Are some comedians not worth seeing again?

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Julian is comedy critic for The Stage and The Independent, and author of the Rough Guide to British Cult Comedy
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I went to see a show in recent months that I was disappointed by. I would like to say which show, but since the promoter keeps giving me a wide berth, I had best not rub salt into the wound.

Before I went, I was told by the act's reps that it was a surprise that I had picked the show for review as I had not responded well to previous work by them. I explained that I'd recognised this show as one of the more high profile tours of the moment and that it was hard to discriminate on the basis of previous reviews, otherwise I'd never be to revisit the progress of acts.

Though this was apparently understood, the 'negotiation' hung over my viewing of the show to some extent. This may have been the intended effect, but I got the impression that the reps would rather I hadn't gone at all. I go to all shows hoping to enjoy them, but I think I was really hoping this occasion would buck the trend. It didn't, and I must admit that I found myself thinking 'can you ever go back?'.

I have already written about the benefits of seeing the same show twice and that this can mean both diminishing returns, but also surprising insights. Going to see acts who you haven't enjoyed before is part of the job, but when they are long-in-the-tooth and it is the fourth or fifth time of asking, and your response hasn't changed, is it worth it?

It is a fair question, but it is impossible to make policy out of repeated disappointment. I mean, think of the many pursuits that could be unceremoniously dumped using that measurement: almost everything.

I suppose this is a point at which the critic's prerogative comes in to play. We can't be banned from shows of acts we don't like, though we could be asked to pay. I would respect this in some other cases. For example, some acts do get to a point where their audience won't be influenced by reviews (either way) and so the press allocation is dropped. It's annoying, but it can be justified if it is across the board. Luckily, most acts welcome a record of their work, for better or worse.

In picking a show to cover, various factors come in to play that would determine whether or not it could be 'avoided'. Has the act been over-exposed? Are there other things on at the the time that would be more of interest? Are they universally deemed to be way 'past their best' and beyond possible redemption without some kind of major re-invention?

Given the above, the act I saw and was underwhelmed by can at least take some comfort that they were chosen and not forgotten.

1 Comment

  1. Used to love Ardal O’Hanlon.. I’ve seen a couple of his shows at Edinburgh and locally at Nottingham… but the very last show at the Assembly Rooms Edinburgh 2013 … was embarrassingly flat and had no real sparkle .. and when a top comedian stands up and says.. something like.. “you have got to love what the Russian President is doing…” quite a few ‘comedy’ windows close down..

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