out of sync

Last thursday I did a gig where, for the first time ever, I had to ask a member of the audience to stop laughing.

The thing is, it wasn’t that he was laughing too loudly or in a mean way – it was just that he was laughing in all the wrong places. Actually, he was laughing in the right places too – but the problem was that he was just laughing ALL THE TIME, and any variation in the types of laugh he was doing seemed completely random and not in any way related to what everyone else was laughing at.

I don’t know if he was drunk, or mentally ill, or what; but it was as if he just couldn’t comprehend the basic rhythm-structure of comedy.

Normally the comedian (or a heckler) says something funny, then the audience laugh – together – for a length of time and volume which is in some way proportional to the funniness of the thing they’ve said. Then they stop, or at least let the laugh ebb away a little, and that gives the comedian the signal to continue with the next funny thing. There are subtleties in the structure of which laughs are supposed to be bigger and smaller, but the basic joke-laugh-pause, ‘call and response’-style structure remains the same throughout.

But this guy just couldn’t seem to work with it, and it was incredibly offputting. Again, the laugh is where everyone comes together and this guy just couldn’t, or wouldn’t, work with it. I often didn’t know when to start the next line because I was waiting in vain for him to stop laughing, and the rest of the audience were waiting for me to carry on, and…it was just impossible.

It felt mean at first to ask him to stop laughing, but I tried to do it in a funny way (making a joke of the fact that it’s unusual for a comedian to want anyone to laugh less, etc.) and think the audience recognised the need for it. They had paid to be part of the mysteriously (and possibly frighteningly) unifying experience of the stand-up comedy club, where not just shared values are reinforced, but shared biological rhythms of thinging, laughing, breathing.

But this guy was just unable to work with me, or them.

I don’t know what this does to my thesis that comedy clubs operate in a pretty efficient anarcho-communitarian way; the fact that there will always be nutjobs who just can’t work with other people is a pretty cliched criticism of it, but annoyingly it did mean that some policing needed to be done.

Some more thought needed, perhaps…


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