While standing in a queue for an Edinburgh show at the Pleasance a few years ago a friend pointed to a newspaper cutting posted on a hoarding and said: “that’s a funny review”
I craned my neck to look at this critic wit who wasn’t me and was satisfied it wasn’t the scribe wot won it: “yeah, that’s cos all the jokes are in it, innit?”
I am so street when I am petulant.
Using an act’s gags in a review is one of those thorny issues that will habitually push itself to the surface of discourse on comedy.
In this particular case – a review of Rich Hall’s Otils Lee Crenshaw country singer character - the quoting has probably gone a bit to far, mind you Hall’s/Crenshaw’s comedy songs always had a whole lotta notable quotables.
I concede that common to all artists is the feeling that the reviewer has somehow stripped a joke of its element of surprise.
A comedian once wrote to me under an assumed name to remark that the quoting of threejokes in 250 words was a bit on the high side. I agreed and have always kept an eye on the ratio since, but I would have to defend the principle of at least using some examples of shtick.
I had a good natured chat about this with some critics recently, the counter argument used by those who don’t employ quotes was that it is more imaginative to relay a joke without using it verbatim.
However, It’s about capturing the essence of a gig, not being lazy.
Personally, while selective quoting can be used, trying to convey some gags by ‘imagineering’ risks distorting it and a blow-by-blow explanation of set-up and punchline will kill it.
The whole point of a punchline is, by and large, to cut the crap and sometimes you can only do this justice by quoting it. For the reader, a gag in a review can act as a calling card, a hook, something to reel in the unsure, making the decision to see a show that much easier. After all, it is usual to only quote the gags that work.
For acts such as Tim Vine, Jimmy Carr and Milton Jones there is a wealth of material to choose from without feeling that you have pillaged their shows. For other comics, storytellers working up to less regular playoffs, the percentage is different.
I concede that common to all artists, whatever their gpm – gags per minute – is the feeling that the reviewer has somehow stripped a joke of its element of surprise. People who read reviews, however, are either those who have already seen the show and want to see how their view matches up, or those who are curious about going to see an act. For the latter group my above argument applies.
Consider it a sacrifice, but also an investment.