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

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

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

Jojo Rabbit

Jojo Rabbit has been nominated for 6 Oscars, and has just won a Bafta, so, despite the very mixed reviews, it’s clearly appealing to many. For me, it brought to mind other well received films that were similarly muddled – Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri for example. The Oscars often favour films which take on… Continue reading Jojo Rabbit

Seth Rogen’s Shamelessness

Obliviousness is a crucial component of comic license. And our pleasure in obliviousness is partly pleasure in witnessing and sympathetically participating in the avoidance of humiliation, a condition which we are acutely and continually preoccupied with evading. While a relish for resilience and recovery is at the core of our enjoyment of obliviousness, part of… Continue reading Seth Rogen’s Shamelessness