Oh, put it away!

Matt Thomas wishes comedians would leave their genitals alone

The other day I was involved in an early heat of one of the many comedy competitions. After the audience had sat through several hundred (fourteen actually, but you get my point) stand-ups plying their wares with varying levels of success, the compere returned to the stage to initiate the inevitable audience voting and remindthe audience of the acts they’d seen.

It went something like this: ‘John X talked about masturbating to memories of his ex-girlfriend; Karen Incognito performed a monologue as her own clitoris; Janet Anonymous discussed the relative merits of different kinds of semen; Mark Insert-surname was “the flange guy”…’ and so on, and so on, and so on...

Now, it’s obviously no secret that the comedy scene and, let’s be honest, particularly the new act scene is home to a lot of genital material. However, it took this compere’s relentless summation to really bring home to me quite how thoroughly we mine our nether regions for comic effect.

In principle, there’s nothing wrong with talking about penises, vaginas, or one’s own onanistic excesses on stage. It doesn’t even always mark you out as a ‘lowest common denominator’ comedian, as Richard Herring has practically made a career out of the intelligent dick joke.

My question is this, isn’t there more we could be talking about? Is it possible that we as a community, like toddlers who’ve just discovered them, are spending a disproportionate amount of time investigating own orifices? Doesn’t it seem like, with all the things going on in the world, we could consider penises and vaginas covered and move on to something else.

I do understand the appeal of material like this. The cheap laughs you get from even mentioning your cock etc., are better than no laughs after all. Also, if there is a problem, I’m certainly part of it - as anyone who’s seen my set will attest. The night of the competition alone, I added to the lowering of the tone considerably.

You could even say that it’s difficult not to end up with this kind of material. The life of an amateur stand-up can be gruelling, time-consuming, and lacking in variety. It’s very easy to get to the point where your life consists of little more than your day job, and comedy gigs - neither of which tend to be a source of great material. It can get to the point where the only thing you have to write about is the one thing you sometimes have the energy to do before going to sleep.

So what’s the answer? Well, it’s becoming fairly clear to me that if all you’re doing is hanging out in comedy clubs, listening to people doing safe but unimaginative nob gags and otherwise living in ‘the comedy world’ you’re not going to end up with a lot of original stuff to draw on. So, maybe let’s try reading books that aren’t biographies of comedians, watching films that Judd Apatow didn’t make, or travelling to places other than out-of-town gigs.

Over the last few months I’ve been making a concerted effort to do just these, and guess what? I’m writing material that I never thought I was capable of, that’s a lot more fun to deliver and, I’m guessing, more fun to listen to.

All I’m saying is that many of us, myself very much included, need to broaden our horizons and maybe even take a few risks – what’s the worst that can happen? We get embarrassed. Is that really such a pressing concern when we already spend ten-minute stretches discussing our most intimate bodily functions? I don’t think so.

Published: 13 Oct 2011

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