How to Kill (in comedic terms, of course)

Alex Horne

Shaista Aziz

Simon Munnery

On day 2 of the Metal Culture workshop on comedy, we met with three stand up comics, Alex Horne, Shaista Aziz and Simon Munnery, who shared their back stories and tips of the trade. As a group we then discussed the differences between comics and performance artists and came up with the following key points:

  • The sole intention of the comic is to amuse and entertain. Performance artists intend to produce a range of responses but also (on the whole) feel compelled to be critical of the status quo (although that can be a side effect of the comedian's material too). Performance artists might be criticised by academics, critics and audience members for being (merely) funny or entertaining.
  • The comic never takes him or herself seriously. Performance artists, on the other hand, always do.
  • The comic relies on hearing/gauging the response of the audience to asses how their routine is going. Performance artists don't always have such a responsive interaction with the audience.
  • The audience of a comic can usually expect to be amused. The audience of a performance artist can usually expect to be bored.
  • Comics perform for an audience of strangers, some of whom are openly hostile and engage in practices like heckling. Performance artists perform for audiences that usually consist of their peers who watch/listen politely and sometimes, if the artist is lucky, offer praise or constructive criticism.
  • Comics like to make people feel uncomfortable, but not in a bad way. Performance artists like to make people feel uncomfortable.
  • Both comics and performance artists need to consider the context of their performances, but to water down one's act is not an option.
  • Penny Arcade is a good example of someone who straddles the worlds of comedy and performance art.
  • Comics have to perform night after night to support themselves, often repeating the same routine for years. Performance artists (sometimes get research grants and) may spend months preparing for a single performance.
  • Both comics and performance artists use their own special jargon, for example: to kill, to bomb, the setup, the punch line, heckler, blue / criticality, piece, contextualisation, performativity, characterisation, etc.
  • There is no formalised education for stand-up comics other than some short courses; you can't get a degree in comedy, but a surprising number of British comedians went to Cambridge. Most comics learn their trade in front of an audience - stage time is key. Many performance artists have graduate level training in art or theatre, while others are self-taught.
  • To use another comic's joke is to steal. To use another performance artist's piece is to re-enact, cite or appropriate.
  • Mel Brimfield has succeeded at convincing us that there is no difference between Gilbert & George and Morecambe & Wise.
  • At the end of their careers some comics and performance artists will find out what the long term effects of peddling filth and untruth actually are.
  • When giving a talk about their work, stand-up comics tend to stand. Performance artists either sit or stand when giving lectures on their work.
  • Much of the above isn't particularly funny and that's probably because it was written by a performance artist.