Friday, August 03, 2007

FRINGE: How to keep your show tight

Is it actually possible for a comedian to sustain a comedy gig with no lags?

Boy and I have always been big fans of comedy. So the Edinburgh Fringe is right up our alley, as it features many top, UK comedians for nearly the entire month of August, right in my back garden. I have practically memorised the programme. VBP was impressed with my system of circling favourites (the old systems are the best systems), as well as highlighting. She was also amazed at my know-how, in terms of getting round the venues and finding the hidden Fringe Box Office. As they say on the softball diamond, I ain't playin'!

I choose to see Fringe shows of performers we have seen before. They might have been on telly -- such as Simon Amstell and Frankie Boyle, of Never Mind the Buzzcocks and Mock the Week, respectively. Or in a comedy club -- like Reginald D Hunter. Or might have caught them in a comedy revue of sorts, been blown away by their part in an otherwise bad group of comedians -- like Henning Wehn and Glenn Wool. For whatever reason chosen, there is one similarity: whenever we have seen these people in the past, they have only been performing for a short time, say half an hour, but for some as little as five minutes.

Now if you have your own Fringe comedy show, your show will run an hour, unless you're at one of those behemoth venues (like any of the thousands of Under/Udder/Babybelly places that spring like the plague in August) that like to make people queue for ages because you know you can under the claim of clearing the room betwen gigs. Then your show will be 55 minutes. Or, if you're particularly unlucky and the venue/performer is particularly cheeky (Janey Godley, could I be talking about your chat show?), then it can be 50 minutes.

So this performer -- whom we might have caught initially on telly, there buoyed by fellow performers; or in a club, though headlining, no doubt, only had a 30-minute set, innit?; or in a revue, where the expectations of having to carry the whole of the set is very limited -- has to entertain for the better part of an hour. Is it really possible? I know comedians continue to come to the Fringe, performing at that length of time, one even going as far as to have a 24-hour show, but is 60 minutes realistic? Can anyone hold an hour's worth of material in their head -- keep it straight, with perfect delivery, while holding off fiendish and dreaded hecklers? In my mind, I don't know if it is achieveable to keep a gig going for that long.

Let's take last night, for example. We first saw Glenn Wool in an one-off comedy revue at last year's Fringe. He was the best comedian of the bunch, hands down. His political humour and observations about culture, religion and society held us. Yesterday, the beginning was good, the end was alright, but there was a definite lag of at least 20 minutes in the middle when he went on about his drug and alcohol abuse. I'm no prude, and I think the audience will back me up on the fact that it wasn't engaging material. So what was the different between the shows? There will have been loads of variables, which can not make my theory by any means able to be scientifically proven. So this will just a guesstimation. (Luckily, that's nearly as scientific.) The first time we saw him, he was on for no more than 10 minutes. The revue also had important ramifications: the person who did the best would be considered for a slot on the US chat show hosted by David Letterman. Obviously, he practised. A lot. In essence, the first set was tight, which made it so very good.

Those of you who aren't familiar with seeing comedians in comedy clubs won't have an idea of what I mean about being tight -- and seeing comedy on tube don't count. They edit the hell out of that shit. Don't you know you can't trust anything you see on TV? I mean, nothing. (What, Shark Week is faked? People, is nothing sacred!) If you happen to see a comedian in a particularly long set at a comedy club (or trying out new material, or unprepared), you'll see what I mean. The comedian has got a big laugh and, perhaps distracted by that, tries to ride that laugh a little too long in order to get their thoughts together. S/he hmmms a bit, and, if you look carefully, they are rolling through their mental roladex, trying to find the next joke, all the while trying not to let on. The transition from one joke to another will be poorly made, the flow lost. This process can be unfortunately transparent, as with Glenn Wool last night going back to his A4 size sheets of jokes on his stool to have a little looky-lu. Reginald D Hunter was similiar when we saw his Fringe show last year, save the exclusions of handwritten jokes, letting the audience know how unsettled he was. You in the audience can also feel when a set isn't tight. You might be a bit bored, suddenly notice how hard the seat it and your eyes won't be on the performer as much.

Both of the above examples (of Wool and Hunter) were based on preview shows -- in fact, they were the first gigs those performers did in the Fringe. Of course they would be ironing out the show, testing out material, looking the joke or story that would make the kill. But other shows I saw last year had this so-called lag, shows that were not previews: Karen Dunbar (fo' so') and Rich Hall, to name two I can remember. I don't think the hour set does any of our comedians any justice because it can never be tight. But there's no way anyone would leave their flats for anything less than (near-ish) an hour of entertainment. No punters, no money. And as long as we let the paper drive things, we continue to be given comedy that does not quite meet the potential of many of these talented performers.


Post a Comment

<< Home