It’s a cliché that comedians were bullied at school, and developed an ability to tell jokes as a defence mechanism. Though this doesn’t seem to bear close scrutiny; quite a lot of other people were bullied at school who didn’t end up as comedians. I was bullied, and as a defence mechanism I wrote the jokes for the class comedian – that’s how I became a writer.
But the reason why I don’t like stand-up comedy – by which I mean the sort of stuff you get in the comedy-chain clubs – is that if the cliché about comedians being the victims of bullying was true once, it certainly isn’t now. Because it seems to me that a lot of comedians nowadays were the school bullies.
I’m not talking about the great, original stand-ups here. I’m not even talking about the mediocre ones. I’m talking about the ones who don’t bother to write material, but instead base their act on picking on members of the audience.
Again, this can be done well. Al Murray is fantastic at it. But more often than not, it’s like being back in the playground; teasing people about their clothes, their haircuts, for looking like famous people, for being overweight. Nicking the speccy kid’s glasses and trying them on. Attempting to grope the girls and accusing them of not having a sense of humour if they don’t appreciate it. Making the audience laugh not out of empathy, but out of intimidation. Laughing only because they’re glad not to be one who’s being picked on.
It’s lazy, it’s mean-spirited, it’s aggressive, it’s macho, and it’s incredibly dull to have to sit through. If you’ve paid a tenner or whatever for a show, at the very least you expect the comedian to bother to have worked out an act.