Dying for some irony...

Milo McCabe on performing ironically racist gags

Earlier this year, for a video segment of my Edinburgh show, I appeared at the Comedy Store in character as Tyson Moon, the son of a Seventies comedian.

The story was that the socially inadequate Tyson was being groomed to take his dad’s decades-old act back on to today’s circuit to remind people how strong ‘old school’ comedy was.

The Kenny Moon character is broadly based on my dad Mike McCabe, himself a professional comedian who appeared on The Comedians, New Faces and other shows like that, back in the day.

To finish this segment off, I decided to perform some of my dad’s dodgy old jokes (as well as some I’d heard told on stage in Benidorm earlier that year) at The Store’s Gong Show and pretty much die on purpose, to provide video footage for the Edinburgh show.

But I hadn’t anticipated the whole thing going on as long as it did. The footage below even had to be edited to take some of the bigger laughs out, as it didn’t suit the character to do so well.

What was bizarre about the situation was going on, KNOWING I was going to die. That that was the intention, that I would turn the whole room against me. It was a unique feeling, a total lack of nerves and adrenaline, just a calm acceptance of the grim reality I was about to create for myself via the detachment of being in character.

Walking on to the stage was bizarre. It was like being in a trance. I had nothing to be afraid of because I was sprinting at the worst possible outcome head on. It’s quite hard to describe the feeling of being in a situation where the only way you can screw it up is by being good.

It’s actually a very liberating state and perhaps could lead to some good work, but I imagine that it’s something that’s very hard to artificially create onstage… a very genuine, ‘I don’t give a damn’ mentality.

I was allowed to do this by the Comedy Store management on the basis that I didn’t qualify for the final, as that wouldn’t be fair to the newer acts. ‘There is literally no chance of that happening.’ I said to Simon at the time, ‘if I’m still on after three minutes I’ll start doing some racist stuff’.

The ‘racist stuff’ in question were jokes I’d heard in Benidorm. Myself and another comedian went over there to do some research and have a bit of fun (which we did), but I was staggered by some of the material I heard on a stage in 2011. Maybe it’s naïve of me, but the experience was as close to being in a time warp as I think I will ever find myself…and it was all getting big laughs too.

Part of my intention with this character was to show that these jokes, jokes that would end a TV comedian’s career today in a heartbeat, were part of the norm just a few decades ago. The fact that they might still get laughs today from certain people didn’t really occur to me.

What surprised me, both during this show and in Edinburgh, was how well these jokes went down and the laughs they got. I’ve got no problem with it being funny in an ironic way and people laughing at the small-mindedness of this character, as this was my intention, but I did get one or two comments from people along the lines of ‘Yeah, you can’t say anything about them these days, can you?’ which knocked me for six, as solidarity with people expressing this kind of view was the last thing I had intended. Again, maybe that was naïve of me.

I was thinking about developing this into a 20-minute set until I realised that it could well get people laughing for the wrong reasons and give people the wrong idea about me: namely that I was using a character as a veneer to enable me to tell these jokes in a format that could be deemed ‘acceptable’.

There’s a lot more to this character than that. He’s the son of a narcissist who would only get attention and approval from his father when he appeared to take on his values wholesale, leading to him unquestioningly adopting viewpoints and opinions rooted in the Seventies, including the issues mentioned above. It’s a character rooted in an era he wasn’t ever around in, in a hopeless quest for approval from his self-absorbed dad.

If I ever do anything else with this character beyond last year’s show, I have to make sure this point is well illustrated, otherwise I could come across as actually having the attitudes I’m attempting to lampoon.

Here’s the gig

And here’s a bit more background on the character

Published: 25 Nov 2011

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