Absurdity is the only sane reaction to the madness of reality | Nick Revell on his new approach to satire

Absurdity is the only sane reaction to the madness of reality

Nick Revell on his new approach to satire

I’ve radically changed my approach to topical and satirical material in the last three or four years. 

As we know, it’s an unprecedentedly target-rich environment. But - and I know this is not an original observation - consequently, it’s sometimes a real challenge to compete with sheer reality. (Or what passes for reality. Is there actually any left? Let’s scratch ‘reality’ and say ‘headline’).

Even if you do find a proper solid definite killer gag, you can never be sure it won’t simply be buried by another avalanche of even more gob-smacking headlines by the time you go on stage.

You try to find comfort by telling yourself we must surely have hit peak batshit by now; you take a look out the window and - what do you know? - it’s still streaming and plopping and spattering out everywhere. Except more intense.

So, instead of delivering most of my topical material as a fairly straightforward satirical reaction and commentary on the news day to day, I’m writing long, structured, essentially absurd stories which still address big issues, but obliquely and thus less at the mercy of the relentless newsfeeds.

My last three shows have involved me meeting and marrying a beautiful super-rich New York Nobel prize-winner and swimwear model who turns out to be a renegade shape-shifting lizard; my cat becoming super-intelligent and almost taking over the world by brutally exploiting her cuteness online with the help of my smart house, and negotiating a reconciliation between Vladimir Putin and his buttocks who have precipitated an international crisis by leaving him because they - but not he - were gay. 

I feel a real delight when audiences buy into them and can’t figure out where the truth and the artifice blend into each other; when running the first one at Edinburgh I had several friends ask me if the rumour was true that I had left my long-standing partner for a New York heiress. You mean the one who turns into an extra-terrestrial lizard halfway through the story? Of course!

I suppose mixing the surreal with the everyday is an appropriate response to the 21st century, and I’m enjoying the opportunity to explore a new style. Having a narrative which goes through the whole hour or two draws people in, because they’re always wanting to know what happens next, so nothing is utterly dependent on each and every joke landing perfectly. There you are - that’s how a story works! Finally I have revealed the secret. God, I’m original. 

But once the story does start working, and gives you a central momentum, you can employ more tones and angles in the comedy. It’s definitely making me more playful. I’m seeking now to draw everyone in, rather than to entertain most and provoke a few. The narrative thread allows me to change the focus and the register all the time without the piece losing shape or becoming incoherent. (In contrast to when I try and explain the process in articles.) 

Anyway, it’s very liberating and it’s exciting be discovering new techniques and approaches even though I’ve been working as a comic for a while. 

I’ve also cut out the ranting. I used to love delivering the occasional rabid torrent of ludicrous imagined homicidal violence on various deserving parties, where righteous rage became self-righteous and a sense of injustice corrupted into bloody fantasies of vengeance, and they worked very well. But they were only funny because the audience understood the violence was entirely fantasy, and that the appalling anger was making me as ridiculous and monstrous as the targets. 

But I fear the idea of political violence is becoming increasingly acceptable to some people, and I don’t want to do material which might assist that acceptance.

So I’ve binned it. (Always annoying to have to ditch strong routines. Makes you feel like punching someone).

And how do I rate humanity’s prospects right now? 

I retain hope but feel increasingly less optimistic, if that makes sense. Which it doesn’t. On the other hand, I’m very happy with the comedy I’m making out of it. So, you know, keeping a healthy, decent perspective.

Nick Revell will be touring his show BrokenDreamCatcher from next month, click here for dates.

Published: 25 Jan 2019

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