Hacked off...

Rob Hughes says being 'hack' isn't the worst sin

As a comic, I get to see more live comedy than most and so find myself frequently involved in discussions about stand-up – mostly with other comedians. And almost inevitably, one person will remark that one of their colleagues is ‘a bit hack’.

Yet I never understand why so many people in the business of making people laugh take issue with this.

As far as I can tell, what people mean when they say ‘hack’ is that the comic has referenced topics such as relationships, sex or whatever that we might consider well served by comedy. But what is wrong with that?

Now, I’m not so blind that I can’t see that it’s lazy to stand up and declare that the difference between men and women is that men like doing X and women like doing Y and isn’t it a farce that just can’t get on?

But if a comic deals with a ‘hack’ topic in a such a way that he or she brings the house down, aren’t they just doing their job? I don’t remember signing any contract stating that all of my material must be innovative, inspiring and ‘out there’.

I’m not having a go at the comedic elite. If someone can achieve all those things and make it work, then I salute them. What I’m saying is that it really grinds my gears when people adopt the attitude that all the other acts are in some way doing a disservice to the evolution of comedy.

On the idea of ‘hack comedy’ let’s load our gun, walk over to the barrel and point it at a certain fish in a dark suit with a floppy fringe. Here is a man who, whether you approve or not, after years of working the circuit jumped off the ladder and took an escalator to success. And what heights! But still people comment on his ordinariness and how accessible he is to the masses. Like that was a bad thing.

I’ve never heard anyone complain in a restaurant that the food was too edible or whinge to a DJ that too many people were getting their groove on. So why this preciousness is comedy?

On the flip side, in a different barrel but an equally easy target we have our quiffed aficionado with the thoughtful squint. Now here’s an act who knows comedy. He makes me laugh. A lot. But I’ve seen people watch him in stone-faced silence and just not get on board. Like kids who can’t get on the roundabout because they just can’t co-ordinate their step with the speed of it. His jokes keeps flying past, but they just don’t get them.

Comedy should be treated like the art form it is. If you’re into installation art and get a kick out of dissecting the subtle nuances of every piece of work shortlisted for the Turner Prize then great, do that, that’s your art. But don’t be so aloof as to condemn a person of less complex taste simply because they enjoy a humble landscape.

Published: 13 Dec 2011

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