THE UNRELIABLE GUIDE TO… STAND-UP COMEDYThe Sydney Comedy Festival is bringing the giggles our way soon (April 24-May 21) and it made me think: what is ‘funny’? What makes you laugh will be guided by your own culturally directed sense of humour, but the Unreliable Guide has strong beliefs when it comes to stand-up comedy. Call me old-fashioned, but it has to be witty. The dictionary definition of wit is: “mental sharpness, inventiveness and keen intelligence”, but that’s not a given in all stand-up shows. I’ve endured too many nights watching someone make a dick of themselves on stage in the ill-founded belief that this is stand-up comedy. Sure, the audience may laugh, but it’s the kind of laugh the drunk gets when he falls off his chair. They’re laughing at you darling, not with you. If you’ve ever suffered through a comedy night that was as funny as a trip to the dentist, here’s a breakdown of my favourite comedians…
THE IRISH AND THE POMS NEED TO LAUGH
The Poms and the Irish have to laugh, because their weather is a joke in itself, but when it comes to comedy they do have some of the finest wits in the world: Bill Bailey, Dylan Moran, Sean Lock, Dara O’Briain, Jack Dee, Mickey Flanagan, Russell Kane, Russell Howard, Kevin Bridges and Chris O’Dowd all excel at self deprecation, social observation, and class analysis, and they’re scalpel-sharp at finding that funny bone.
THE FABULOSITY OF GAY WIT
Famous wit Oscar Wilde knew that comedy is a great defence. It didn’t save him, but it’s still a great way to challenge homophobic prejudices and raise important issues. Rhys Nicholson’s recent show, Bona Fide, was hilarious, but highlighted the inequality of Australia’s laws on gay marriage. Likewise, Gaycrashers, a comedy doco he did in country Victoria with Joel Creasey, exposed the everyday homophobia many still face. Also recommended are Aussie Hannah Gadsby, and the UK’s Simon Amstell.
IMMIGRANT COMEDY AND CULTURAL DEFINITION
Just like the gay community, many immigrants face prejudice and abuse every day. Second or third generation immigrants in particular, caught between cultures, can use comedy to redefine their cultural identity, and create bridges of understanding through laughter. Outstanding examples are UK/Nigerian Gina Yashere, Aussie/Egyptian Akmal Saleh, UK/Iranian Omid Djalili and Aussie/Chinese Ronny Chieng.
POLITICAL COMEDY AND SATIRICAL PROTEST
Something about political comedy seems to really burn people out. Lenny Bruce and Bill Hicks both died early (aged 41 and 32 respectively), and the wonderful Aussie satirist Steve Hughes is just hanging on after a nervous breakdown, but these guys are so worth listening to. Part prophet, part fool, they can redefine your view of the world. They say the unsayable. Laugh and think.
THE LADIES OF LAUGHS
Many comedians say that comedy is a tough world for the ladies. Women, it seems, have to be funnier, tougher, more persistent. Some ladies rely on fat jokes or rants on the folly of men, but these ladies have it just right: the UK’s adorable Sarah Millican, Aussie legends Judith Lucy, Kitty Flanagan and Fiona O’Loughlin, and Mullumbimby’s inimitable Mandy Nolan.
And finally, the Unreliable Guide recommends you check out local Eastern Suburbs resident Luke Heggie. Recently nominated for an Aria award, this wordsmith’s everyday observations of Australiana make him a world-class wit.