Friday, 17 December 2010

Out of Context

For Remarkable Theatre's summer show, I have put together a collection of comic scenes, songs and sketches to come under the umbrella title of A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Gardens. It's a promenade performance whereby a guide escorts the audience around the Botanic Gardens with a performance of 3 - 10 minutes duration in each selected location.

The hardest thing was to take comedy out of context. Many things are funny in the second act of a play becaue the first is exposition - without the initial set-up, the gag would fall flat and you can't just deliver the punchline without first laying the foundation. It's given me a whole new appreciation of farce. Noises Off is one of my favourite plays but you can't perform a short extract that makes any sense by itself.

Stand-up comedians often complain that their jokes are taken out-of-context and lead to them being labelled as racist/ sexist/ homophobic/ anti-semitic or whatever we are feeling particularly sensitive about that week. It may have come from a very funny line-up with a mitigating explanation, but if you remove all that, it's just another 'retarded gay nigger' joke.

Repetition is another factor in comedy. Something that is not funny at first utterance becomes increasingly so as we come to recognise, acknowledge, and then predict the inevitable. This is how catch-phrase or sketch humour works (Angry Frank being a classic example). And we can't claim this is sophisticated.

If you ever watch children watching theatre, they are bemused at the first appearance of the comedy elf. By the third or fourth appearance he becomes familiar, and by the time you, as an otherwise perfectly rational adult, are willing to bludgeon him to death with the nearest blunt instrument, the mini-critics are anticipating and so delighting in his entrance because they 'get it'.

'Getting it' is the pay-off for all the spade work and anticipation (no smutty innuendo please - let's leave that to The Two Ronnies. In all comedy there is an underlying theme which compounds throughout the 'drama'. If you only have five minutes to establish this drama, you have to choose the familiar and subvert it. And this becomes an exercise in defying stereotypes.

Comedy - it's not a science; it's an art.