man and bull

I have two all-time favourite jokes.

The first is: Why did the girl fall off the swing? Because she had no arms.

The other one is this: A wealthy businessman visits Barcelona. In an expensive restaurant next to the bullring, he asks for the chef’s speciality. “Si, Senor!” says the waiter, and brings him two large, slightly salty spheres in broth, explaining that they are the testicles of the bull killed in that afternoon’s bullfight. The businessman is a little disgusted at first, but eats them anyway – and they are delicious.

A few months later the businessman visits Barcelona again, goes to the restaurant and asks for the chef’s speciality again. “Si, Senor!” exclaims the waiter, and brings him two bull’s testicles which are even larger and more delicious than the previous time.

A few months later he visits Barcelona again, goes to the same restaurant and orders the chef’s speciality with great excitement. But this time the waiter brings him a bowl in which the testicles are much smaller and more bitter than before. “Waiter!” the businessman asks, “What is going on here?”

“Ah, Senor,” says the waiter, “The bull – he does not always lose.”

This joke is perfect in every possible way: it has cultural stereotypes, genitals, a perfect rule of three, and a wealthy businessman gets his comeuppance.

Now I’m going to have to bloody change it, because of this campaign to ban bullfighting in Catalunya, which is what this blog is really about.

The thing is, it’s a great thing for Catalan independence, which I am wholeheartedly in favour of. But I’d have a lot more respect for the whole thing if they just said they want to signify a rejection of traditional Spanish customs, and stopped pretending that it’s anything to do with animal welfare.

Very few people really give a crap about animals; bovines in particular. The fact that the Catalan campaign has used all kinds of emotive language about ‘the distress that the bulls suffer’, or ‘how terrible it is that up to six bulls can be killed in an afternoon’, is incredibly annoying given how few of the assembly members who passed the motion yesterday are actually likely to be vegetarians.

And bullfighting – or corrida, to give it its proper name – is, I think, more respectable, more honest and more beautiful than eating meat.

I’m not criticizing meat-eating; I’m not even a vegetarian. Although I used to be one – kept it up for six years, in fact – and I learned two very useful pieces of information from it:

1) humans don’t need to eat meat to survive or be healthy. Quite the opposite in fact – we’re not really evolved for it the way lions or tigers are (lions have intestinal tracts which are relatively short, to quickly get rid of rotting meat; whereas humans, like other herbivores, have intestines which are much much longer in order to get as many nutrients as possible out of fruit and nuts etc.) No, we do it purely because it’s enjoyable. And BOY, is it enjoyable! I made a really delicious pasta bolognese last night. Mmmmm.

2) Unless you rear and slaughter the animals yourself, as humanely as you possibly can, it’s very likely that the animals you’re eating have suffered pretty horrible, torturous, and mercifully short lives. Cows often live in pretty cramped conditions and then go to slaughter on cattle production lines, where each animal gets an electric shock which, if it’s lucky, will numb it (though this doesn’t always work) and if it doesn’t fully work it has to watch the animals in front of it get their arteries cut. Then it is killed itself.

Which means that an honest carnivore, like I try to be, ought to never forget that they are causing plenty of suffering and death to animals, purely for our own pleasure.

For me, this is not so hard to live with; I am unashamedly what Peter Singer calls ‘speciesist‘. Singer uses the term in a derogatory way, but I do think humans are better than cows. We – or at least, most of us – are smarter, more resourceful, we have an ability to use conceptual reasoning, a sense of aesthetic value, and the ability to understand ourselves as conscious beings in time who project ourselves from our past towards hopes and aspirations in the future. If you killed and ate a human, you would be taking away its chances of living out its creative projects and its aspirations; the things that give our lives meaning. Whereas the only hopes and aspirations that a cow has for its future is to have another munch on its breakfast. And to be honest, it probably doesn’t even think very much about that until it actually happens.

So I can face the idea of eating cows, or pigs or sheep for that matter, without feeling too bad about it. They’re idiots. But it doesn’t mean they won’t suffer and then die, purely for my culinary entertainment.

But most meat-eaters, in towns and cities at least, seem to be in denial about this; for most of them, it’s as if the meat they’re eating has come magically out of the ground or a factory or tesco’s, and they are able to eat their meat, which they regard as necessary, without thinking at all about what was involved in its production. And as long as they don’t see the suffering they can pretend it’s not happening.

I suspect the main reason the corrida is so unpopular, at least among carnivores, is that in the bullfight there is no such self-denial about the suffering of the animal.

But the corrida goes further: in bullfighting, both the toro and the toreador are celebrated – almost deified – for their elegance and strength in the way they look death and pain full in the face, and still carry on fighting for life.

In fact, I think the two most important things that the corrida has that carnivorism doesn’t are that firstly, in bullfighting suffering and pain and death are acknowledged not just as necessary conditions of life, but as actually having the potential to be an aesthetic experience; they are elevated to the level of high art (as opposed to the mere industrial functionality of the slaughterhouse).

And secondly, in bullfighting the toro does actually stand a fighting chance, which it wouldn’t get in a slaughterhouse. Although I’d like to see it happen: if every animal had to be killed in person by a slaughterman with sword. And any time the cow doesn’t lose, somebody ordering a Big Mac has to eat a slaughterman’s balls.

Anyway. Like all good jokes, and particularly the jokes I started the blog with, bullfighting is honest and admirable because it does not shy away from suffering, does not deny it. The girl fell of the swing because she has no arms! When you think about it, this is an awful thing to happen. But we laugh because we do not deny its awfulness; we affirm it, we are grateful that the girl is not us, and laughing helps us cope with the fact that perhaps it could have been. Equally, when the toreador is gored as he makes the killer blow, we stare in fear and horror – but fans of the corrida do not look away. They watch because they understand that they are mortal and they can suffer too; they are grateful that today, the suffering is not theirs. The experience is life-affirming.

Well, not in Barcelona any more. Which is fine; some places don’t need bullfighting to affirm life (in England, for example, we have cricket instead – that is warfare enough for our temperament). Barcelona doesn’t need it either; it’s a Spanish interest and Catalunya is not Spain.

But banning it under the pretense that they are somehow acting ‘morally’, in the interests of the animals? In politics too, the bull (in both senses of that word) does not always lose.


one of the dark places of the earth

Last night we left the canal and joined the Thames.

I had an argument with a girlfriend once, about whether the Thames could be counted as ‘great rivers of the world.’ It was a foolish argument, the kind of thing that lovers argue about when they can’t face whatever it is they really need to be arguing about; but I remember it vividly.

We were in Paris, and I’d claimed, without really thinking, that the Seine, like the Thames, was ‘one of the great rivers of the world’, and she said it couldn’t be because even though the Seine – and the Thames too – have got some interesting human settlements on them, they are nowhere near as long as the Amazon or the Mississippi. And I pointed out that length isn’t everything, and to her credit she resisted the obvious barb and said it is when you’re talking about what makes a river ‘great’.

But somehow it became quite an unpleasant argument. Like I say, there were probably other things we really should have been arguing about.

The point is, I still think I was right. Obviously we were just using different standards of ‘greatness’ (she was using a fairly narrow geological measure of value, wheras I was linking it to human culture and history). And however dumb it might seem, we weren’t the first people to have that same argument – when John Burns famously called the Thames “liquid history”, it was in response to American who had compared it unfavourably with the Mississippi (which is good, because on its own it would be a bit of a fatuous thing to say from an otherwise remarkably smart fellow).

But the Thames is a strange and wonderful river; when you’re travelling down it you do feel like you’re re-travelling a very very ancient and beautiful path that hasn’t really changed in three thousand years.

I think one of the reasons that my lover in Paris might have held the Thames to be of less value – in addition to its size, although it is the longest river in England – is that it’s so familiar. We know the Thames, we know where it goes and what its banks look like (idyllically rural – from Oxford on, it’s almost all trees and cottages and cows and pretty towns until you hit London). Unlike the Amazon, there is little that is exotic or strange about it for us.

But that’s just because of the perspective we’re looking at it from. As Marlow says of the Thames in the opening pages of Heart of Darkness, “this also was once one of the dark places of the earth.” For anyone trying to get into England – the Romans in particular – the Tamesis was, for centuries, a strange and terrifying river, wide and deep and with a danger of tribal attacks around every turn. For one of Claudius’ men trying to get inland in the first century, It must have been terrifying.

Perhaps we’ve become numbed to that now.

And yet, there are still strange and terrifying experiences to be had on the Thames for those who look. Between Oxford and Reading, we passed bunches of the kinds of houses and gardens that people are only supposed to live in when they have won the lottery. But the people who live in them, with their twenty-room mansions and huge riverside summer-houses and boat-houses, live in an entirely different world to me. The fact that these folk are wealthy enough to live next to the river meant that we were able to see, from the river, into a world that I would normally very rarely see.

What did they do to come to posess such houses and gardens? Where did all that wealth come from, and where is it going? Who has been, and who is yet to be, harmed in the process? What darknesses are hidden in that money and that power?

(I’m not saying wealth is necessarily bad; I’m just saying that for those who don’t have it but who do ask questions about the causes and effects of it, it is very strange and a little terrifying.)

I love the Thames; my family have lived on and around it forever, and I will always think that it is one of the great rivers on earth. But for most of us, it still contains strange, dark worlds that are impossible for proletarian explorers to penetrate.

towards a properly ballsy defence of academic philosophy

Philosophers need to grow some balls.

We’re complaining and protesting the cuts to philosophy departments – like the planned closure of the department at Middlesex – with a tail-between-our-legs victim complex; as if budget cuts to philosophy were something that the nasty capitalists are trying to do because they don’t understand that our lovely pure wisdom is ‘above’ impact assessments and the like.

This isn’t enough. We can’t defend ourselves by playing the role of the victim. Unless we completely change the way we’re handling this – and in doing so, the way HEFCE et al. consider the value of philosophy – then the cuts will get worse. In ten years, philosophy in UK schools and universities could be demolished, department-by-department, in a way that could take several generations to recover – if it ever does.

Despite debates about the funding structures for further and higher education, the root of the problem comes down to the fact that after two-and-a-half thousand years, we still don’t seem to have figured out what our relationship with the world outside academia is supposed to be; in other words, what our ‘impact’ – if we have one – should be.

It’s understandable, in some ways, that philosophers are confused about what to do with the current academic/economic state of affairs. In particular, we’re struggling to deal with the importance of research impact assessments because we are used to recognising a range of types of value reasoning, and ascribing different kinds of value to our work: moral value, political utility, the intrinsic good of a better understanding of experience. Our discipline existed – as we know only too well – before modernity narrowed its focus on the instrumental scientific and economic value of every judgment.

So when a research exercise asks us to measure the value of our work, academic philosophers have always been able to say with confidence that we are doing the important intellectual work of making ourselves, and other humans, brighter, better, wiser people. We learn to make better, more reasoned judgments, and we teach others to do the same.

But because we see the intrinsic worth in this, we are often unable to provide specifics as to the exact ways in which we are assisting industry, or the economy, or helping with the production of arts or medicine. And these are the things that the people who determine our budgets need to know.

There’s an extent to which this is all John Locke’s fault. He was wrong to describe philosophy as an “under-labourer of science” when he should have been arguing that philosophy, the love of wisdom when making critical judgments, is the only discipline which can stand above science, to hold science (both good and bad) to account.

Unfortunately, we have relinquished our right to do this, and we’ve done it in a number of ways. The first is that when researchers in other fields ‘specialised away’ a lot of our research interests – in the studies of nature and society and thought – we responded by trying to over-specialise ourselves. Often this has led us into in areas which are not only of no instrumental use but are not even worth philosophising about for their own sake. I saw a university department website recently on which two philosophers – I won’t say who – appeared to define their work as ‘defending a naïve realist view of colour’. But when our physics and biology departments have got colour-optics all sewn up, this kind of research can really add very little of any kind of value.

The second is that we’ve assumed that just because things like Research Assessment Exercises can’t possibly understand philosophy properly, that we shouldn’t bother to make them try. We’ve fallen into shuffling around, muttering under our breath at how you can’t quantify wisdom or how you shouldn’t expect philosophy to have extrinsic value.

This is not good enough. Philosophy departments are being closed and if we don’t act then we will be grumbling all the way to the jobcentre.

There are two things that need to be made absolutely clear.

1) There is a great deal of philosophy that does have extrinsic, practical value. In particular, philosophies of value, of ethics and politics and aesthetics, can genuinely make people’s lives better – what Dewey called the melioristic motive. And if they aren’t making people’s lives better, then we must accept that they are failing to have that value. This doesn’t mean ditching our work, of course; but it does mean we must be more active in getting it out there into the world. We should get as involved in the world outside academia – in politics, in journalism, in the production of art, even in business – as we can possibly be. We must put our philosophies to work, so that we may prove that they do. Rather than complaining about the principle of impact assessments, we must be proud of the impacts we can have, be excited about what we will say next time we are asked what impacts we are having, and make sure everyone – not just everyone in academia, but everyone – knows about it.

2) We must be prepared to stand up and defend properly, and collectively, the intrinsic value of wisdom. Philosophical research which does not obviously have a melioristic motive (for example, studies into logic and the nature of judgment itself, or attempts to analyse consciousness), often nevertheless have the intrinsic value of gaining a better understanding of ourselves and our thought. We must also be prepared to argue properly, and collectively, that this kind of philosophy often furnishes the rest of philosophy, as well as the sciences, with the thinking skills on which to base its judgments.

This means, of course, that we must be as discriminating as we can possibly be about which work has these kinds of value, either instrumentally or intrinsically. Too much philosophical research is still either meaningless study towards ‘a deeper understanding of the work of philosopher x’, or self-indulgent tinkering at the margins of mathematics or neurobiology, without providing any really valuable insights that can be used outside of academia.

But we must also be significantly more courageous and articulate in our championing of the intrinsic value of wisdom.

It’s worth pointing out that the supposed split in British philosophy departments between ‘continental’ and ‘analytic’ philosophy has simply got to stop. When KCL attempted to shrink its philosophy department, there were posts on the wall of the protest facebook group saying things like ‘another sad day in the slow death of analytic philosophy’; and since Middlesex announced it is cutting its philosophy department I’ve already had conversations with continental philosophers complaining that the university is somehow too eurosceptic.

These claims aren’t going to get us anywhere. We have too much in common to be squabbling when we need to work together on our shared areas of interest.

We need to make clear our case: that philosophy of all varieties, when it’s done well, is a genuine force for making humanity better, cleverer, and most of all wiser. It’s a tautology to say this, I think, but the value of philosophy and philosophers lies in how much we can achieve through our love of wisdom.

If we can’t make this clear to the government, the public, and to our bursars, we may as well just pack up now.

this new government might just be quite good – thanks to new labour

Okay, I’m going to say it: the outcome of this election is – so far – pretty much the best that any liberal or social democrat could have hoped for. Better, in fact.

There, I’ve said it.

Why would I say such a thing? Have I gone mad? How could I be satisfied – hopeful, even – about the idea of a Conservative government, having struggled so hard against it? How could I be pleased that the Liberal Democrat party I voted for, campaigned for in the hope it would help keep the Tories out, have helped it to happen?

Well for one thing, I might be a Liberal Democrat now but I still love the Labour Party, and this result is actually very good for them. They are in a position where they have not only proved they still have a lot of loyal support and can rack up a respectable number of seats in parliament, but they also have a batch of really good, smart potential leaders who are ready to rejuvenate the party now that they don’t have to worry about running the country.

For Labour this may even have been – and I think, deep down, they know it – a good election to lose. They won’t have to be the ones making the cuts, and they’ll be a better party after they’ve had a rest and regrouped. Plus, of course, they are the only opposition now. When it comes to Prime Minister’s Questions that will count.

But that’s not the main reason why I’m hopeful. The main reason I’m hopeful is that, having read the coalition agreement between the Tories and the Lib Dems, it’s actually really quite good.

I mean, it’s not perfect: Trident will still be replaced; any idiot will still be able to open their own schools and expect other schools in the area to pay for it; and the idea of ditching the Working Time Directive should appall anyone who’s ever felt their employer might be stealing their life.

But when you look at what the Lib Dem negotiators got in return, it’s just remarkable – it’s almost frightening to see just how far the Conservatives have come.

In particular, the tax agreement that will help people on low incomes (rather than the disgustingly unjust inheritance tax cut the Tories originally proposed); the pupil premium for poorer students; the commission to separate investment and retail banking (which has got Vince Cable’s delicate, expert fingerprints all over it); the fully elected House of Lords – elected by proportional representation, for goodness’ sake…

It’s almost hard to believe that this is the same party at all.

The reason for this, of course, is that under David Cameron’s leadership, it isn’t the same party any more. I’m not quite sure what it is; it’s some kind of capitalist party, of course, but a surprisingly liberal one which is prepared to increase funding for the NHS and scrap ID cards and give tax breaks to low earners.

Which means that everything we thought we knew about the Conservatives: the nasty party; the wreckers of lives; the slashers of schools and the NHS; the police-state Thatcherites we were fully justified in hating…it all goes out of the window.

And with it, perhaps, goes our dogmatic party tribalism, and our ridiculously over-simplistic ‘left-wing/right-wing’ distinction (which never fully accounted for the authoritarian/liberal difference which really matters). And in its place comes this seemingly genuine talk of fairness and reform and collaboration.

But what, you might ask, if it’s all a con? What if our instinctive Tory-hating was right, if Cameron is a bizarre anomaly, and the Conservative backbenchers who represent the ‘real’ Tory party intend to smile now but wreck it all later? Well then, it will be those ‘real’ Conservatives’ fault, everyone will know it, and they’ll be punished by a resurgent Labour Party at the next election for sabotaging a promising new kind of collaborative politics.

And if it works? Then it will have been proved that coalitions can work, and that a fairer electoral system would not lead to unstable governments at all. Basically, it’s a win-win situation.

And who is to thank for this? Gordon Brown.

Well, Brown and Blair, really – New Labour. Blair and Brown forced the Tories to change or face permanent opposition – Tony Blair even once said something along the lines of that his job would only be done when the Conservatives had completely abandoned Thatcherism. And, in getting David Cameron – and, of course, the Liberal Democrats – into government, it looks like maybe they have.

I’m not saying I’d ever vote Tory, of course; and I’m as surprised to be saying this as anyone – but…perhaps this is a Conservative government that – if the Liberal influence can keep a check on the mad backbenches – might just be better than we thought possible.

the dream team

So the UK General Election seem to have become a two-horse race between the Conservative Party (led by David Cameron and supported by the wealthy, the foolish, and most of our newspapers), and the Hung Parliament campaign (led by Nick Clegg and supported by everyone else).

Obviously since I am neither wealthy nor foolish, I’m hoping for a hung parliament. But if that happened, what would the executive branch of government actually look like? The cabinet obviously wouldn’t be made up of members of just one party.

But – what if that meant that the best person from ANY party could do the job? How great would that be? It won’t happen of course, but since a) dreaming for better is my ‘thing’, and b) I had nothing better to do, here is my


Prime Minister: Nick Clegg (LD) obviously

Deputy PM: Alan Johnson (Lab) for his competence

Chancellor: Vince Cable (LD) has a PhD in Economics

Business Secretary: Ken Clarke (Con) knows his stuff

Home Secretary: Ed Balls (Lab) he’s basically a decent guy

Justice Secretary: Baroness Scotland (Lab) for her legal expertise

Foreign Secretary: David Miliband (Lab) because he’s doing bloody well

Transport/Environment: Dave Cameron (Con) he’d be really good at this

Children + Schools: Ed Miliband (Lab) because he’s cute and clever

Higher Education: David Willetts (Con) see above, only not as cute

Defence Secretary: Paddy Ashdown (LD) actually knows what war’s like

Equalities Minister: Harriet Harman (Lab) she’s done it well so far

International Development: Chris Huhne (LD) knows his stuff

Work + Pensions: Lynne Featherstone (LD) a proper businesswoman

and so on, etc etc

And by the way:  See? I don’t hate all Tories.

Like I say, though, it won’t happen… (sighs)

decisions, decisions

I just don’t know who to vote for in the General Election now. I thought I did; now I don’t. It’s the toughest electoral decision I can remember.

The question for me is very simple – it’s really the same as it has been for the last six or seven years: ‘what can I do to help keep the Tories out of power, without giving Labour a mandate to do very much either?’

All my other general election voting decisions have been easy. My first one was in 2001, where I was so impressed with Tony Blair’s first term, and so annoyed that I’d just missed out on getting to participate in the 1997 mini-social revolution that he’d brought about, that it was basically a no-brainer. I voted in Northampton North – a constituency that was a straight Labour/Tory toss-up – for Sally Keeble, who had been one of the incredible influx of brilliant women into the Labour government in that first term and was doing a pretty impressive job as a junior minister at DFID.

2005 was tougher, but not by much. I was living in Leamington Spa, doing teacher training at Warwick; and if it hadn’t been for Labour’s huge investment in education and the increase of teacher’s pay to a decent level, then as a fairly high-level master’s graduate I wouldn’t have been considering teaching at all. I know a lot of amazing teachers for whom the same thing is true. So Tony and Gordon had stayed true to the promise of making education a priority.

But they hadn’t stayed true to Robin Cook’s principle of an ‘ethical foreign policy.’ I’d been one of the million that had marched against the Iraq war and written letters and been ignored or dismissed just like Cook himself was. So voting for Labour after that wasn’t so easy.

Still – the Leamington and Warwick constituency was another straight Labour/Tory toss-up. So even though the Labour MP, James Plaskitt was a slippery, disingenuous tosser when I met him on the Parade (he was going round telling people he ‘didn’t vote for the invasion of iraq’ when what he’d actually done was voted for every motion which led up to the invasion, ie on the votes that claimed we didn’t need to see WMDs or get a second UN resolution before invading – and then just didn’t bother to turn up for the final vote on declaring war) I voted for him because even though he might as well have been a Tory, the leaders of his party weren’t. (And of course, the leader of the Tories at the time was Michael Howard, a genuinely appalling man who tried to position the Tories just a few notches away from the BNP and was surprised when the British electorate didn’t want that).

Anyway, I voted for Plaskitt, gagged a bit, and then made up for it by voting Liberal and Green in the local council elections (which are done by proportional representation so there’s no need for tactical voting.)

This time around, though, I’m so depressed with Labour: with their infighting – including from Sally Keeble, one the MP’s who idiotically called on Brown to resign because she basically knows she’s going to lose the Northampton North seat – and their failure to come up with a single policy that seems genuinely useful.

But my constituency is Islington North. It’s a very safe Labour seat, currently held by Jeremy Corbyn, who is probably one of the most fundamentally decent MPs in the Labour Party. He always rebels when he thinks it’s right, and he also has a very nice beard. I like him and when he keeps the seat (which he will), I’ll be more than happy for him to be my MP.

But on the other hand, that means I don’t have to actually vote for him. I can vote for whoever I like. And if I vote for the Liberal candidate, I can help increase the overall Liberal share of the popular vote, which could be important if there’s a hung parliament and we get a proper debate about electoral reform…plus I like the Liberal Democrats. Nick Clegg is a good, principled leader who speaks five languages (very useful in foreign affairs) and would make a smashing Prime Minister, and Vince Cable would be a Chancellor who actually has a PhD in Economics and knows what he’s talking about.

Plus…I don’t even hate David Cameron. I mean, I know he hates me. Or at least, doesn’t consider me or my family and friends worth looking after as long as he gets to do his tax breaks for the super-rich and married couples, which doesn’t include me. And I know he’d cut teacher’s salaries back again to the kind of obscene level they were under the last Tory government.

But I don’t really hate him, because he’s tried to remind the Tories that they once used to stand for maturity and a strong society and a government that keeps out of people’s way when it’s not needed. And these are good things. I mean, I could never vote for a Conservative party candidate because with the exception of Ken Clarke and John Bercow, the rest of the parliamentary party seem to be the same greedy, xenophobic, homophobic bastards with that irritating sense of entitlement that they always were.

So it’s going to be tricky. I’m going to read the manifestos and see what I think after that. I’ll probably let you know.

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…