“Popularity is the crown of laurel which the world puts on bad art. Whatever is popular is wrong.” – Oscar Wilde.
It’s one helluva coincidence that Ivor Cutler died just one tiny week before the Glasgow comedy scene did. One can only hope that both will soon return from beyond the grave and feast upon the flesh of Karen Dunbar.
Like a giant jellied eel caught in the tractor beam of some unseen spacecraft, the promotional banner for Glasgow’s fourth international comedy festival hangs twisted, limp and gaudy over Sauchiehall Street numerous days after the fact. The banner’s principal feature is the laughing face of a pissed-up Scottish thistle: a demented piece of clipart leering over the Saturday shoppers and making children cry.
Over at The Stand comedy club, his tour posters hadn’t even been up for fifteen minutes before someone had scrawled three sixes onto Jimmy Carr’s forehead. It must have been irresistible to commit such an act, partly due to the pale and spacious nature of the canvas but mainly as an act of rebellion against the dilute comedy mainstream, of which Jimmy Carr is seen to have become symbolic.
Actually, Mr. Carr was rather on form at his gig at the massive Clyde Auditorium: witty, collected and on-the-ball. But one can’t deny that his being this year’s headline performer illustrates the planners’ lack of vision for what the festival has the power to represent. Why not promote Jerry Sadowitz as the headline act? He’s controversial, underappreciated and – after all – Glaswegian. Instead, he’s tucked away doing one-offs at the ghastly ABC music venue.
At a time when the Edinburgh Festival is being accused of facilitating the big names of comedy in order to make a fast buck while providing ill support for those on the periphery, it is surprising that Glasgow isn’t using its new comedy festival to make up for Edinburgh’s foolish mistake by celebrating and rewarding fringe tastes.
There’s an annoying hotchpotch of residential comedians this year doing precisely the same routines that they always do. The likes of Michael Redmond, Vladimir McTavish and Susan Morrison, as wonderful as they are, are in-house acts and can barely count as festival assets. In fact, the house crowd should take the opportunity to visit the Shetland Isles or stay at home and put their feet up. It’s also hard to believe that the festival programme includes such touring theatre shows as Jerry Springer: The Opera and The Vagina Monologues as official events, which just happen to be in the city at the same time as the festival. Such an entity stitched-together from native wildlife and unfortunate gypsies reminds one of the legend of Glasgow’s erstwhile zoo: “three pigeons and a depressed goat,” as it is so often described. It’s surprising that the organisers didn’t count the local Cineworld’s screenings of Big Momma’s House 2 as a festival item or note the presence of Billy Connolly’s biography in a public library.
Comedy should push the envelope right off the table and into the cat litter tray. It should aim to be a thorn in the side of conservative or liberal ideas and to piss off as many people as possible so that we might learn to laugh at our belief systems and personal nuances. It should provide a voice for the common man and channel the collective’s anger, neuroses and fear in a twenty-minute lecture about willies. Irony and non-sequitur have the potential to succeed where bombs on public transport systems and half-baked presidential promises have failed. That’s why Jimmy Carr is an unacceptable headline act and why Jerry Sadowitz should be swearing and throwing his props around in sold-out auditoriums.
Stand-up has often been charged with taking over from theatre at the Edinburgh Festival and being (particularly in the 1990s) ‘the new rock ‘n’ roll’. Either way, it is known to be a medium which must subvert rather than be another sedative for the opiated masses. A permanent descent into Jongleurs-style, office-night-out observational blandness would mean a great loss.
We need acts that are different, shocking and unpredictable; acts that don’t tell us what we know already or have noticed with our own non-comedian’s eyes. That Chris Lynham left his weeklong stay at The Stand before the festival kicked off and that Daniel Kitson took his corduroy humour home even before that is nothing less than a tragedy for Glasgow. Where’s Chris Addison when you need him? Munnery? Lee? Long? Buxton? Graffoe? Actually, we do have Boothby Graffoe. At least that’s something. Unfortunately it doesn’t make up for the facts that Jim Bowen is (a) less than five miles away from me as I write this and (b) still alive.
Does anyone have the programme for Edinburgh yet?