pleasure in venting your anger that the anger instantly turns into pure mirth.

Published: 29 Jun 2011

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