As the Melbourne International Comedy Festival launches after the kind of unwanted viral phenomenon that stopped many laughs, I think it’s time I talk about comedy more.
I’m a big fan of a comedy room, Raise The Bar, produced by Amna Bee. And this was my warm up show this month to the Melbourne International Comedy Festival with show previews and I was so glad I went. Check out the Instagram profiles of the comedians linked in the embedded post. This is where the good stuff is. And a room dedicated to women and nonbinary comedians too. And believe me when I say, I think comedy is for both the laughs and for change (sometimes separately, sometimes together) and I won’t apologise for that.
I reckon, in my humble opinion, that raising the bar in comedy is great idea. No more punching down. It will always be a contested space, and there will always be someone not liking someone’s comedy. But the days of the low hanging fruit of the usual suspects of racist, sexist and ableist comedy are numbered.
Cancel culture? I think at some level it exists, but maybe not in the way the mainstream media is portraying it. Straight white men who mock their families and women, anyone culturally different from them and tell stock standard 101 jokes; who then do stuff like masturbate in front of their colleagues are not being ‘cancelled’. They are being charged and held accountable, like in other professions too. But somehow, even they are still doing come back tours.
I remember a social post years ago posted by people calling out racism and sexism (can’t remember by who) that said something with the gist of:
Think everyone is offended now? Nah, we are just sick of your shit and not afraid to say so.
For me, grassroots comedy that is good and about the comedians own lived experiences (with content that might be uncomfortable for some) who are also funny – that’s where it is at. However, talk to those in the know and you will find those who craft this can still manage to make you laugh about structural injustice are not always as allowed to make it big in the first place it seems. Well, not very often.
If they make the mildest mistake, they don’t get a comeback tour, and whilst I wouldn’t say cancelled, it’s worse in so far as they are sometimes just not quite allowed to thrive in the first place.
And I think, that is an injustice and of itself.
This is also a matter of cultural apathy, more about algorithms and the cult of celebrity rather than good comedy. Megastar comedy isn’t always good, it’s often just what sells, like shopping at the $12 rack at Target, but paying a lot more than you should long term for generics. The lifecycle of a performer can legitimately mean the content needs to be more sellable as fame increases. And that’s not a criticism of the big names either, it’s just a reality the modern world presents them with. While they are still brilliant, I challenge you to sit and watch earlier content of some big names and witness this, go back a number of years, you’ll notice it. Sometimes old content needed to be lost, but sometimes content with more meaning never sees the light of day.
The price being paid for this cultural arts malaise is also being paid by community artists and grassroots comedians. Part of the problem is governments not funding community arts.
People will pay lots more a month for manufactured fame over and above supporting their local comedy club and I think that we need to stage a revolution to get people outside of home again.
And that’s a lot coming from me, who loves being at home.
But! Some good news out of Ireland for artists with pilots for Universal Basic Income (following San Francisco’s lead) for artists and Toronto Arts Council lobbying for the same. Now, hopefully, Australia may look to these examples.
In my professional capacity as an anthropologist, my day job, I’ve been in and out of the community representation space for 17 odd years.
Representations of country, connection, family, loss, love, culture. I got involved in community comedy in 2016 – both personally and professionally.
So for a while, I am trying to change the oft changed wind of this blogs direction to something that I have always been passionate about.
Grassroots representations. The kind that aim to change the status quo.
And aside from this blog, in my PhD research I will be grappling with the issues around if they do change the status quo in the current political environment. And that is a big question and much more in depth than what I ‘like’ or my personal opinion. But this is my blog and it’s not the space for that here.
Here I will just talk about the comedy I enjoy and why – my personal musings and share what news I can about what I am up to. And yeah, as well grassroots comedy, the occasional big names doing something different too.
And more comedy to come!