Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Stand Up

Martin… Martin…
You’d like me to talk about Martin?
You and the world, yeah? You and the whole, wide world.
Martin’s always wanted to be a comedian. As long as I’ve known him. In our spare time, we played the clubs. The two of us doing the rounds. At first it was just small slots or open mic nights. Anywhere you could try and hold onto a stage. Happy times yet hard? Oh yeah. You could say that.
And then he made it to Thursday night compere.
Martin doesn’t tell jokes. He never did. He’s not that kind of comic.
“I’m more interested in moods,” he once said to me. In fact, he’d probably say that to you even now, if you could get close enough to ask. “I set a scene, create a vibe; off the wall riffs and right angled connections.”
There were times when I used to speak to Martin and was convinced that he was making the whole thing up as he went along.
Here’s one of Martin’s sign offs: “I swear to God, I’m so unlucky. If I was in a bummer’s conga line, I’d be the bloke at the front.”
You think that’s funny? Me? I don’t know. I’m really not sure. He’s been using that one right from the word go.
Martin claims that his favourite comics are Lenny Bruce, Peter Cook, Richard Pryor and Bill Hicks.
Personally, I suspect that Martin claims this purely because he believes that he is expected to claim it.
Martin and I used to talk about comedy. Back when we still saw each other, of course. Actually, talk is an incorrect appraisal of the time spent. We discussed. Late at night, when the party was winding down and any paired off couples already slunk away, we’d find each other by the scotch bottle and reiterate our opinions. For Martin and myself, comedy was an unquestionably serious concern.
“Comedy is the picture of Dorian Gray,” Martin believed. “Comedy is our hideous truth. We can dress ourselves up. We can stay as pretty in person as we could ever wish to be. Comedy is the recognition of that hidden, buried actuality. The greed, the worry, the betrayal, the crime… every shitty effort that has ever been engaged.”
And I thought that comedy was just about making people laugh. You know. Slapstick. Set ups. Good, old fashioned jokes.
Hey – would you like to hear one?
Guess who I bumped into at the opticians today?
I told that at my very first gig. It raised a titter. Martin was on after me. His ten minute routine detailed with some candour a surreal Brokeback Mountain style affair between George Bush and Tony Blair. Furtive looks across the war room, the UN watching appalled from afar, Cherie’s realisation that the fishing rods had never been tarnished through use…
“Jesus, all that Blair/Bush shit,” I told him afterwards, “it’s shooting fish in a barrel, isn’t it?”
“Satire,” Martin said.
“But it’s obvious,” I argued.
“I’m making a point,” he countered.
He looked so earnest. Too earnest. Verging on self-righteous. If he had been making a point, I wasn’t entirely sure he knew what that point was himself. Meanwhile, front of house, half the room were shouting for him to come back on.
Anyway, the months crept forwards. Thursday night compere turned into Saturday night compere turned into this contract with one of the comedy club chains. Martin traversed the highs and lows of this isle amidst the gigging circuit – a star acutely rising. Now he gets mentions in the weekend Guardian. You’ve seen them, yes? Some spotter from Radio 4 went to watch him play last week in Bristol. Apparently there’s talk of a promoter subsidising an Edinburgh run.
But am I jealous?
Of course I, as I blag the odd support slot and doggedly hold onto the day job, as I sit in dingy basement dressing rooms no larger than a dog kennel with an audience of hen parties awaiting me, as I hear someone reverentially acknowledge Martin’s mastery of technique and appreciation of heritage, am going to say “no”.
But if you want the truth about Martin, then here it is.
Martin’s a fraud. Martin’s a fool. Martin’s some kind of comedic dilettante. Martin - if you discard the alleged commentary, if you peer through the paper thin polemic - represents nothing other than the simplest vanguard of the basest humour. It’s all gays and gypos and chavs and faeces. Where’s the laughs? I think. Where’s the jokes? Where, for the love of Christ, is the punchline?
And no, I do not believe myself to be bitter.
I simply look at Martin, at what’s happening to Martin -every audience in his thrall and each rung of the ladder successfully ascended – and, in the pit of my soul, just cannot bring myself to find it funny..

Mark Colbourne

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