Critics vs comedians

Performer Peter Michael Marino gets his revenge on The Scotsman's critic Joyce MacMillan at a 'tomato toss' event.
Performer Peter Michael Marino gets his revenge on The Scotsman's critic Joyce MacMillan at a 'tomato toss' event.
Julian is comedy critic for The Stage and The Independent, and author of the Rough Guide to British Cult Comedy
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Earlier this fringe, cerebral comedian Liam Mullone wrote a superb piece for chortle.co.uk for budding comedy critics, warning them off this depraved vocation for fear that they might lose their souls.

Mullone riffed off Chortle's own advice to its reviewers, so ostensibly, I am responding to a response. But Mullone's piece was much more than that, it was a searing critique of critics, well a good old poke anyway...

Liam's full article is here but, meanwhile, here are some edited highlights and some of my counter-musings...

Liam says: You know the Night’s Watch in Game of Thrones? A phalanx of men whose past crimes are forgotten but, in return, they can never know happiness or family or friendship or warmth ever again? That is the vow you take when you become a reviewer...

Verdict: It's a dirty job, but someone has to provide perspective by standing outside of performers to constructively critique them - thereby 'protecting' the public from the artistic equivalent of the White Walkers. Ultimately, no one likes us and we don't care, so yes, we are a lot like the Night's Watch.

Liam says: Ask yourself why you want to be a reviewer. Is it to get into writing? Is it to get into comedy? You can’t go into comedy after reviewing. So ask yourself whether you’re happy to never, ever perform this beautiful and ridiculous craft; this tantalising art that you see played out before you every day for four weeks...

Verdict: Omg. There's an idea that all performers seem to have that if we non-performers played enough games of Zip Zap Bop, pretended to be a tree more or made enough 'hate lists' that we'd all end up bursting out onto the stage like some kind of mass audition for Oliver!, Annie or Bugsy Malone.

I concede that there will be some folk who think that writing about comedy is a way in to performing comedy. The chronology of your career may go this way, but becoming a performer will owe little or nothing to writing about comedy - conversely, the more you write about it, the less you might want to perform.

Liam says: The thing you are assessing is a piece of entertainment, not whether or not you, personally, are having a good time. These things may seem indistinguishable to the very young but, weirdly, it is not the performer’s concern if the toilets smell or the room is too hot or too cold or there’s a bloke in front of you with a dogshit on his head. Until you can float, zen-like, above your immediate circumstances to take in the art before you, then you have no business even being there.

Verdict: Agreed. Some extraneous detail might be useful to flavour your review if it plays a role in the comic's set, but it's not the main event. Meanwhile, if there is someone in front of you with dog poo on them - move.

Liam says: Taking a show to Edinburgh is a triumph of optimism over statistics...You may have seen 20 shows already today, but never forget that you are looking at someone with far, far more courage than you are likely have demonstrated in your entire life thus far.

Verdict: Sacrifice in this case still comes from choice. No one made them do it.

Liam says: You are not the comedy police. Don’t think you can justify cruel or intemperate words with the [Kate] Copstick defence: ‘They’re all egomaniacs so they all have it coming.’...In any case the argument is illogical as it assumes an attritional police/burglar relationship where your job is to eradicate and punish, not cultivate and encourage.

Verdict: Cultivate and encourage, protect and serve, love and marriage, yes, they do all go together like a horse and carriage / pen and quill / laptop and dongle. Go into a show hoping to enjoy it and then find the reasons why you could have enjoyed it more. These could include assassination, but if you can justify a fictional one then have a go. If you write like an internet troll you will be found wanting.

Liam says: Remember that, against all the incredible odds stacked against you, some reviewers ARE held in high esteem by comics. It will take years and years of patience, dedication, temperance and contemplation. But one day an act who doesn’t even have a show on will buy you a drink at the Library Bar – and then you’ll know you’re a half-decent reviewer. One day you may even turn back into a human. But don’t hold your breath.

Verdict: Refer to earlier answer: no one likes us we don't care. That said, mutual respect is important. An act buying a reviewer a drink unprompted? It might have happened...but many comics have memories like elephants. That two star review you once gave them will not be forgotten, so maybe don't leave that drink unattended.

3 Comments

  1. I read the Liam piece and thought it was well written and hilarious. I read this response and it all sounded like a small child saying, “Well I didn’t want to play your stupid game anyway” over and over again. I’m not sure if you’re trying to be funny, but if you are, leave it up to the experts like Liam. If not, go back to journalism nursery. Either way you failed.
    1/5

  2. Liam’s piece is great and I have acknowledged that, and I’m pleased that it may get read even more widely now. It does raise issues that it is worth me addressing as a critic. I did so in a light-hearted manner, not in any way imagining that this was some kind of ‘funny off’, but merely disagreeing good naturedly.

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