Philip Guston and the violation of virtuosity

Most, if not all, comic art works against an audience’s expectations of overt virtuosity. It’s often the incongruity of those expectations set against a deliberately slapdash rendering that makes us laugh - think of David Shrigley’s lumpen thumb placed on the stately decorum of the Trafalgar Square plinth, or the cartoonish modelling of Kara Walker’s Fons… Continue reading Philip Guston and the violation of virtuosity

Comedy and cancel culture

Questioning liberal orthodoxy is a formidable prospect given the inevitability of outrage. But as we risk sliding into coercive ideological conformity, opening up space for debate is surely a matter of some urgency. Comedy is one place where such issues can be raised and explored in relative safety, and two recent instances, Leigh Stein’s satirical… Continue reading Comedy and cancel culture

Self Care

Leigh Stein’s satirical novel, Self Care, is both consistently funny and compulsively readable. It’s also very important. An account of a startup, ‘Richual’, a community platform ‘for women to cultivate the practice of self-care and change the world by changing ourselves’, the novel traces the increasingly panicked travails of the two female co-founders, Maren and… Continue reading Self Care

Flake: celebrating small pleasures

Matthew Dooley’s Flake, a graphic novel about the ice cream van business in the north west of England, recently won the Bollinger Everyman Wodehouse Prize for Comic Fiction, the first graphic novel to do so in the history of the prize. It’s an affectionate and very funny portrait of Howard, an ice cream man who rather half-heartedly… Continue reading Flake: celebrating small pleasures

Stand-up: seduction and susceptibility

In the recent flowering of online theatre, it is clearly the monologues and the Zoom formats that best suit the restrictions of the streamed experience. These front facing pieces resemble the direct address of stand-up, and prompt speculation about the similarities and differences between the two art forms. Often in such comparisons, stand-up is characterised… Continue reading Stand-up: seduction and susceptibility

Jordan Brookes: deconstructing stand-up

Stand-up is often prized for its transparency, and its lack of artifice; up there alone on stage, there’s nowhere to hide, and comedians must acknowledge their embodied identities. There’s transparency too in the relationship with the audience – the comedian’s need for an audience is perhaps uniquely evident: as John Limon puts it, ‘they make… Continue reading Jordan Brookes: deconstructing stand-up

The Darkness of John Robins

Emotional honesty has long been John Robins’ stock-in-trade, but the Netflix special, The Darkness of Robins, a recording of a show about the end of a relationship, which won him the joint Edinburgh comedy award in 2017, takes self-exposure to a new level. It seems to answer a challenge: if emotional honesty is central to… Continue reading The Darkness of John Robins

Coronavirus memes: visual banter

There’s much that is positive in the abundance of coronavirus comic memes: in their assertions of shared experience and collectivity they clearly do provide a degree of relief. But as units of communication to be exchanged and circulated, they are often only placeholders for real emotion or feeling. Given that the experiences of strain, anger,… Continue reading Coronavirus memes: visual banter

Comedy as capitulation

Thanks to Hannah Gadsby, we are now familiar with some of the risks of comedy – the ways in which the obligation to get a laugh necessitates the smoothing out or simplification of stories, often at personal cost. She showed how comedy can be a kind of accommodation – a way of managing lived experience… Continue reading Comedy as capitulation

Armando Iannucci’s David Copperfield

All too often humour is seen as somehow secondary to satire - Harry Levin, for instance, describes satire as ‘purposeful comedy’, with the implication that humour alone is insufficient. Indeed, as the privileged critical category, satire often serves ‘to defend comic art against charges of frivolity’ (Green 106). This tendency is understandable given the distinctions… Continue reading Armando Iannucci’s David Copperfield