Times, they are a changin’. The hard part is knowing when and how to change with ’em. I’m currently holed up in my new home, away from the world and it’s trousers, for the next two months, whilst I concentrate on writing my show for the Edinburgh Comedy festival in August, and I am no more in the mood. I’ve balked at the idea of even doing the festival several times, since I applied. I’ve only ever attended the festival for up to two weeks each year, with no pressure on what gigs I do when I get there. But this year is different. I had decided earlier this year that it was time to quit stand up comedy, and the one thing I’d never done was my own show for the full three and a half week run of the Edinburgh festival, so I thought “I should at least do it once, to say I’ve done it”, for when I one day start boring people with tales of when I used to be a comedian.
And it’s a struggle. Because, I think, my head’s already given up on comedy. It’s not even that I have nothing else I want to talk about, but more that there are limits as to what I can discuss now, and a lot of it can be pinned down to the age we currently live in.
My decision to do comedy in the first place tied in with a rock bottom I had nine years ago, whereby I’d promised myself to start writing about my experiences, to tell people how a person gets here, maybe as a way of exorcising my demons. Six months later, I was on a stage, doing my thing, and I seemed to get it from day one. This was a Godsend. It was therapy, it was attention, it was everything I needed rolled into one. I could discuss the personal stuff, disguised as jokes, and work it all out in front of strangers. I’ve always described my comedy writing as my way of ‘getting in my side of the story before I’m found out’. And it worked for the longest time. But things have changed so much since my first gig back in December ’03, and I need to change with them.
For a start, getting your personal life out there has always been the driving force behind personal writing, whether you’re a comedian, a writer, someone who’s been through bad experiences, someone with a story to tell, and only the driven could succeed. We now, however, live in a world where everybody not only has a public voice, thanks to the internet, but a lot of people now actually LIVE their lives quite publicly, and without even having to try. When I started doing comedy, the internet was quite new, I was already in a relationship that had developed long before social networking, and anyone else I knew, I knew physically. The internet was supplemental to all that. Then things, as they do, changed. I became single three years ago, and found myself exposed to a lot more people than I had been when I was last a single man. The amount of friends I’d made had increased a hundredfold since starting comedy, and the amount of strangers on the periphery became uncountable. And none of this is because I was heading toward any sort of ‘fame’ or anything of the like, Grud no. This is something common to anyone internet literate these days. Entire relationships are born, live, and die online, even publicly, before they’ve even had a chance to gestate, our very lives becoming the equivalent of fast food. It leaves people with a LOT more to process than they might have had ten years ago, with a lot less time. It’s the next big ‘generation gap’ thing, as younger people are brought up with this quicker, and more public way of living, with little regard for their own privacy. Makes me think a lot of future relationship counsellors have their work cut out for them, ‘cos it’s gonna get messy…
You know how it is, if you’re on Facebook. You probably don’t even know a lot of the people ON your friends list. You start off seeing that they’re a ‘friend of a friend’, so they must be alright, and accept their friend requests, but you have no idea how carefully the mutual friend in question has screened HIS new ‘friends’. Next thing you know, you’re having a three way conversation with someone you know and love, and a virtual stranger, who, let’s face it, could be nuts, but now they’ve eked their way into your circle of friends, online or otherwise.
And that’s where confessional comedy dies. You can’t do ‘my girlfriend’ jokes, if anyone at a gig can go home after, add you on Facebook, and check out what your relationship is like with said girlfriend, however fictional you might have made the material. Hell, if they can friend you on Facebook, chances are they’ll not even bother going to see you perform live again. Why would they, when you’re available online 24/7? If they’ve even ever SEEN you perform in the first place.
I foresee a time when privacy will be the new ‘fame’, and more sought after by people. Alas, as an artist of any kind, you still have to balance that with the need we have for recognition, and, as much of an art form as I view my comedy to be, it might be too honest an art form for where we’re all heading, and I think it’s time to fall back on more ‘poetic’ art forms, maybe painting, or music, or devoting the rest of my life to making Fimo sculptures of all my favourite sci-fi characters, who knows?
Seriously, who knows? ‘Cos I’m at a bit of a loss.