February 28, 2013 by Lindsay Sharman
I was reviewed twice by Chortle.com recently, performing different acts on each occasion. The first time I was “a plummy English fool in the Miranda mould” and the second time I was a fiercely mono-browed Scottish poet known as …’The Poet.’
After watching The Poet, Chortle’s Steve Bennet said that it was testament to my acting ability that both characters were ‘entirely believable.’
Well. That’s partly because the “plummy English fool” of the first review IS THE ACTUAL ‘ME’, STEVE. That capering twit is not an artful construction designed to lampoon an unpopular section of society. That is me. It’s certainly true that I ham up the buffoonish aspects of my personality in my stand-up persona, partly in order to be a more likeable style of posh, but it’s not supposed to be a bloody character.
My opening joke is intended to highlight the fact that privilege is what people associate with my voice. I then immediately undercut this expectation (or so I thought) by subsequently explaining (in a joke, obviously) how my voice is a consequence of growing up abroad, and thus highlight the greater hierarchical complexity that social mobility has given us (which will come to an end under this government, but that’s a point I don’t explicitly make because I haven’t yet figured out how to make this sufficiently funny.)
But maybe people don’t listen, certainly not when they’ve had a pint and just want a laugh, and/or I’m not making my stance clear enough. Perhaps the audience see me as an upper-class twit and thus only absorb that which confirms their assumptions. Why go to a comedy club and expect to have to make a mental leap?
Really, I need to make my point more strongly as it’s naive to expect people to make any effort. The onus is on me, not them. Not unless you’ve carved out an audience of comedy-literate thinkers and will only perform to them. Although in this case, a respected reviewer didn’t get it, so maybe that review is an indication of what is wrong with how I present myself onstage for straight stand-up. It suggests I have two options – ditch the posh jokes and stop the buffoonery, or make it a character and ditch the (more interesting, especially for me) jokes that don’t touch on class.
On another note, but equally of interest with regards to how we present ourselves on stage, I recently had a bit of my head shaved and did a gig in a man’s shirt and tie. I like the androgynous look and it wasn’t a calculated move to see if a different look would have any effect on straight stand-up. If anything, I thought it would be an appropriate look for The Poet, but on this occasion I was booked to do stand-up.
Anyway, I’ve rarely had such immediate and total acceptance from a stand-up crowd. I didn’t have to win them over with a killer joke; they instantly liked me and trusted my ability to be funny. I felt like how a blokey-bloke must feel when he steps out at Jongleurs* with a pint in his hand and the whiff of stale sexism wafting from his beery phizzog.
I think this acceptance must be because I looked different from the norm; my gender and sexuality were ambiguous and I clearly embraced this. Consequently I sparked their interest and made them think I belonged on the stage, in showbiz, in a place where marginal people thrive, a world that lives in the grey areas (apart from Jongleurs*, which is as black and white as a minstrel show). Perhaps when I dress as a normal girl, people wonder what the average-looking bird could possibly say that would be of interest, which means I then have to really work to win over their trust. Whereas it seems I by-passed this by looking more outré.
I know that there is an element of sexism to this, as chaps don’t have to dress up (or down, or sideways) to be taken seriously onstage, but maybe you have to work with the audiences’ perceptions in order to get yourself heard.
Something to think about.
*PS. I’m not saying Jongleurs is the sole purveyor of depressingly regressive and reductionist humour. There are plenty of clubs and promoters who love that shit.
But also, there are plenty of good comics who work these clubs. I’m certainly not being snidey at them. It’s just a fact that certain promoters want a certain type of humour and will expect it of the comics they hire, so many get browbeaten into doing their less challenging material. If they manage to sneak in some genuinely exciting comedy, then that is testament to their skill. But it doesn’t happen that often in these places.
**On another note, if anyone gets all pissy and precious about me using the phrase ‘normal girl’ then let me clarify that I am referring to hetero-normative values. But I don’t see anything wrong with being abnormal or saying something is abnormal, but clearly you do if you take offence at it. WHICH MAKES YOU THE DICKHEAD.
Disclaimer. This is a blog, not an academic paper, so the opinions herein are mine and it’s hard cheese if you don’t like them.
Annnnnd…..podcast as The Poet –
Kiss My Zeitgeist