Best of The Month – If You Prefer A Milder Comedian, Please Ask For One
Editor | On 12, Dec 2018
A few weeks ago, I wrote a blog article about different types of comedy. If I failed to take the humour out of the subject there, I’m now going to take a second crack at doing it here. The gist of the blog centred around this 2×2 matrix:
As is the usual convention with these kinds of picture, the world usually finds itself in the top left or bottom right hand ‘trade-off’ corners of the matrix. What that means in the comedy story is that there essentially two kinds of comedian. The ones in the top left articulate things you hadn’t previously noticed. This is observational comedy. The basis of the humour here is that the comedian spots something about our lives that you hadn’t spotted until he or she revealed it. The revelation, ‘oh yes, I’d never thought about that before’ is where the laugh comes from. In the UK right now, this is where the bulk of comedians are to be found. And certainly the ones that sell out stadium-size venues. Not far behind are the comedians in the bottom right hand corner. These are the comedians that articulate things that you’d probably already thought about, but were too afraid to say out loud. The laugh with these ‘taboo’ comedians comes from the surprise caused when they actually have the nerve to say it.
The main point of the 2×2 matrix then is to highlight the fact that there are also other ways to generate a laugh. The ‘best’ of which is the top-right hand corner of the picture. In theory, this is the quadrant where it is most difficult to evoke a laugh from an audience because the comedian is saying things that people already know and can already articulate. If humour is all about contradictions, with the comedian sending the audience in one direction and then revealing they had travelled a different direction, then it’s difficult to see how to create such a tension in this scenario. Difficult but not impossible.
Enter comedian, Stewart Lee, who very much does live in that top right-hand quadrant. And our book of the month this month is his book ‘If You Prefer A Milder Comedian…’ In simple terms it is a transcript of one of his stand-up shows. Which makes it funny. What takes it to the next level, however, are Lee’s cleverly interwoven comments revealing how and why he is doing what he’s doing. These comments are also funny. Which makes for a one-plus-one-is-definitely-greater-than-two synergy. Which is probably what the top right-hand corner of my Matrix is all about.
What Lee’s book offers, ultimately then, is the contradiction-solving innovator’s version of comedy. It is possible to say things that people have already thought and already articulated and still create a contradiction. You do it by creating a higher level meaning as the performance travels full circle from its beginning to its end.
‘If You Prefer A Milder Comedian…’ then, pulls off the uncanny (contradiction solving) trick describing a master of his craft who can also describe the ‘meta-craft’. And be funny.
And if that doesn’t convince you, better yet, it does its work in 112 pages. If the success of a book was measured in terms of the maximum number of insights for the minimum word-count, this book is probably somewhere in the global top-five business books of all time. Which probably doesn’t say much. But it does say something.