'He lives next to an asshole' looking at offence in comedy

Updated: Mar 27, 2019

Anyone can make porridge, it is bland and uninteresting. Just because it is food doesn't mean you should rush out to open a restaurant, or call yourself a chef. Think of your favorite meal, mine is chicken pathia with a lot of extra spice, and I’m well aware that for some people, its just too spicy - but that is precisely the reason I love it so much - am I wrong? Are they wrong? I'm going to argue that it is possible to both be right.

If someone doesn’t like my favorite meal then I say good, don’t eat it, go find something you like. If that person told me they were offended by my food choices then I don’t think that I would be that upset. In order to create art you have to create something which isn’t bland, you have to take a chance and say to the world 'here is something I love, I hope you love it as well' and then you have to wait. The audience has to be allowed to hate what you do.

Some people in comedy describe certain subjects as ‘low hanging fruit’. Low hanging fruits are the fruits which are the easiest to pick, they are available to almost all of us, requiring very little skill or special ability to collect. As we look up the tree, the fruits become harder and harder to reach, at the top is the fruit which only the most skilled will ever be able to collect.

The young giraffe that decides not to eat the fruit within its reach because it would prefer the fruit from the top of the tree will never get the nourishment it needs to grow, and if it refuses to nourish itself with what it can reach then it is at risk of starvation. Giraffes, like comedians, grow slowly and take time to mature, they must nourish themselves by whatever means are available, stretching continually upwards before they can achieve their potential. In human babies, we accept Freud's stages of development contains an anal and genital phases, and we accept that children will go through this learning process, shouldn’t baby comics be granted the same freedom to mature?

I am also an improviser, my comedy involves listening and responding, getting better requires me to practice comic timing and execution of specific techniques. Comedy is graded by an audience from an awkward mind numbing silence to explosive fits of laughter. It is every comic improvisers aspiration to be funny. Every comic understands that to create fits of laughter, you must first learn to produce masses of unimpressive garbage. (Note: convincing family and friends to watch at this stage, might discourage them from returning)

In comedy, low hanging fruit is not the aspiration as it is largely unimpressive, but it is often by first picking the low hanging fruit that comics will first learn about comic timing and execution. This nourishment may provide the growth necessary to stretch themselves upwards. The 'taste' of this fruit may begin to leave a bitter taste in the comics mouth and encourage them to look upwards for fruit they can share with friends and family, or not.

Is there a way to deal with the 'low hanging' choice?

As an improviser we say to play at the ‘top of your intelligence’, and respect the audiences intelligence. This basically translates to playing characters who are as intelligent as we are, which is a frightening thing to do, because it also reveals how stupid we are. Showing how stupid we think someone else is leaves no room for vulnerability.

When the vulnerable, exposed performer plays a character with an unusual point of view, then the audience will know exactly what was unusual. If we justify our choices and show the working out then we can help our audiences to understand our unusual characters.

Our actions in life are rarely rational, but always justified - to us. It is an emotional process that we try to make sense of using a cognitive process and there are often amusing discrepancies which open the door to the comic with a keen eye. There's no rationale for throwing your flatmates playstation out of the window, but if you had an interview the next day, and you had asked him to turn the volume down 3 times already, and the noisy idiot plays his playstation every night knowing that you haven't slept properly in months and saying 'I dunno what the problem is'. We start to empathize.

Del close once said that 'when you add intelligence to vulgarity, you get viciousness'. Now, if I poo in your toilet, that's not particularly vulgar, but if I poo in your cereal, then that is. We all do things which are vulgar, but the vulgarity seems to come from the degree to which we impose those things on others, its proximity. With proximity comes intention.

I love comedy, but I struggle watching ‘clean’ comedy, because I know there is no risk. If your intention as a comic is to be offensive then you are an asshole, no matter who you think you are offending or how justified you think you are in offending them. If your intention is to connect with an audience and make them laugh but instead you offend them, then you are not an asshole, you are an idiot. If your intention is to connect with an audience and make them laugh and you do that but every so often you offend one person, then you are neither an asshole, nor an idiot, you are a comic.

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