I’ve done a few spots so far this month, a couple at We Are Funny and last night I was at Comedy Virgins at the Cavendish Arms, trying out some new stuff that feels a bit hit and miss.
Most of the material I’ve been using for the past year is based on the theme of parenting . It works well most of the time, but it’s not really what I wanted to do and it’s kind of limited because if I get a younger audience they’re less likely to go along with it.
So I’ve been trying out some different stuff, talking about bigger issues, with mixed success. One of the topics I’ve tried to write about is race; I don’t know why, other than I live in a multi-cultural city and it seems like a good subject to mine for comedy.
For example; when one of my kids was very little we noticed he’d cry whenever a black person picked him up at a social gathering. That, to me, was funny – the idea that an innocent baby could be racist and the social awkwardness of that situation, so I’m trying to work that up into a bit. That’s the kind of angle I’m trying when I do material about race.
The problem is that it’s risky. The audience often gets nervous when it’s a white guy talking about this stuff, even though (I hope) I’m not punching down.
After I did some of this stuff last night (without much success, to a largely white room) the MC, Twix, hit the nail right on the head when she said to the audience “I feel like you were all looking at me while he was saying that stuff, to check whether it was OK.”
This is what I’ve come to realise about this topic. Whenever I’ve done material about race and it’s gone well, it’s always in front of a mixed audience. When it’s gone badly (and it has gone so badly on some nights) it’s been in front of a mostly white audience. It’s as if white audiences feel like they need permission from people of colour to laugh at this stuff – when the room is more balance, it somehow feels OK for them.
I already know where this is leading to – it’s just one of those skills I need to learn, read the room, understand the audience, adjust the material.
It feels fucking awful when this stuff goes badly. Bombing is one thing, but bombing because the audience thinks you’re a racist hack takes you to new depths of self-loathing.
But it’s worth it. When it’s gone well, it feels amazing – you’ve tackled a sensitive topic that a lot of other acts are scared to touch, and won over the entire room. The few nights when I’ve managed to do that gave me a tiny glimpse of greatness – and I want more of that, no matter how many times I have to bomb to get there.
Gig Count: 47