how i embarrass myself

I did a gig in Brighton last night, which is my third there in three weeks. I’m getting to like it – I like the journey down, I like getting to look at the sea, I like the gigs, I like getting out of London, I like seeing friends who are living there (well, mostly former students but I think it’s okay to call them friends now)…basically, I like it.

The gig itself was actually right out on the outskirts of Hove; I walked for about an hour to find it, and when I did it was just a microphone-in-a-local-pub setup with no separate room and no audience to speak of; it was Guy Fawkes night, it didn’t look like anyone was going to come to a comedy night; I have to admit, I wondered when I arrived if it had been worth the trip.

But then I remembered that Jim Grant was the promoter, and I have never yet done one of his gigs that hasn’t gone ahead and been loads of fun (I’m not saying that it never happens, just that I have no bad experiences of gigs that Jim has promoted). And when Jim turned up, suddenly an audience did too, seemingly from out of nowhere. And they were lovely. I’d been talking to one of the pub regulars, a friendly and slightly pissed woman in a big red rugby top, just before the show started; and just as Jim was announcing me on to the stage, she shouted “He’s from Crouch End!” Which, as far as heckles go, was undeniably true. So I got on stage, said hello and asked her if she always heckled comedians by just shouting out their address – which got a big friendly laugh and the rest of the set (all the old banker routines) went beautifully.

I couldn’t help but notice, though, that the biggest laughs came from my stories about my own embarrassments. The bit that I open with, about getting a review that completely misdescribes my act in pretty crude sexual terms, got a huge laugh when I said how embarrassing it was that I’d found out about the review from my mum. And a bit that I’ve started doing about having a really embarrassing pornstar name (which I first did in my fourth ever gig, then dropped it for about four years) went really well too.

I wonder, sometimes, how much comedy relies on the comedian revealing their embarrassments and their shames to be publicly laughed at – to laugh and to be completely unashamed not only in front of themselves (as Nietzsche says), but in front of everyone, and in that they rise above the rest of the tribal shame-control which usually keeps us all in check. It would certainly go some way towards supporting a little thesis I have about how similar stand-up can be to stripping (in the sense that a lone individual must produce a show in which the source of their shame is willingly and stylishly revealed for public entertainment – and in doing so it transcends shame, and produces something which has the potential to be genuinely honest and artistic – a point that Barthes missed in his otherwise brilliant Mythologies. Unless of course the whole thing is necessarily just another example of repressive desublimation, but that would make stand-up an aspect of repressive tolerance and I’m not prepared to think about that just at the moment…)

Anyway, stand-up and stripping aren’t, it seems, the only ways to embarrass yourself. You can do it on facebook now, too. I’ve got facebook on my iphone, now – cool, huh? – which is usually a good way to fill the kind of distracted time you get while waiting to go onstage/get on a bus/get on a train. Not so good, though, when you regularly get mixed up between the ‘search’ box and the ‘status update box’, and keep putting the names of your friends as status updates – especially when you’ve been searching for the profiles of friends who are kind of embarrassing as an answer to the question ‘what’s on your mind?…’ Hmm.

Still – as my boy Friedrich says – anyone who is still ashamed before themselves does not yet belong with us…

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