'Withering, hopeless, visceral'

Richard Tyrone Jones reviews his own self-hatred after attending an appalling anti-comedy night

Last night I had the misfortune to – no.

Last night I received the punishment for evils committed in a previous life to attend a comedy night so appalling that attempting to review it would be to make a category error – like trying to review the Srebrenica massacre. I do not wish to name it, lest this revive the trauma for those others who attended – or rather, collaborated in it. Instead I find the only way to review the night is to carry out a devastating review of my own soul through the now-kaleidoscopically fractured prism of my own self-hatred. Self-hatred at having wasted the time and hope of my friends and I by attending it, and, inexplicably, remaining at it.

Words I would have used in a review of the show itself had I been able to write one:

Verbs: slit, leave, weep.

Adjectives: withering, hopeless, visceral.

Nouns: apathy, suicide, gunge.

The problem with any kind of devastating experience (car bomb, second car bomb timed to go off as emergency services arrive at the first, this comedy show) is that after it, the human spirit will, in its inexorable flexibility, seek to somehow convert it into lessons learnt, to a message of recovery, to hope. I wish to state for the record, before mine commences this process, that there is no hope. This was, I think, intended as 'anti-comedy'. It was not. It was 'anti-hope'.

I have watched episodes of Build A New Life In The Country. None were this uninspired. I have watched films by Bela Tarr. None were this interminable. I have looked into the eyes of sheep as their throats have been cut. None of them held the look of betrayed incomprehension I beheld in this audience's eyes. Naked mole rats burrow up to two metres deep. None are this badly-amplified or lit. I have seen medieval depictions of hell. None were this under-rehearsed. The hosts acted so complacently they seemed as if they expected to transubstantiate at any moment. I got the impression they thought that good comedy was for bad comedians. The opposite is true.

A technician failed to be one. Applause became so excruciatingly perfunctory it almost became a singular noun. An in-joke was continually repeated to no sound but the resounding echo of embarrassment, like an attempt to use Mallett's Mallet as a courtroom gavel. A raven repeating his refrain in a foreign language, frantically gazing round, expecting corn, receiving only indifference.

One of the hosts issued the line: 'You should choose to look at the rubble, not stare into the abyss... because at least with the rubble, you can imagine what it could once have been.' Even this line of terrible beauty was wasted. Because of its unworthy setting, it seemed like the Koh-i-Noor diamond set into an old man's diseased anus. Because every comedian was by then a mere succession of bonded servants, indentured only by shame, throwing rubble into the abyss, only to reveal its gaping emptiness. (The only thing to do with such a line is to steal it and plant it in a more fertile habitat – a poem, or an acerbic review. So I will.)

My friend said 'at least it was free.' I replied 'I wish it wasn't, because then we could ask for our money back.' This was a show to persuade the very ionic bonds that link atoms across the known universe to give up their task as futile.

Why didn't I leave then, when my other friend had after five minutes? Some acts had pluck. I knew some of them – yet felt, as they took the stage, like a minor aristocrat in a French revolutionary crowd, his misplaced loyalty forcing him to watch his luckless contemporaries mount Madame Guillotine. Some half-decent lines. Yet, to paraphrase Don Paterson, mediocre art is worse than simply bad art, for bad art does not waste our time. Thus every one of the few redemptive lines in this show only made the whole experience more excruciating by giving us false hope, like a few squares of chocolate shared in the yards en route to Birkenau, like a scene without John Cusack in it in a John Cusack film.

I hate that I was not honest with my own emotions – at half time I clumsily tried to suggest we leave by telling my little friend I was worried she wasn't enjoying it, when truly I was worried that I was not enjoying it. -Because I wasn't, you know. Why didn't I just say, 'It's shite, let's leave?' Because I don't trust my own opinion as I should. And this has left me mistrustful of my own opinion as to whether I should trust my own opinion or not.

I need a new benchmark. If I find myself in a similar situation in future, I should ask myself: 'Would someone with taste, who values their time, stay for the second half? Would Joe Strummer stay for the second half?' I am a poet and my time is precious enough. My little friend is a doctor at the hospital that saved my life, so hers is even more precious. Currently I am pretty sure that had the hospital not saved my life, I would not have wasted this time of hers, which she instead could have spent saving even more lives – preferably those of even more doctors. Thus, it would have been better if I had died rather than bring my friend to this comedy night. Thus, the wish to die that attending this comedy night invoked in me is in fact justified, both mathematically and emotionally.

I have no hope for my grandchildren.

After my heart failure, my mother's dementia, and my father's suicide, I have been on beta blockers for some time, which means it has been a long time since I have felt any truly forceful emotions. I'd like to be able to claim, therefore, that the shame, uncomfortableness and self-disbelief I felt at both this show and, reflexively, my own response to it, were somehow refreshing. Of course they're not. They just feel like shit. As it is of course, shit to be reminded.

The only things that are keeping me alive at the moment (ascending order of importance):

1. Sheer obstinacy

2.The wish to impress on you, via this review, the horror of this night, so that, by avoiding it, your own list will never become this short.

3. The fear that there is a hell and that in it my father and his madness lie waiting for me.

(Why do I lack the self-respect to leave such debacles?) x (Why is my little friend so polite that she does not have the confidence to leave things that are obviously not working?) = The reason we are still going to things together despite the fact it has long been obvious we will never become a couple.

Star rating: Minus 5 stars.

On the plus side, all the gunge came off.

  • Richard Tyrone Jones is a comic poet, who tweets at @rtjpoet, and director of spoken word at PBH's Free Fringe.

Published: 31 Jan 2013

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