Nat Wicks

Opinion: “And then I untied her”: Is ‘Edgy’ The New ‘Hack’?

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Is 'Edgy' The New 'Hack'?

Walk into any open mic or lower priced circuit gig and take a seat. Make a note of how many times you hear a joke about rape, disability, paedophilia or sexual abuse. If you get less than eight I’ll be impressed. More and more nowadays, comedians are turning to taboo ‘shock’ subjects in order to squeeze out laughs.

“I lost my virginity when I was nine. Thanks Grandad.” is an example of the type of joke you’re likely to hear. Not that exact one, mind you. I just made that up in around five seconds. See how easy it is? In this joke, I’m not saying anything clever or insightful or even particularly funny; the punch line is simply that I lost my virginity as a small child when I was raped by a family member (not really). And that’s it. I can’t count the number of times I’ve heard a joke where the punch line was “and then I was raped”. And frankly it’s dull. I’ve seen open spots and semi-pro (I hesitate to say professional) acts fill 5, 10, and even 20 minute sets with ream after ream of terribly constructed and badly delivered poor taste jokes, which barely have the ability to shock, let alone muster giggles. And it’s so disappointing. It is easy and it is lazy, and unless it is done skilfully, it is hack as hell.

It is understandable that new acts naturally emulate comedians who they enjoy or admire. So it should come as no surprise that as soon as Frankie Boyle and Jimmy Carr shot to fame, the number of new acts with similar styles and content started crawling out from the shadows.  Now I am not saying that the two aforementioned pro comics are hack (although Frankie Boyle’s writing is leaning that way, given his apparent newly found joke-writing laziness), as for the most part their jokes are extremely well constructed and delivered and as the pioneers of the recent spate, they are fairly original.

So, what is ‘hack’? Wikipedia (I’m too lazy to do any real research) defines hack comedy as a joke or premise for a joke that is considered obvious, has been frequently used by comedians in the past, and/or is blatantly copied from its original author.” In the 70s it was “my mother-in-law’s so fat”, in the 90s it was “What’s the deal with airplane food?” and now it’s “and she’s tied up in the basement”.

So, what is ‘edgy’? Edgy in the way we use it to describe stand up has a broader meaning. It can mean that the content is hard-going, dark, challenging, offensive, amoral, alternative, or any or all of the above. Edgy can be done remarkably well. Take Brendon Burns, for example. Brendon Burns won the top prize at the Edinburgh Fringe in 2007 for his show So I Suppose This Is Offensive Now, which was full of dark and challenging subject matter, forcing an emotional reaction from the audience to point out society’s hypocrisies. Look at the work of the masterful Bill Hicks. For shocking, but meticulously crafted and very, very funny one-liners, check out Gary Delaney, a common circuit headliner.

Edgy comedy, as a (very broad) subject is not hack, but the jokes which many acts both new and old are peddling, are. Before you get on stage and retell a load of guff about you being felt up by a priest ask yourself this: “Has the audience heard this before?” If the answer is yes, then shut up and find something more original. If the answer is no, then shock to your heart’s content. Shocking people isn’t a bad thing. Being a lazy comic who shocks for shock’s sake is.

  • George Zach

    I spent 10 minutes last night listening to a brand new act talk about how he was raped by his dad, has a big cock, raped by his dad, is ginger and raped by someone else.

    On my way to the toilet he started mentioning african children, which i thought was nice of him. When i came back I heard a couple of more rape jokes. Personally. I think it brought awareness to a subject that people shy away from. It was edgy, informative and socially enlightening. You are so wrong Nat. So wrong.

    But on a serious note, Brendon Burns was discussing the new “edgy” in his new solo show.. it’s a very well written bit that starts, if i remember correctly, with the words “when did rape and paedophelia become the new airline food in comedy?”

    Nice article. That’s two in a row now.

    • Nat Wicks

      Thanks George. It’s good to see that for the most part the circuit is self-regulating; those acts (for the most part) don’t seem to garner too possitive a reaction, and don’t seem to be the ones who fly the highest the fastest. Unfortunately there will always be some who slip through the net ;)

  • Kai

    A lot of acts are writing blogs like this at the moment….

    I joke, I kid, nice read! Ironically I’m sat reading it in an airport eating food (really) I can see how aeroplanes, trains, satnavs, service stations, hotels and even wanking can become hack topics as it’s where comics have most time alone with thier thoughts, it’s actually frustrating that we have to be conscious to stay off these topics for the most part. If I ever keep getting raped by my grandad I’ll be careful to avoid bringing it into my set also.

    If Andy Fury reads this can you please email me with the obligatory Gramma corrections. Ta

  • Mr Drayton

    If ‘comedians’ are using the unsayable to say something, to make comment, to illustrate or to mirror – then maybe there is room for the elephant in the room to be discussed and laughed at. When it’s just a tired, nauseating, tedious route to get a cheap laugh because some lame brained Frankie Boyle wannabe can’t be arsed to come up with anything original and actually has nothing to say, but thinks they might get on the telly with their schtick, they should be tarred and feathered and then run out of town. I blame Gervais and Carr for using ‘irony’ as an excuse for telling racist/sexist etc gags. Personally, I think fannying about with toys is the future.

  • Peter Vincent

    Maybe they don’t have the talent or ability to write funny original material? That’s my thinking

  • Becky Peddie

    I don’t claim to know anything about comedy, or how it’s written, and I’ve only been around the comedy circuit and comedians for about five years. All I know is what makes *me* laugh. Which to be frank, isn’t much. I’m pretty critical. (Andy Fury, for example, makes me laugh. Alot.)

    However, I can say I’m with Mr Vincent on this one and Mr Drayton on this one.

    I’m a teacher, and what I know is laziness. If one *does* have the talent, and proceeds with hack material anyway, it is sheer laziness. As to genuine talent, I’ve said before, and I’ll say it again: Just because your friends or your girlfriend say you’re “OMGSOFUNNY” does not make you a stand up comedian. Three ten minute open spots does not make you a comedian.

    I’m sure my divorce summons is in the mail as we speak, but then, there ya go. :)

  • Becky Peddie

    Oooo, there needs to an “Edit” button. For reals. Andy would be appalled by my typos!

  • Jo Law

    I think stuff like this is a lot more insidious than just lazy and unfunny.

    Humour has the power to devalue a topic, it’s one of the reasons why there have been so many Hitler jokes, to take his power away and made him an object of ridicule rather than a kind of fearsome Voldemort type of figure.

    Rape is something that shouldn’t have the power taken away from it. There’s still really damaging attitudes towards it. A good friend of mine was talking about a mutual friend of ours dancing with some random bloke. She wasn’t flirting with him and had no intention of taking it anywhere, and my friend said “if she’d been raped it would have been her own fault.” That’s someone I knew really well having a disgusting attitude to rape, and jokes that make it seem like a harmless topic don’t exactly help.

    I even found myself, who is an irritating feminist type, being groped by some sleazy twat in a nightclub once, and part of the reason I was so angry was because I was wearing jeans and a long sleeved top. As if wearing a skirt would’ve negated my right to decide who can touch me and where.

    I think if you’re going to tackle a sensitive subject, and talk about it in public to a room full of strangers you’ve got an obligation to think bloody carefully about what you’re saying.

    I agree with free speech rather than forced censoring, but it’s a luxury we shouldn’t abuse just because we can.

    Oooh that got a bit ranty. I’m going to go and eat a jaffa cake and calm down now.

  • Andy Fury

    A lot of acts are writing blogs like this at the moment…

    I joke, I kid, nice read! Ironically I’m sat reading it in an airport eating food (really) and I can see how aeroplanes, trains, sat navs, service stations, hotels and even wanking can become hack topics as it’s where comics have most time alone with their thoughts; it’s actually frustrating that we have to be conscious to stay off these topics for the most part. If I ever keep getting raped by my granddad I’ll be careful to avoid bringing it into my set also.

    If Andy Fury reads this can you please email me with the obligatory grammar corrections. Ta.

  • Andy Fury

    I couldn’t give a flying fuck on the content of the blog, I just like to make sure Kai isn’t making an arsehole of himself online with semi-literate shite. “Ooh, look at me, I’m in an airport.” He’ll be pinching something. But not a language book. Especially not the English language.

    It’s one thing having funny material, but being able to spell all of the words correctly when they’re written down – that’s a skill that only a few of us can master.

    • Kai Humphries

      I’m from Ashington I can’t even say words right never mind spell them, and I wasn’t here to read the blog either I just needed a not so subtle way to inform you (from the airport) that my command of the English language is serving me just fine!! :o)

      Oh come to mine tomorrow (today) if you’re free I could use a hand with some writing (really!)

  • Andy Fury

    Listen, I’m not going to sit and teach you how to spell your own name. You’re on your own now.

    • George Zach

      Stop hijacking the article you dicks, Kai i expected better from you, because we all know Fury is a cunt.

  • Andy Fury

    King Cunt has spoken.

  • Ian Jameson

    Everbodies done paedophilia jokes to death, theyre old hat now, I liked them when they were in their infancy but the horse has been flogged so well its just whipping bare earth now.

  • stephan clark

    I tend to agree with Nat here. I go to a lot of open mic nights and I’m tired of the rape, incest and pedo jokes. Its great when a comic makes you think, nice when he entertains you but its wonderful when someone genuinely makes you laugh..

    I recently went to a open mic night with around 20 comics on the bill…most were very new and maybe it was because they were new but most of their stuff was very dark and kinda sick..then on walked a young man and with his slightly kilter view of the world and he was was funny. Fresh of air..then the tide dark filth descended with the next comic..