By Judith Lucy
As all writers know, comedy is extremely difficult to write and even harder to write about, since what one person finds funny often leaves others completely cold. I have to admit at the outset that I am ambivalent about one-person comedy shows. A few bad experiences left me bored with a genre that had come to seem little more than a competition to see who could get away with using the grossest language and most offensive material. My saner self kept asking: “Why do people subject themselves to an evening with often deeply unattractive ‘comedians’ whose humour is puerile and whose self-disgust drives them to belittle everything around them, including their audience?”
On the other hand, for those of us who are incapable of telling a simple joke without losing the interest of even the most polite of our friends after ten seconds, the skill of a stand-up comedian who talks like a grown-up and can keep an audience enthralled for 90 minutes is awe-inspiring. When that comic is a woman (often the worst joke-tellers in the world), it is even more impressive.
Not that entertainers like Judith Lucy actually tell jokes instead they keep up a one-sided conversation in which they share with an audience their views on life’s idiocies, illustrated by absurd encounters and apparently off-the-cuff observations. When it works, as it does in this case, it can all seem intimate, improvised on the spur of the moment and hilarious. It is like being at a dinner table with a gifted and uninhibited storyteller who nobody wants to interrupt. If it doesn’t work, it can seem ill-tempered, studied and embarrassing.
Much of the skill of a comedian, of course, depends upon how well they read their audience; knowing just how far to go with the in-jokes, the coarse language, the religious or political ridicule. Being offensive is almost de rigueur for comedians of course, and fans of Judith Lucy will know that she has a very acerbic wit, a wry and dry delivery, and a pretty cynical view of society. In her current show (built around the story of her sacking from breakfast television) she gets the mix just right, to judge by the response of her audience on the night I attended. Granted, evangelical Christians and fans of John Howard are probably thin on the ground at her shows, but even the most tolerant and broad-minded of us can make our resentment felt if we sense we are being patronised or bored by a performer.
I am always fascinated by the response of audiences. I think I would have particularly enjoyed going to the theatre in the 18th century if I could have scored a seat in one of those stage boxes from where you could spend as much time studying the audience as the performers on stage. In all forms of theatre an audience can make or break a show, but in this sort of show in particular, with no scenery, music, props or other actors for support, a performer has to work hard to get the audience in the groove and keep them there. From where I sat, Judith Lucy did just fine. Like most of her audience, I had a smile on my face the whole evening, I was helpless with laughter much of the time, and I loved the visual joke at the end. What more can you ask?
Playing until 25 June: evenings 7:30pm
Running time (no interval) 90 minutes