I’ve been thinking long & hard about character when it comes to stand up, not the pretend to be an ‘Indian oke’ school of characterisation, but rather the straight man stuff we, as comics, exhibit on stage. I’ve been thinking about this because apart from being a stand up, I’m also a director, writer and producer of things comedic. Recently having co-produced a documentary called Stand Up Africa and in the throws of writing sketches and a film, will do that to someone.
The protagonist, the lead feature of every stand up’s routine, the neutral voice that she employs, needs a serious amount of consideration. Spontaneity has always been at its most potent when anticipated. This is of course up for debate, but assume I see it as true. So, before going through all the effort of grooming that voice, that cultivated piece of artistic real estate, an important question has to be asked, namely why. Why should that be done, surely the organic (whatever the fuck that means) progression is apt, surely nailing contrivances to one’s voice is damaging and well yes, it is. What I suggest is not stapling a veneer to one’s voice, but properly tending it. Fine combing it. The reason is that protagonists, core characters, remain a powerful vehicle for ideas. Goldman, Nietzsche, Wilde, Shaw- the list goes on, these people all understood this. Let’s look at modernity’s protagonists for a second. Nihilism has received much impressive attention in the last while, aggressive and charming versions alike, think Tyler Durden & Hank Moody & Tony Stark. What we have is a set of precepts, ideas about life and meaning, aesthetic standards and the interpersonal blue prints and fucking everything important really. All viable and beautiful in their own right, but made more so by the way they’re communicated. It’s all in the voice. For the longest time I lost my way concerning the whole ‘find your voice’ mantra that every second established creative bangs on about, I still do at times, but it was thinking through these grand protagonists that my understanding of this phenomenon grew.
I doubt there’s someone that has done more for anarchy’s ideals than Chuck Palaniuk (author of Fight Club). Or a sterner promoter of heady nihilist extravagance than Marvel’s Tony Stark. These aren’t just interesting characters, they’re front men for ideas about the world. They’re ideas in action.
It’s in this spirit that creating an arch protagonist for one’s craft becomes essential. Great gags aren’t enough, pretending to be a member of another race isn’t either, our comedy zeitgeist has evolved, I know this because I’m far more than a comedian, I’m a comedy fan. Something I was way before I considered mounting the stage. My appetite, though probably somewhat skewed given my strange vantage point and even stranger relationship with stand up, still calls the shots.
Individualism, personality, specific hand crafted dispositions, these are comedy’s new gems, like Wilde said, ‘above all else, be yourself.’ Stellar local examples are no other Martin Evans and John Vlismas, who apart from being gifted comedians, are gifted personality curators. They tinker and consider and chisel their cognitive innards ad nauseam.
True vanguard shit, trust me, I know what I’m looking for.
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