The Five Star Comedian Read His One Star Review And Started to Experience an Identity Crisis

this is not a cohesive whole, but a collection of paragraphs loosely mulling over the impossibility of objective judgement of comedy (well i think that’s what it is). It is partly due to reading diverse critical opinions of shows at the Edinburgh fringe, where you can be a five star and one star all in one day. 

as usual spelling mistakes, ugly punctuation and flawed logic may abound due to the lack of any mental editorial process 

Am I funny? No, I am shit. The worse thing you have ever seen, not only did I ruin your night, the memory of that night keeps rearing into view every time you start to enjoy life again. Even your occasional aggressive tweets to me have not been a balm or salve.

Am I funny? Yes, I am one of the best nights out you’ve had recently, you just couldn’t stop laughing and all the targets were spot on. Afterwards you went on the internet and started looking up some of my reference points and now you are voraciously reading things you had not imagined reading before.

Am I funny?  I am okay you suppose, there are a lot of better people, but it was an okay 90 minutes if you like that sort of thing. It was friend’s idea and you won’t bother gain.

Am I funny? I am more often than not the 18th or 19th thing you consider seeing during the Edinburgh festival.

All of these answers are absolutely correct and utterly wrong. It all depends who you are. The problem with human experience is we can only see it from the perspective of one mind, and that is our own. We can read of other people’s perspectives but we have to use our mind to do that too. Often we treat subjective experience as if it was possible to be objective about it. On my journey up to the Edinburgh fringe festival I read two ecstatic reviews of show that interested me. 72 hours later, on my journey back, I read two reviews that warned of the agony of seeing exactly the same show, garlanded with rare tulips only a few days before, it was now pelted with deadly nightshade.

The problem for comedians is they are all desperate to know what other people think of them. I am told this affects normal people too. The sociologist Charles Cooley wrote, “I am what I think you think I am” and people can think all manner of things about anyone after they have seen the image they project as a performer. That’s why people can be disappointed when they meet their heroes. There is the gentle, melancholy songwriter who performs those songs about the melancholy loneliness of the clumsy but it turns out to be an arrogant prick who paws women. Oh look, here is the everyman comedian who knows just what it’s like to be one of us shoving the hopeful fans autograph book back in his face.

Certain tribes feared that they would have their souls stolen if photographed, and there is a certain truth. See the photographs of individuals in the media, they are used to convey to you what we should feel about those individuals. Iconic photographs seemingly tell you who that person is in a single frame, “see that man’s dyed hair and otherworldly dress sense, he looks like the sort of landlord that might kill”.

Add a few thousand more frames and you have a TV appearance, more than enough for you to be able to make enough judgment on a human to tweet them abuse or throw bottles at them at V festival.

Comedy is a very personal matter, this can be forgotten when many comedians are herded together in one Scottish city for a month.

I avoid reviews. One of my internal monologues is bitterly against my career choice and will darken even a seemingly triumphant gig with doubt, so I don’t need the help of critics to fashion temporary nooses. This weekend I was playing the Green Man festival. On Friday night I performed a lengthy set at 9pm which, by my own standards, went down pretty well. I walked off stage to a reaction that, when younger, would have pleased me, within seconds that inner monologue was joylessly declaring, “bet there were some people in there who are furious they saw you, and they’ll probably tweet you, that’ll put you in your place”. Later in the weekend I was sent a photo of my listing for Einstein’s Garden on which someone had written “POO”.  They were correct of course, in their mind, I was poo and it must be openly declared for fear that others may not know that.

“You fools, I warned you, yet you still bought tickets to see him in Bristol, how much wider did the felt tip of my marker have to be to make it clear the man is poo”

The one thing I can try and do is not crumble under the suppositions of what I think the audience want, but fail on my own merits instead. There is a wonderful collection of Richard Feynman stories called What Do You Care What Other People Think? It is tough, you have to care what other people think to some extent to be a human being, otherwise you start to smell, but you have to try to avoid caring what other people think so much that you compromise yourself and beliefs. If your core belief is that you should be allowed to smell, then I am sure we can work out a halfway meeting point.

For comedians, there is a battle between doing what you want, or think you want, and also pleasing enough people to be able to keep returning to the stage. My favourite comedians are predominantly ones who I believe are really showing themselves on stage, or at least part of themselves. This part of their character might be their delight in wordplay, one liners, political diatribes or lengthy absurdist stories of slugs and hairdressers.  When watching them I think, this is what they want to say, not what they feel they should say because it’ll get a laugh. The problem is once you have revealed part of your true self, when it is rejected, you will feel the rejection all the more severely. It is not your act that has been hated and barracked, it is you that has been despised.  Yet still my worst moments on stage (I’ll list them all if ever I find enough time) are when I have been losing the crowd and decided to change tack and do some shabby material I loathe but that I believe they might like. When you fail to please after prostituting yourself, the black bile of self hate is really bitter.

Is there such a thing as a universally adored funnyman, I don’t think there is.  I’ve even met people who don’t like Laurel and Hardy for pete’s sake. When someone becomes hugely popular, they apparently experience a backlash. All that has really happened is that enough people now know of them that the people who don’t like that sort of thing have also become aware of them.

At the fringe festival now, there will be obsessing about how many stars each show has got, but ultimately, as with astrology, the stars may tell you less about your personality than you might imagine or wish. You are a one star act, you are a five star act, you are a three star act, and all with the same turn of phrase delivered on the same day in front of the same people. Do not let adoration change you, someone is just around the corner ready to say you are a dick, and don’t let scorn destroy you, as most look on with disdain as you are punching that melon, it might be the best moment of someone’s week.

I will be doing two shows a day for first two weeks of Edinburgh Fringe – one on minds and brains HERE and one angry one with Michael Legge HERE Then off on tour everywhere as usual HERE (Australia and USA should be added in 2015)

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14 Responses to The Five Star Comedian Read His One Star Review And Started to Experience an Identity Crisis

  1. jennywynter says:

    “The problem is once you have revealed part of your true self, when it is rejected, you will feel the rejection all the more severely.”

    So true. I LOVE this post. I know I sound like a spammer with this generic comment, but you know…I’m trying not to care what you think of that.

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  3. Bruce says:

    Brilliantly incisive and profound. Made me feel much better about my “self”

  4. Mike Bubbins says:

    Well said Robin. Well said indeed. 4 1/2 stars. x

  5. Howard says:

    I’d not heard the “I am who I think you think I am” quote (I don’t read much, I’m hoping to absorb all your knowledge by reading this blog – so keep up the quotes).

    I’ve had a running joke in my Little Howard shows that I (Big Howard) am the unfunny straight man, and I think part of me’s started to believe it. I probably wouldn’t have written the joke in the first place if I didn’t think it was true, I probably wrote it because that’s how I think people perceive me.

    I’m not being mawkish, the solution for me is to let myself be the funny one rather than only ever getting laughs through a cartoon boy.

    Most comics both love and hate themselves, so it’s only fitting (though it doesn’t help) that the rest of the world agrees.

    • Ken Norman says:

      Bith excellent and shit at the same time. Though excellent from my personal viewpoint. A lovely summing up of the paradox that is the performing of standup. Why is it though we “get” this at an intellectual level but still let it chew us up emotionally? The only feedback worth noting I guess is the “feel” of the room (laughs, yes – but not always!) * *****

  6. Giles Milkthrottle IV says:

    Robin,
    You have clearly misrepresented me and I am offended.
    When I scrawled on the Einstein’s Garden listing, it was with a clear reference to the ood in Dr Who; brainy and caring beings (occasionally deeply evil when mind-controlled, but caring and helpful nevertheless).

    It is really not my problem if you read the listing the right way around instead of upside down as intended.

    You are fantastic,

    Giles MIlkthrottle IV

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  8. Jeremy Hughes says:

    Good, and honest. I’m only slightly disappointed to discover that the tag for ‘Poo’ didn’t lead to a long list of entries…

  9. Keeno says:

    i think a lot of it comes from the idea of sharing yourself, and getting people who you like and respect to join in with the laughs…
    not the plebs…

    but then I’m probably just a massive arsehole.
    and you sir, are a very funny man, and am glad I’ve bought my ticket for Bristol. yaaay!

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  11. Gerard Ross says:

    If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster
    And treat those two impostors just the same;
    If you can bear to hear the truth you’ve spoken
    Twisted by knaves to make a trap for fools,
    Or watch the things you gave your life to, broken,
    And stoop and build ’em up with worn-out tools:

    For what it’s worth when I saw you (literary tent – Latitude) I enjoyed your work. Now go find someone who’ll slag you off 🙂

  12. Cressida Cox-Hucker says:

    Anyone won critiques using the word POO is clearly a bumbum

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