Saturday, 23 August 2014

Please take me seriously, I'm funny

We funny people definitely have an image problem.

We're so whacky and zany and madcap. We celebrate the lighter side of life. Sure, there's a place for that, but in the grand scheme of things, it really doesn't compare with the graver, more serious types of creative endeavour. After all, it's just a laugh, isn't it? It's not anything to take seriously.

I'm sorry, but I beg to differ. I'm quite fed up with being treated as a lightweight while other, more serious and supposedly deeper artists get taken so much more seriously.

I was reading in the paper last week about (another) profile of Nick Cave. He's such a great artist. He's so deep and intense. With apologies to any fans of Nick Cave (and I try not to be snobbish about this - people can like whoever they like) I find his brand of paint-by-numbers gothic to be quite irritating. To me there's nothing so deep about it. He just seems like a kind of cartoon character.

People seem to have these stereotypical ideas that dark is somehow deeper and more meaningful than light. And sometimes that's true. I won't dispute that there are some forms of humour that are as lightweight as a feather. But there are also forms of humour that can explore into all sorts of complicated aspects of the human experience. Forms of humour that can help to illuminate dark corners and allow you to see the world in all sorts of ways you didn't expect.

I'm not saying that my writing always achieves that, but I like to think that I'm on some sort of quest. I try to set myself the goal of uncovering some sort of truth about some aspect of the world, while at the same time trying to bring in the lightness of entertainment and humour. It's not that easy. I may hazard to say it's actually more difficult than just focusing on the darkness. But I'm sure many would find that contentious, so maybe I better not.

Certainly, at this time when one of the greatest "funny men" of recent times has left us in a way that revealed the shades of darkness behind the laughs, I think it's an important that people understand this.

As the title of this post sums up - I'm a funny person, please take me seriously.

1 comment:

  1. When my wife goes off to the States—which she does three or four times a year at the moment—I save up TV to watch whilst she’s away since I can’t watch all our usual programmes. And one of the things I usually end up watching are stand-up comics. They vary greatly. What I’ve noticed is that when Carrie and I talk on the phone in the evening and she asks me what I watched the night before if it’s a comedian I can usually tell her very little about what they actually talked about. They’re simply not memorable. In less than twenty-four hours I’ll’ve forgotten 99% or more of their routine. And that kinda bothers me. It’s not as if they’ve said things I couldn’t relate to because if the comic’s male and middle-aged then inevitably we have a lot in common: he’s talking about me up there.

    And a lot of funny books are like that too. Mere entertainment. And eminently forgettable. And then you get a book like Billy Liar which I first read in my early teens and it blew my mind more than Catcher in the Rye ever did. Ostensibly Billy Liar is a funny book. They made a TV series out of it—not to mention the play, the film and the musical—and it was your bog-standard sit-com but the book was way better than that: it spoke to me. There was a point to the humour. As when I ended up writing my first novel I can see Waterhouse’s influence. A guy sent me an e-mail recently. He’d found an excerpt from Living with the Truth online and in his e-mail he wrote that he “laughed so hard my wife wondered if I'd lost the plot”. Nice to hear. The thing is I think of Living with the Truth as a serious novel. I used humour to make a point but that’s because humour is good at getting certain points across.

    I can see you’re the same. I can see adding the extra insult in your case by suggesting the books are childish. That children can appreciate them is a bonus. Children can appreciate Waiting for Godot (and often do) but they also miss out on quite a lot because they’re only capable of a superficial appreciation of the material.

    As far as darkness goes I hate the way it’s used as a selling point. I listen to people promoting some TV series and they all say stuff like, “It’s way darker this season,” as if darker equals better. Darkness has its place but there are times things are dark for no good reason. Case in point: the film Aliens vs. Predator: Requiem. Now this was a film made with love and care by fans of the original franchise. It should’ve been great. It wasn’t. And one of the main gripes in the reviews I read was that visually it was too dark to see what was going on half the time. The same could be said about many episodes of The X-Files. Darkness—both literal and metaphorical—has its place. And so does humour. Or swearing. Or nudity. Or anything like that. A little goes a long way.