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COMEDY BOOM Laughter Is On The Upswing

Kristen Wiig
Kristen Wiig

From local to international, stand-up comedy is having a field day right now. More tours, more first-timers taking to the stage. Is it because of the internet? Are we being trained to enjoy social commentary? Perhaps part of a growing appreciation for shorter narrative? A reaction to the constant flow of sombre news? Or are we all just a whole lot funnier?

Recently Kristen Wiig dressed as the character Emilia Clarke plays on Game Of Thrones for an appearance on The Tonight Show. The footage went viral, proving a comedian pretending to be a character is currently more popular than an appearance from the actress who plays said character. Aside from being extremely meta, it drove home the point comedians are slowly becoming our preferred form of celebrity. Popular political and social commentary in Twitter and Facebook newsfeed is more likely to be voiced by Russell Brand and Ricky Gervais than Barack Obama. Likewise while Emma Watson earns kudos for her feminist stance, it’s Amy Schumer’s skits, with their biting commentary on sexual inequality and gender double standards that regularly trend on social networking platforms. Apparently we’re more open to ideas when funny people present them.

Is it any surprise news of John Oliver’s upcoming Australian tour was met with more excitement than a rock star’s visit? It’s a comedian’s world right now: we’re just living in it (and providing material).

With most other aspects of celebrity culture remaining primarily homogenised (a cultivated aura of success and confidence projected alongside politically correct pre-prepared sound bites), there’s something personal about the biting awkwardness of a stand-up comedian that really appeals.

It’s also one area of mainstream entertainment that is minority-friendly, in the sense cultural history, sexuality, and gender are all part of the performance, rather than being elements swept under the carpet.

Stand-up is very personal. Maybe, in an era where we’re supposedly becoming desensitised automatons behind a screen, stand-up helps us connect and deal with the world by laughing at it and at ourselves.

Sometimes instead of getting angry at things happening in the world, comedy makes us laugh at the appallingly way society deals with certain issues; the audience thinks about and eventually hopefully addresses less than shining human tendencies. An insidious way to preach without actually preaching, comedy is all about holding up a mirror; one that makes us sometimes wince even while chuckling.

Snippets from Seinfeld still show up in comment sections online for a reason: the crazy, confusing and downright hilariousness of modern life continues to be funny. Stand-up comedy lets people laugh together at life’s idiosyncrasies (it’s that or cry).

Lately I’ve been invited by friends to see more live comedy routines than live gigs. Instead of mastering an instrument, stand-up performances require a different set of skills that people seem more comfortable perfecting. The person onstage is expressing a WTF reaction to the world around them, and in an age that sees us flooded with information, it’s no surprise we’re enjoying being stunned together.

I say, enjoy the boom.

GILLIAN O’MEAGHER