day 8: sincerely and well

Nan arrived yesterday, which is an enormous relief. There are very few people in the world I can talk to without multiple layers of irony and subtext – fortunately two or three of them are here in Edinburgh, but they aren’t always easy to get hold of. So being with Nan yesterday is like being able to breathe again after almost drowning. We have the little tensions and misunderstandings that come with honesty, obviously – but even the tensions feel like relief.

Fitting, then, that the first two shows I took her to see were two comedians – Stewart Lee and Daniel Kitson – who are true masters of irony, but who use it to say something honest and heartfelt.

Stewart Lee’s show this year is almost a masterclass in the art of the long-form joke which present a series of lies which add up to a payoff which is true. His routine about Richard Hammond presents a whole false backstory about their relationship which nevertheless reveals a real insight into the kind of celebrity Hammond is. His routine about the Magners Pear Cider slogan, which seems entirely pointless at times, makes perfect sense when you realize his real sadness about the way a corporation has cynically abused a song that had genuine meaning for him. And when he plays the song at the end, almost entirely sincerely and without a joke – it’s like a reverse punchline, a joke told backwards: something true and heartfelt has been made out of something frivolous and crass, and not the normal other way around which is so depressingly predictable.

“People have been asking,” he says as he introduces the song, “what’s the last taboo in standup? Is is race, is it religion? No, the last taboo in standup is someone trying to do something sincerely and well.”

Which is, for me, the best and smartest and funniest joke of the festival so far.

Kitson, of course, was also superb. His play about discovering the letters of a man who seems to have committed suicide is all made up, of course; but his point about embracing and celebrating life in all it’s silliness and complexity is serious and genuine.

All of which makes the rest of what’s going on in this festival seem both tired and frivolous. The jokes that are ‘just jokes’; the paranoia; the conversations which say nothing and in which the only genuine thought beneath the irony is ‘I’m funnier and wittier than you and everyone else’… Lee and Kitson make it all – and by ‘it all’, I mean to include my own attempts – seem frustratingly irrelevant.

So, what now?

CTD: Audience – Medium; Performance – ok start but they didn’t go for the puns (4/10)

SSS: (took the evening off)

Other Stuff: Good to see Nan, and to see the first genuinely brilliant shows…comforting, inspiring…

Overall: WIN

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1 Comment

  1. […] this particularly malicious reporting of Stewart Lee’s routine about Richard Hammond. I wrote about the routine back when I saw it because I thought it was one of the finest satirical routines […]


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