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banned them. he was admitting he had a filthy mind. Max Miller knew the sort of material his music-hall audiences craved an: supplied it with gags like: ‘I was walking
along a narrow cliff path when I ran into a _. naked lady eommgtheother way. Ididnt ‘ ; ' ' : l : y ’ j :Amnahah" know whetherto block her passage.ortoss . ~ . t . \ « s ~ ~ - - - t I s s - : “Loﬁcndinriohmc
myselfoff.’ Subtle it definitely wasn’t.
Cheeky music-hall filth was perpetuated and developed into the extreme form of hat< material churned out on the Northern Working Men's Club circuit by the likes of Bernard Manning and Roy ‘Chubby‘ Brown. What alternative comics are doing differs only to a point. in that. with some exceptions. it occasionally has a raison d'étrt beyond ridiculing women. gays or minorities. Live comedy has a special potency at saying the unmentionable to an audience who are usually there because that‘s what they want to hear. With looser restrictions than film or TV. it has an opportunity to use greater freedom to effect either to make potent points. or to exploit latent hatred and prejudice.
Let’s take a look at a couple of American stand-ups. both of whom have caused affronted audience members to storm out in disgust. Denis Leary chain-smokes his way through a spiteful and aggressive set ofgags about the Kennedys. the Royal Family and showbiz figures. dwelling on their failings and placing them in ludicrous and generally scatological contexts. We are asked to marvel at Keith Richards‘ drug habit and fantasise about the Queen’s sex-life. Leary’s coda is his fascination with terminal disease, cancer and assorted grisly surgical details.
Andrew Dice Clay talks about being ‘fucked around by ethnic groups‘. rousing the audience to chant along with the punchlines. eg ‘If you can‘t speak the language. get the fuck out ofthe country’. Both comics are objectively very skilful and witty men. yet there the similarity ends. Leary uses the medium of bad taste to question the foibles of the powerful and wealthy. and undermine the morbid seriousness of death and disease. Clay uses the same techniques to unleash his audience‘s capacity for prejudice and all-American racism. 1 know which I think is healthier.
The critics who bemoan live comedy’s obsession with bodily fluids and functions are being a little churlish. After all. you can‘t talk about them anywhere else, so why not use the full freedom of the medium? Frankness has become such a requisite ofthe scene that ‘clean‘ comics are the exception. It has to be realised. though. in this anything-goes atmosphere. that Filth is only of limited value for its own sake. To be more substantial. it has to have some links with Truth. Let‘s have a quote from Trevor Griffiths Comedians: ‘It‘s easy to be a bit of a cunt. you‘ve got to work to become a shithouse. Here endeth lesson one.‘ Gerry
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12m List 16:52 August 1991
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