Comedy Review – Whats so Funny

What’s So Funny?
Serpentine Gallery, London 17 September

This comedy event, which launched the Hearing Voices, Seeing Things mental health exhibition (until 15 October), could have been groundbreaking, writes Mark Drinkwater.

Instead it was no different to comedy evenings that are held across the capital every weekend. The bill followed the standard
format of four white male middle-class acts each telling jokes for 15 minutes. A variation on this theme was a female MC,
Zoe Lyons, whose take on life as a newly married lesbian made me chuckle, until she started denigrating Scots, Liverpudlians
and so on.

First up was the double act “(nobleandsilver)” whose innovative use of video projection and sound recordings seemed
promising. But jokes at the expense of older people and the homeless are never going to be acceptable. Most comedians
have moved on from jokes about black people – so why do these sub-Dick and Dom wannabes pick on other disadvantaged communities?

Next up, Nick Doody’s thoughtprovoking set about the Brits’ obsession with alcohol was marred by a misplaced joke about
suicide. Am I alone in thinking suicide is never going to be funny? Certainly not at an event promoting mental health issues.

Only Simon Munnery provided a relatively cruelty-free set, with an act of deft one-liners that defied stand-up conventions and whose content challenged our assumptions. Where Munnery gets it right, and his colleagues get it so wrong, is that he uses himself as the butt of the jokes – or those who oppress others. I loved his laidback style and particularly his jokes that unpicked the rhetoric of the Daily Mail readers in his family: “Immigrants, coming over here? …yeah, that’s what
‘immigrants’ means, dad!”

I am broadly in favour of using the arts to tackle issues concerning social exclusion, but our host’s choice of acts
was misjudged. Let’s learn from comics like Munnery – and move away from the beery, macho tradition of comedy that
victimises minorities.

Mark Drinkwater is a community worker in Southwark, south London. He will be having an exhibition of photographs to promote World Mental Health Day (10 October) at the Institute of Psychiatry, London, until 27 October.

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