Hitting Funny

Note: This review is from 2005

Review by Steve Bennett

Warning  No 1: Always beware theatrical reconstructions of stand-up, as they are almost inevitably written and performed by someone barely on nodding terms with how the craft really works.

Philip Ralph starts his performance as Chris Rich with an abysmal set, the sort most fledgling comics write before they’ve much of a clue. Perhaps his character is supposed to be a struggling open mic act, trying to claw his way into the business.

But no, he is supposed to be a successful one, despite the brain-numbingly, stomach-churningly tedious material about pornography, farting, and various other bodily functions he makes us endure.

Also, this is routine not a set-up for anything else, the entire hour is delivered in this stand-up style, blurring the definition of his character, but meaning there’s no let-up from him.

The point he’s trying to make about comedy is underlined in the serious-minded Hitting Funny manifesto, included in the programme. Warning No 2: Always beware artists who’ve published a manifesto.

His article hails the political motives he assumed were driving those at the vanguard of alternative comedy in the Eighties: Alexei Sayle, Rik Mayall and millionaire writer of appalling West End musicals, Ben Elton.

Where, he asks, are those voices of opposition and truth today? The answer, of course, is everywhere: from Robert Newman to Andy Zaltzman, from Stewart Lee to Wil Hodgson. But it suits his manifesto to present a world of sell-out stand-up whores.

He’s angry that some people see comedy as an escape from the world, when  it should be about Confronting The Issues. Yet both aims are catered for in the broad church of comedy - and its best exponents combine both

Rich’s stand-up ends in a huge, obvious rant about the follies of corporate-driven modern life that any of the comedians above, and countless more, would have done better – and with jokes. Which makes his manifesto point seem all the more redundant. There’s also some completely garbled message about Al Qaeda, that I couldn’t hope to unravel.

He then starts vocalising the audience’s reaction to this tirade: ‘I really don’t know what he’s trying to do,’ he correctly surmises we are thinking. He believes we don’t like the politics because it challenges us and makes us think. The only thing I’m thinking is: ‘This is rubbish…’

Throughout the show, Ralph – who proves himself a talented performer, despite his own tedious script  - forwards plenty of the usual pseudo-intellectual philosophising about the psyche of a stand-up. Thus several routines disintegrate into primal rages, with a desperate sadness in the eyes, to show the emotions that supposedly wrack every performer.

At one point he starts pathetically hugging a tape recorder playing a recording of laughter. Do you see? He needs laughter – it’s his comfort blanket. The point is made so  unsubtly it would shame the most obvious over-the-top parody of a ‘serious theatre’ group.

Mind you, it is at least a good job he brought his own laughter with him, as this poor script was never going to provoke any.

Review date: 1 Jan 2005
Reviewed by: Steve Bennett

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