A tragedy of comedy
Putting it mildly from Thursday to Saturday the place was a bit of a dive; Comedy for the lowest common denominator followed by what could loosely be described as a disco. Full of middle aged divorcees who’d let themselves go, drunk on Alco pops desperately making out with anyone willing to have them. It wasn’t a pleasant sight and one I had the misfortune of seeing up close and personal while making the mistake of going on any other night but a Sunday.
Sunday was the cabaret night, replete with house band and late bar. The acts would range from the sublime to the ridiculous. On this one night the tiny stage became a surreal space where complete newbies could taste their first 5mins of infamy between appearances from famous faces trying out new material on a small and unsuspecting audience. You never knew who or what you might see, but this was south east London, just out of the way enough to be obscure, but close enough to the big city to attract performers who you might pay a fortune for otherwise. It was kind of magical, but only if you came on a Sunday. (Don’t say I didn’t warn you).
For a while I lived close enough by this venue to take advance of these performances semi-regularly, blessed by the joyful convenience of being able to walk home afterwards, (a rare circumstance for a night out inLondon). Here I sampled the skills of many comedians some god-awful, and was impressed by the bravery and shear chutzpah of others. I’m not about to name any names, but I was stunned by the brilliance of one black comedian, who messed with stereo types about his gender, ethnicity, nationality and sexual orientation some much that the audience could barely keep up with what they were supposed to be offended by. (Like one minute claiming to be a ‘batty boy’ while the next claiming to have fathered several illegitimate offspring, for example). It was a master class in defying popular perception. Almost as genius was skill at dealing with the overly righteous heckler, a large white man who was one half of a mixed race couple that clearly felt somehow that he deserved the moral high ground. I was bowled over by this example of how intelligent and challenging comedy could be. I felt compelled to seek out the comedian at the bar; I just needed to shake his hand.
I few years later I saw this same comedian on T.V. Gone were the barbs and the sharp wit and the controversial challenges. In its place a smiling funny man, largely unremarkable. He was now a regular addition on various talking head count down shows, (100 greatest whatevers) and panel game shows. Banal and safe for public consumption. I can barely believe this was the same man. Where did the verve and the vim go?
Must we all become anodyne to get ahead?