Sir, I demand satisfaction!
I like lots of different genres of music, but one in particular really sticks with me. No matter what my mood is, Soul is always a perfect accompaniment to it. I was raised on the stuff. My mum was part of the generation that made the pilgrimage to Wigan Casino and other hallowed grounds weekly, so there was never going to be any chance of me not listening to such artists as Judy Street, Frank Wilson, and, of course, Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons.
My love of soul isn’t exclusive to the northern variety. Stax, Motown, Soul-Jazz - I love it in all shapes and sizes. There is something in the music that bypasses my brain and connects with me in some ephemeral place of my being. Despite this, I feel a bit phoney in my devotion to the form. This isn’t because I’m white - I don’t think it matters what your ethnicity is, soul is just great music. Instead, it’s because I don’t believe in the thing from which the genre takes its name.
Soul music is derived from the merging of R&B with Gospel (a fact demonstrated perfectly in this scene from the film Ray), and although Soul is in a sense secular, most of the best (at least, in my most definitely correct opinion) soul artists were and are deeply spiritual people. Although most of the time they write songs that have nothing to do with God, every now and then they make the gospel connection blatant. Take, for example, Have a Talk With God by Stevie Wonder or God Is Love by Marvin Gaye. I love both of these songs musically, but I just can’t connect with the lyric of either.
For me, the idea of God is logically inconsistent and contrary to the evidence we have at hand, but it is the very idea of God which gives so much Soul its power. I should, therefore, not connect with this music at all, and yet the contrary is happening. Why? Well, I think it has something to do with how the mind works. Jung, a devoted Christian, argued that Humans are, by our very nature, spiritual beings. While a lot of analytical psychology seems to be borderline psudo-science, this idea makes a lot of sense. Every culture on earth has religious beliefs, and even atheists like myself still crave and practice some of its basic constituents like ritual and prayer. A ritual doesn’t have to be the consumption of the flesh of a demi-god, it can also take the form of having a charm on your desk during an exam for good luck. Likewise a prayer doesn’t have to be addressed to a deity. When your inner-monologue takes over to pep you up before you undertake a difficult task, you’re basically praying to yourself.
I think that Soul appeals to this part of me, the part that craves the spiritual despite my complete intellectual disdain for such a notion. I can listen to Marvin rhapsodise about his friendship with Jesus and connect to it without being embroiled in contradiction. Soul is music for the non-conscious mind, it brings joy to me and I hope it gives you the same. So, to end this ramble, I’d like to leave you with this song. If there is a God, then I believe this is the closest any human has ever come to connecting with him/her/it/they.
In my brief and somewhat irregular time spent in the lower circles of the comedy circuit (I haven’t performed for quite some time so this may even be an exaggeration) one issue has seemed to be, if not on the surface of all comedian’s conversations, then certainly bubbling underneath them: is comedy an art? My own answer to this question is a mixed bag of salted and unsalted nuts, with the occasional chocolate raisin thrown in for good measure.
If by ‘an art’ you mean ‘a medium or craft that requires skill and practice to master, and which sometimes, but not always, can be used to express personal, philosophical, or political ideas’ then I’d have to agree with you, because to do otherwise would be blatantly denying fact. Comedians spend years perfecting their craft, studying what makes people laugh, perfecting the execution of the atomic elements of comedy the joke and gag. Some comedians have used the medium not only to make an audience laugh, but to spread ideas. Whether they be the personal and often heartbreaking recollections of the performers are part of the Stand Up for Mental Health project, the taoist musings of Bill Hicks, or hilarious polemic of Mark Thomas.
If, on the other hand, by ‘an art’ you mean ‘Art’; worthy of the same praise as Rabelais, Shakespeare, Cage, or literally any artist, then I will have to disagree. My problem with this idea is twofold. First, there is an issue with how the medium is distributed and received. High art, Art with a capital A, is hung in galleries, shown on screens, read in books, heard in opera houses and so on. Comedy is different. Although it can sometimes take place in theatres or on tv screens where we may see Art, the connection with the audience is completely different. Stand ups often talk to their audiences, improvisers completely depend of doing so, but apart from this there is the most obvious point about how the audience and performer interact - the comedian is playing for laughs.
Rabelais would paint a picture and have to wait until lot’s of people had seen it to get feedback. Shakespeare might have got the occasional laugh, but even in a comedy like Midsummer Night’s Dream that’s not the whole show. As for John Cage, I still can’t decide whether he was playing for laughs or not. A comedian gets direct feedback from her audience by laughter. Even though she may have a larger theme or story she is weaving, laughter is her bread and butter. If you sit through an entire stand up set or sketch show and do not laugh, then the performers has failed you, even if they have made you more aware of third world debt.
First and foremost we go to see comedy shows to laugh, we may get something extra on the side, but it is the comedy that pulls us in. If you wanted just political arguments and weren’t that interested in laughs you’d read Noam Chomsky rather than go see Mark Thomas perform. This is the reason why I can’t whole heartedly call comedy an art, capital ‘A’ or no, because comedy is fundamentally a form of entertainment. We go to see comedy shows to laugh because laughter is entertaining, especially when shared with a crowd. There is certainly artistry that goes into doing this, and there are certainly comedians who get into our brains as well as our funny bones, but the whole reason for comedy’s existence is as a way of entertaining people.
This is where my second reason for disagreeing with comedy as ‘Art’ comes from. Performers, amateur and professional alike, who firmly believe in comedy’s capital ‘A’ status have subjected me to the most pretentious, excruciating, and unfunny things I have ever seen. Without naming names, I could describe one show as two people masturbating on stage while shouting ‘I am totes clever’ and throwing whatever spent ejaculate they produce onto the audience and calling it ‘Art’. I have no problem with experimenting with form, neither with the surreal or ‘dark’, but when these things are done for their own sake they frustrate me. They fail to connect with me because they at first fail to entertain me, after which point I no longer care what is happening.
There are always rebels, in any art form or medium, who react against the mainstream and create avant garde works that challenge us and our perceptions of the medium itself, and indeed this is necessary. If it wasn’t for Luis Bunuel & Co. saying a massive ‘fuck you’ to reality then we’d be surrounded by paintings and pictures that only reflecting the world from the outside, and that is a place I don’t want to go to at all. But in comedy the alternative or avant garde movement can sometimes cling to the ‘comedy as Art’ thesis for all the wrong reasons - because they believe that entertainment is a dirty word. We see entertainment as trivial, banal even, and therefore the only worthy pursuits for the creative mind are to produce works of ‘High Art’, not tell poxy little jokes to opiate the masses.
Because I am English, I am inclined to believe that this attitude stems from inherent classism. Entertainment is for the working class, Art for those higher up the food chain. Anything that is good enough for the masses simply isn’t worthy of critical respect. To be fair, some of the drivel that gets pumped out to us isn’t worthy of critical respect, but that has more to do with cynical tv producers exploiting people than it has to do with my argument. This attitudes forces some comedians, and some artists, to push boundaries where there is no point, and even avoid making people laugh in order to gain critical respect. This is a fruitless enterprise, and degrades entertainment.
'Entertainment' is no a dirty word. We all have need for something to take the edge off the world: a story to transport us somewhere else, a joke to lighten the mood of a hard day. There is no reason that something entertaining cannot also be informative or meaningful. I find 2001: A Space Odyssey as hypnotising as I find it intriguing. If comedians are going to get to grips with what it is they do, then they need to start thinking more about the heart of their endeavour then all the bullshit that fogs it up. If you can at first keep an audience entertained, then you can worry about philosophical quandaries and your personal journey. Only when you can do the first will an audience actually care about your message.
I went to uni (the first time round) with the third guy in the stand-off (Stoph), Great guy. Finally got a chance to see the collective a few months ago when we invited them to Sheffield for the Revue’s 24 Hour Comedy Marathon, in which they were one of the highlights - I have never seen sunblock so expertly slathered upon a man’s back to such devastating effect. All their videos have been brilliant, but this one in particular has tickled me most. Enjoy.
This is our fifth and final promo video for our upcoming 24 hour comedy marathon for Comic Relief. This one is called ‘Mustard’ and features Dan Kiernan and Andy Goddard. It was shot & edited by Paddy Rogers and was written and scored by Dan Kiernan.
We shot this one straight after the backflips, and we had to smear mustard on Andy’s face, which unexpectedly added to his pain and trauma.
This is our fourth promo video for our upcoming 24 hour comedy marathon for Comic Relief. This one is called ‘backflip’ and features Andy Goddard, it was shot by Paddy Rogers and was uploaded by Dan Kiernan (you can hear his voice right at the end).
This video wasn’t that great to shoot. We made Andy do this three times, and he hurt his leg so badly that he couldn’t walk the day after. So you’d best find this funny because he suffered to ensure your laughter.