an anarchic manifesto

I hosted the Comedy Manifesto last night.

It’s a panel-style topical show, like Mock The Week or Have I Got News For You, only live. And funnier. I’ve been a panelist on the show lots of times; I really love doing it and usually do fairly well. So when neither Kate nor Dave (who usually host the show) were available, they asked me to step in.

Now, those of you who have read this blog since the summer will know that the history of shows I’ve compered is very short (in 300 gigs I’ve only been MC for ten) but also very eventful – I’ve never hosted a show when nothing memorable has happened.

So I was a bit nervous.

I was especially nervous last night, firstly because the panel was such a mixed bag (Luke Toulson and Steven Harvey, a perrier-nominated double act who were performing seperately; Andrew J Lederer, who is very smart but is a genuine loose cannon and can sometimes be abrasive with audiences; and Eric, who is brilliant at the Manifesto and always wins); and secondly because, once it gets going, the show is one in which all the acts and the audience are encouraged to shout stuff out at pretty much any point during the show.

So I turned up genuinely not knowing what was going to happen.

The first section of the show, which is a straight stand-up section, went pretty well for me. The room generally felt a little cold and needed warming up, but I got a few laughs from my material and a few from talking to the audience. I don’t think it would get me a chortle award nomination for best compere, but once I got going I felt far more comfortable bantering with the room than I do at Scurvy – I didn’t feel hurried or judged like I often do there (perhaps because nobody knew me, perhaps just because I felt like nobody there doubted that I was the right person to be doing it…who knows?)

The other acts didn’t do so well in that section; Luke was the only really stand-uppy stand-up so he did okay, but the others had it a bit tough. I hoped it wasn’t anything I’d done or not done that gave them a hard time – like I’d taken their laughs perhaps – but perhaps it was just that the room was cold. Still, I was fairly solid and someone came up to after the show and said I’d make a really good TV presenter. That’s not a career goal of mine, but it means I can’t have been that bad for a tenth go.

In the second and third sections of the show, things got hard: it’s a panel-show format but the audience are invited to get involved, awarding points for funny jokes, contributing their own, etc. I don’t think I realised until last night just how good Kate really is at managing it; pretty much all my crowd-control skills from teaching rowdy year 9 classes got called for as the audience started getting a bit drunk and shouty, and the panel were frequently shouting over each other. Luke, for example, was very funny, was getting good responses and was particularly dominant; but the audience had taken a dislike to Andrew from the beginning and as the night wore on his frustration started to show, so it needed more and more of the teacher-y ‘sh!’ and the firm ‘let’s move on, shall we?’ to stop the whole thing descending into abuse. At one point Andrew took a sip of Luke’s pint and spat it out over the front row* which I could only really deal with by making a very quick jokey comment and asking the next question before it became a bigger issue.

But the thing I really noticed was – and this is where I’m going to get philosophical again in a sec – that even though the audience were rowdy, they really held us to account. Luke pointed out to them at one stage that they were giving big laughs to stuff that was genuinely funny and showed real distain for anything that wasn’t. They allowed me to lead proceedings as long as I was leading them with confidence and with jokes, but there was always a feeling that if I started letting them down they wouldn’t let me stand for it.

In philosophical terms, they were, at every moment, both individually and collectively making value judgments about all our performances and making those judgments known to us; the power we had was entirely based on charisma and persuasion and we had no coercive power to keep them following. Andrew didn’t do well out of this on the night and the crowd made him suffer. One or two audience members left; most stayed. But the challenge was never let up, and it made it incredibly hard but also exhilirating to be part of.

In short, the show was a model for what a successful anarchy ought to be like: leadership was permitted, on condition that it performed well, but authority was constantly challenged.

It meant the show was really hard to keep control of, but was also exciting and funny right till the end.

I just wish other comedy nights, countries, classrooms, businesses etc. could be run the same…

*addendum: it turns out, after talking to Andrew, that the spitting out of the beer was not at the audience but in reference to a joke about ‘sperm beer’ that had been missed in the hurly-burly of the night. It did go on someone’s shoes, but that was an accident and not out of frustration…

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1 Comment

  1. […] – What teachers have is leadership – and these are two different things. […]


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