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Press or to start over.

Wednesday 4th April 2007

A good review in the Guardian today. Incidentally I haven’t seen Stew’s Jesus routine and aside from knowing it’s something about being sick in Jesus’s anus (how needlessly childish and insulting) don’t know what happens in it, so my own Jesus bit is not a homage to his or been influenced by him. It came about just as I describe in the show. In our Lee and Herring work we both had a penchant for doing unacceptable stuff about religion and taking sick ideas as far as they would go, so I guess it’s not a surprise that sometimes we cross into the same territory. Let’s also remember that “Christ on a Bike” came out in 2001 and had similar themes. I acknowledge there are similarities between the two of us, but it seems pretty obvious to me why that would be and in the Press night show I did make some little digs at the press about how they would obviously just write that I was the same as Stew without stopping to consider why that might be or that there might be the possibility that some of it is the other way round. But the point was clearly missed. And there are bits of my stuff that I think are a bit too much like Stewart Lee, rather than Lee and Herring, but they are getting rarer. It’s the reason I don’t go to see his stuff any more. To avoid that influence. Which is a shame for me as I think he is the best stand up in the country and the bits of his stuff that I have caught at charity shows recently have been astonishingly good. Sometimes it’s annoying that my relatively fledgling stand-up career is constantly compared to one of the best practitioners of the art in the country and it’s weird the way that people want to turn things into a competition, but it’s a human impulse and I can understand it. And it’s a human impulse to want to compete against your friends, but overall I manage not to look at it that way. I hope that our solo work and the successes we have vindicate us as a double act and prove that we were better than the powers that be at the time realised.
Anyway, itÂ’s still a pretty good review and does acknowledge that on the whole I have a style of my own and I think itÂ’s a fair analysis. ItÂ’s easy to dismiss reviewers when they say stuff you donÂ’t like (and most of them deserve to be dismissed, a few deserve to be disembowelled), but itÂ’s worth listening to the opinions of the good ones. And the Guardian does not give its four star reviews out lightly so this is another positive sign that things are moving in the right direction.
Of course good reviews can change the atmosphere at gigs. Last week the audience was probably mainly comprised of people who knew and liked my stuff, but now there will be more new people, taking a chance on me, because of the recommendations of journalists. This was noticeable tonight, I felt. The initial reactions to me were more cautious and muted.
I may have written about this before, but the first joke in my show tells me a lot about an audience. It can get very different responses. It is - without wishing to spoil your enjoyment and it doesn’t work as well written down – “To be or not to be? That is the first and only question on the University of Beekeeping entrance exam.”
Sometimes this can get a massive, rolling laugh and sometimes it gets little more than a titter and a few groans. And depending on which way it goes gives me a good indication of what kind of audience it’s going to be. Tonight, for the first time in the run, it got the latter reaction. The audience is thinking that’s a corny gag and that they are cleverer than that and need more than puns. Yet in fact, without wanting to appear arrogant (though being very arrogant so I don’t know how I expect to get away with it) the audience that groans is actually less sharp than the audience that laughs. Because a comedically bright audience will have seen past the more child-like joke of “be” and “bee” sounding the same, yet having different meanings and (I believe) allow their imaginations to take them a lot further. They laugh at the idea of there being a University dedicated to the husbandry of bees and then further at the fact that there might be an entrance exam for that establishment and then even further to the ridiculousness of them asking that one, somewhat fundamental question. Maybe they then think that there’s something funny in the desperation of the institution that would make the entrance requirements so easy, maybe they start imagining a load of people sitting at little desks in a hall, wearing bee-keeping outfits looking at their papers and mulling over their answers, whilst an invigilator with one of those bee-spraying things looks on to check there is no collusion.
All right, it might not go quite this far in an instant. But I think the sharper audience will be laughing more because they have been captured by the flight of fancy that the set up and feedline provide, whilst the duller crowd will groan because they wrongly think they are superior to such an obvious gag.
Of course a very dull crowd who just love puns and nothing else, might find the wordplay amusing enough to laugh for a good three minutes, so my argument isnÂ’t water-tight. But as with so many things the cleverest and the stupidest people are almost indistinguishable. And maybe I am wrong and the audiences that groan are just super clever and at a level above the people who laugh and have already thought of this joke before and considered the possibilities of a Beekeeping University and find my observation obvious and dull. Who knows?
But the fact is that I can tell that an audience that groans at that first joke will be harder work than one who “gets” it.
As it turned out tonightÂ’s crowd did warm up after a few minutes and I messed around more than usual, slightly cruelly picking on a slightly portly gentleman in the front row, who took the insults very cheerfully, but who engendered some sympathy from the rest of the crowd, who did not seem to appreciate the delicate irony of the pot-bellied comic calling the kettle fat..
The man went to the toilet during the bit about not weeing to save the environment and I told him that he was worse than Hitler and Stalin combined – then added that he looked like he might be Hitler and Stalin combined into one body. His wife complained about my meanness and I told her that I could hardly talk. “Yes, you’re fatter than you look on the poster!” she shouted.
“It’s true I am. You’d have been here much earlier if you’d known the truth, wouldn’t you? You chubby-chasing whore!”
This is my job. Calling perfectly nice women who I have already insulted for no good reason that they have dubious sexual morals. Do you think my dad is proud of me? He isnÂ’t.

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