A comedian? You must be joking

New comic Ted Shiress realises it can't all be ranting

A couple of Sundays ago I was rather hungover and it occurred to me this would be a perfect opportunity to write that bitter routine I'd been planning about how I disagree with the use of the word ‘normal’ around people with disabilities. It’ll be like something Bill Hicks or Doug Stanhope would do, honest and a bit controversial, so couldn’t fail – or so I thought.

I then performed it and it got very few laughs – apart from a tale based on a conversation about masturbation. At first I put this down to a timid audience and not having learnt it fully. I thought it was just a typical smutty audience, laughing at the dick jokes but not being up for the deeper stuff.

However, I then performed it a second time and the same thing happened – huge laughs for the dick jokes but a general coldness for everything else. This time I twigged that something wasn’t quite right, so I asked a friend for advice, and got a long email of opinions, basically pointing out that masturbation bit was full of jokes and witty turns of phrase, but the preceding paragraphs contained very few genuinely funny things.

It then dawned on me how important it is to never forget you are a comedian and no matter how many controversial ideas you want to get out there the primary purpose of your material must be to tell jokes and make people laugh.

Yes, ‘jokes’, I said the J-word. All comedians tell jokes, that’s their primary purpose, it is just that the jokes the alternative ‘I don’t tell jokes’ comedians (I’m including myself in this bracket) tell are often heavily disguised.

Why do we do this? Is it just to go against the grain? No, it isn’t. We just believe that our audiences like to be intellectually stimulated and don’t like to be patronised, and the best way to do this is to disguise our ‘jokes’ in a series of ideas and create the impression that we weren’t expecting laughs at bits we obviously were.

A joke doesn’t necessarily have to follow the conventional feedline-punchline structure, nonetheless I define it as the collection of certain words combined to make people laugh.

For example, a good friend of mine, Wes Packer, on the surface doesn’t tell jokes, he just gets up on stage and just unloads all the bitterness he makes you believe he has built up for humanity. But, despite appearances, Wes does tell jokes.

One particular rant involves being constantly annoyed at an office party by a ‘cunt called Keith’. The combination of these three words is truly brilliant, they alliterate and are all monosyllabic, you could go as far as saying they are poetic. It is the mixture of such an expletive term in such a wonderfully-sounding phrase that makes this so funny and even, in a wider sense of the term, a ‘joke’.

Hicks and Stanhope expertly disguise their jokes in relentless torrents of venom and bile and that is why it can be easy to think you can just rant and one day be like them. Stanhope goes one step further, which is to give the impression that he is drunkenly rambling about whatever is on his mind when he is on stage. However, no one can be as funny as Stanhope and not spend considerable time polishing his lines.

A few days after considering all this, I had a very nasty, bloody fall and afterwards wrote a very dark and quite honest routine about it, After performing it, I can say it is a funny routine – because no matter how dark it is I made sure every line is, or is leading to, a gag.

Published: 9 Sep 2011

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