Wednesday, 26 August 2015

Breaking Boundaries: Leadership and Honesty in Stand-Up Comedy

By Nolan Tyrrell


First: I enjoyed it. Moderator
George McEncroe began by asking Luke Ryan directly: What is funny?

In a deep Stephen Hawking voice sans machinery, Luke replied with a story about when he and his friends were swinging from the branches. A whisper was heard from the leaves. Laughter relieved the physiological reaction that swept through the troupe, indicating that all was fine. Just before the leopard came in and took Barry! So, “funny” he suggested is “surprise” that’s fine.

Luke talked about how he used his cancer in his stand-up. Which was another surprise. Cancer left him angry, vulnerable and bald and in his twenties, so he took it out on his audiences. Anger can take you a long way. Anger and denial. Taking control of the awfulness, the mundanity of everyday life with cancer when all the drama and despair can't be maintained, and you have to live anyway. And as George suggested, “You can say these things because you have cancer.”

Taking control. Not lecturing, but guiding in a deeply aggressive, obnoxious and yet humourous way. Stand-up heaven with all your stand-up friends wishing they had cancer too. So much power. And you control them. But as discussed in Luke’s
A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to Chemothe reality is perhaps more personal.

George turned the discussion to leadership. I had not heard that before: stand-up as leader. She talked of truth-telling, of how black stand-ups scour their white audiences. But then of how to last. Of vulnerability. Of
Wil Anderson’s outrage as being vulnerable. How it’s hard to keep an audience.
Alice Fraser’s stand-up is about her mother dying. She connects with her audience, greeting each member afterwards and this leavens the pain.

And then
Alexandra Neill, working for the ABCsince she was fifteen years old. Wow! Eight-hour days spent writing one-liners. She reflected on her first working experience at the broadcaster, revealing that she got four words written into the first show she was assigned to. Devastating.

There is a discussions about female stand-ups; comedy doesn't actively include women. You have to decide to be that woman who stands. Women are often better at vulnerability (Alexandra did a review of all- female stand-ups last year).

Alexandra suggested, “Journalism should have boundaries, comedy should not.” I think this is a great topic for a future panel.

Edited by Wayne Stellini



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