A new and in­creas­ingly di­verse wave of co­me­di­ans is de­liv­er­ing a fresh take on a shop­worn genre. And au­di­ences hun­gry for com­edy that res­onates are lap­ping it up. By David Smiedt.

VOGUE Australia - - CONTENTS -

In times that seem darker night­mares, peo­ple have his­tor­i­cally turned to com­edy. A good joke or well-crafted en­ten­dre pro­vides the brain with an angst cir­cuit-breaker. For just a mo­ment, the wor­ries as­so­ci­ated with mar­riage, mort­gage or mis­matched Margiela fade away into laugh­ter. Watch­ing a skilled comic live is akin to view­ing a run­way show with a pa­rade of metic­u­lously tai­lored ob­ser­va­tions cul­mi­nat­ing in the strong­est piece in the col­lec­tion.

Re­cently though, not that much. Things are get­ting some­what – and to­tally jus­ti­fi­ably – tense in com­e­dy­land, with ev­ery­one from old-school­ers like Louis CK and Bill Cosby to the sup­pos­edly woke next gen such as Aziz An­sari and Trevor Noah miss­ing the mark in vary­ing de­grees of off-stage hor­ren­dous­ness. In ad­di­tion, heavy hit­ters like Jerry Se­in­feld and Chris Rock will no longer play col­leges be­cause the au­di­ences are ap­par­ently too con­ser­va­tive. Here, it’s hardly any dif­fer­ent, with what was once our lead­ing cur­rent-af­fairs pro­gram, 60 Min­utes, dust­ing off the likes of Kevin Bloody Wil­son to rail against the ram­pant po­lit­i­cal cor­rect­ness ap­par­ently in­fest­ing the mirth­ful arts.

Thank­fully, we are not be­ing left with a com­edy waste­land. On the con­trary, the void is be­ing filled. By women.

Two words for you by way of ex­am­ple: Han­nah. Gadsby. Her show Nanette, which was orig­i­nally in­tended to be a farewell to the stric­tures of com­edy, ended up rev­o­lu­tion­is­ing it, the stand-up equiv­a­lent of Yves Saint Lau­rent’s Le Smok­ing and Chris­tian Dior’s New Look rolled into one sear­ing pack­age. What started as a Mel­bourne In­ter­na­tional Com­edy Fes­ti­val run went on to scorch Ed­in­burgh (win­ning top prize at both) be­fore a sold-out run in New York and a Net­flix spe­cial, which spell­bound ev­ery­one from D-lis­ters to on-point fem­i­nist au­thors.

Kathy Grif­fin gushed: “I’ve been a pro­fes­sional comic for 30 years. I’ve been study­ing com­edy for even longer. I thought I had seen ev­ery­thing … un­til I watched Nanette on @net­flix by @Han­nah­gadsby. I was blown away. I urge you to watch it ASAP – one hour and it’ll change your life.” Rox­ane Gay, au­thor of the best-seller Bad Fem­i­nist, also jumped aboard the praise train, tweet­ing: “Nanette is sim­ply re­mark­able. You moved me and have re­ally made me think about hu­mor, the self, self dep­re­ca­tion and the uses of anger. Thank you so much. It’s just bril­liant.”

For­tu­nately for com­edy fans in gen­eral, and young women in par­tic­u­lar start­ing out in the testos­terone-soaked world of stand-up, Gadsby has re­lented on her vow to give the game away post- Nanette. Be­cause, quite frankly, the world needs her.

Sa­man­tha Bee is as far as you can get from a sparklingly acer­bic Tas­ma­nian les­bian, but since the demise of Jon Ste­wart’s Daily Show, her Full Frontal pro­gram has evis­cer­ated some of the big­gest is­sues in the United States – gen­der, race, Pres­i­den­tial mis­an­thropy – with both stag­ger­ing deft­ness and con­sis­tency. The show, which plays on SBS, pushes more en­velopes than sale day at the post of­fice and al­though she’s over­stepped the mark on oc­ca­sion – she called Ivanka Trump “a feck­less c***” – Bee’s take-no-pris­on­ers agenda is ev­ery­thing satire should be in a world where a Pres­i­dent can de­ride ver­i­fi­able truths as fake news.

You can add Il­iza Sh­lesinger, Tif­fany Had­dish, Mindy Kal­ing and Michelle Wolf to that cat­e­gory. Wolf said of Trump mouth­piece Sarah Huck­abee San­ders at the White House Cor­re­spon­dents’ As­so­ci­a­tion din­ner: “She burns facts, and then she uses that ash to cre­ate a per­fect smoky eye.” Bril­liant.

And that’s just Amer­ica. Over the pond, Bri­tish ac­tor and writer Phoebe Waller-Bridge ( Fleabag and Killing Eve) is man­ag­ing to be both in­can­des­cent and dark at the same time. On a side note, New Zealan­der Rose Matafeo re­cently took out the best-show gong at the 2018 Ed­in­burgh Fringe Fes­ti­val. That’s back-to-back wins for An­tipodean women, an idea that would have been in the realms of sci­ence fic­tion even five years ago.

It’s im­por­tant to state that it’s more evo­lu­tion than rev­o­lu­tion, and that these per­form­ers are merely the van­guard of what’s to come. To use an in­dus­try term, com­edy is about ‘punch­ing up’. It’s one of the few op­por­tu­ni­ties for the marginalised, un­heard and put-upon to at­tack the sta­tus quo with power and pas­sion, wit and verve. And never more so in the vi­ral YouTube era where, if the con­tent stings enough, your own TV chan­nel is just a click away.

Pun­ters now want dif­fer­ent voices, dif­fer­ent views, dif­fer­ent tar­gets, dif­fer­ent, more re­lat­able, re­al­i­ties.

You know who has a hi­lar­i­ous axe to grind? Those who work un­der a glass ceil­ing, those who are paid less for equal work, those of colour, those who don’t iden­tify as het­ero­sex­ual or strictly male or fe­male. Never has there been more di­ver­sity be­hind the mi­cro­phone, and more gags that res­onate with a greater seg­ment of the pop­u­la­tion who deal with the same shit daily.

And it’s as much the au­di­ence as per­form­ers driv­ing the change. They are the ones hun­ger­ing for gear that gels with their Zeit­geist and con­science. Club own­ers and book­ers are lis­ten­ing.

As a per­former who works pubs, clubs and cruise boats around Aus­tralia, I have seen pun­ters clam­our for more di­verse line-ups. I have seen pro­mot­ers move be­yond the to­kenism of: ‘See? We’ve got a woman, a brown one and a gay’ to line-ups where none of those out­dated de­scrip­tors need to even be men­tioned. Sim­i­larly, all-fe­male line-ups no longer have to be billed or iden­ti­fied as such. You’re just go­ing to a reg­u­lar gig.

As a mid­dle-aged, het­ero white comic, I have been and will be bumped from line-ups for some­one who comes from a dif­fer­ent back­ground and bears a fresher in­sight. And, you know, I’m okay with it. From the grass­roots, open-mic lev­els up­wards, the time has come for both co­me­di­ans and men like me to shut up for a while and just lis­ten. Be­cause there’s some very funny stuff ahead. Thank you, and good­night.

Never has there been more di­ver­sity be­hind the mi­cro­phone, and more gags that res­onate with a greater seg­ment of the pop­u­la­tion

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