Competitive Laughing

So, last night I went to a comedy show. It was a stand-up gig at the Soho Theatre, starring American comedian Todd Barry.

I’m becoming more and more convinced that comedy is definitely the best night out. Usually you can sit down, meaning you can enjoy the entertainment in comfort, unlike, say, at a concert. Its usually reasonably cheap, another bonus when certain artists are now happy to charge you £75 for the pleasure of watching them sing. And – here’s the best bit – even if the comedy is really really shit, you can still have a great time.

I remember going to an open-mic night at a pub near me around this time last year. It was truly, unforgettably, terrible, with six or seven brave souls each facing the inhospitably stubborn crowd for ten minutes or so, before being booed off. But, despite the obvious lack of talent on display, it was truly entertaining. Curiously, most of the ‘comedians’ on show that night were so unfunny they were hilarious. We still talk about that night with much fondness. So even when its bad, live comedy is still great. The same can definitely not be said about a bad gig or a boring play…

Anyway, I knew that last night wasn’t going to be bad, because I’d seen Todd Barry before. He’s a very funny man, whose humour is really all in the delivery. He has a sort of Jack Dee meets Stephen Wright kind of shtick, delivering observations on life in a gruff monotone drawl.

So I was in a good mood all day yesterday. I was going out in London, doing something entertaining away from the cultural effluvium of the ‘mainstream’. I’d seeked out one of the exciting morsels of entertainment that London has to offer on a nightly basis. All day long I had told people I was going to a comedy show, and delighted in the fact that nobody had ever heard of Todd Barry. If I’d been going to see, say, Ricky Gervais or even Jack Dee, the effect wouldn’t have been the same. I was going to see an unheard of comic – how shit hot was I?

And it was all going so well. I arrived at the theatre with plenty of time to have a beer. I was first in line when the house doors opened, and I got myself a good seat – close enough to the front that I looked interested and influential, but not too close that I would get picked on by Todd Barry. As the theatre slowly filled up with other cool young Londoners, I allowed myself a brief moment of indulgence; was I not at the very cutting edge of London culture? Indeed I was.

And then the arse fell out of the evening. Not two minutes before the show was about to start, I noticed something terrible. Creeping along the front row, and heading for a couple of empty seats right in the centre, were two friends of mine from university. I say friends, but I mean very loose acquaintances. A couple of guys from my course who never failed to piss me off during lectures with their hopeless pretentiousness and artificial enthusiasm. Two guys who were, in short, wankers.

I have no idea if the show was any good or not. I hardly heard a word of it. Instead, I spent the hour irritated at how my cultural secret had somehow managed to leak out and cross the radar of these two highly irritating dicks. How did they know about Todd Barry? They’re not supposed to know about this sort of thing. The only way they’re allowed to know is if I told them (thus scoring highly valuable credibility points!), which is something I’d never do because they are both wankers and their credibility is not something I’d ever knowingly seek. I sat through the show obsessing about how terrible it was going to be if they saw me at the bar afterwards. What if they’d heard about Todd Barry before I had? Obviously, I’d never have let them know if this was the case. But wouldn’t that be awful?

I allowed myself a look down at them. Both of them were laughing especially loudly, as if to let everyone else know that they got every single joke and understand every single nuance that Todd Barry was trying to imply. Competitive laughing is despicable, and I wasn’t going to join in.

I couldn’t bear it. As soon as the applause died down and the house lights went up, I shot up the aisle and out of the theatre, and went straight home on the tube. All I learnt was that perhaps there was a way in which a night at a comedy club can be far from the best night out…


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