Saturday, February 11, 2012

Blue Cheese & Sparta

As a child I didn’t like drinking Guinness.

I didn’t like smoking, hot spicy food nor did I like blue cheese. I did however like dilutable orange juice, sweets and my mother's home made potato soup.

Today it’s the opposite. Apart from the soup.

Since childhood my tastes have changed dramatically, in fact on the like/dislike swingometer a 180-degree swing has been registered.

This process has been going on all my life, I didn’t wake up one morning and suddenly decide I liked beer or Stilton. It was gradual change, like my eyesight getting worse or hair sprouting from every orifice - imperceptible and only really noticeable in retrospect. I can't remember the day I stopped looking at blue cheese thinking I would probably die if I ate the foul smelling lump of mould. I also imagine this process will continue the rest of my life, like my ears growing.

I can, with some certainty, predict that by the time I am 130years old I will be happily wolfing down brussel sprouts and have flappy Indian elephant sized ears.

It is the same for a lot of things, music, fashion, hobbies, hairstyles.

I read in the paper last week about Billy Connolly frumping off stage because a heckler decided to take him on. Seems in this instance the heckler won and I wonder why this is. What’s changed with Mr Connolly which made him think walking off stage like Elton John in a huff was a better option than standing there and verbally abusing the man in return?

Comedians, if you forgive the pun, are a funny breed.

I can’t think of a comedian who has lasted, that is continued to be funny throughout their life. I am sure I am wrong here but personally I can’t think of a single one.

Billy Connolly is a great example of someone who once was at the top of my list of funny people but has now joined the unfunny list alongside the likes of Jay Leno and Piers Morgan, neither of which I must add were ever on a funny list.

Why is this? Is it like I’m slowly outgrowing my glasses, I have grown out of Billy Connolly?

I don’t think so.

There are a lot of ‘old’ comedians which fit the same pattern. What about John Cleese? Or Robin Williams? Or worse still Lenny Henry? These men were all very funny at some point in time. Is it that the world around them has changed and they have stayed the same or have they changed and become less funny?

I have a theory….

The Spartans once used to be the most ferocious fighting race of people known to man. From birth, the men were trained exclusively to be warriors. They were so extreme that the Spartan leaders would examine every baby born and should there be a sign of abnormality or weakness they would kill the child there and then. These were the lengths they went to to be the best fighting force in the world.

Then they got soft.

Like every great civilisation, they reached the their zenith, beat everyone around them and then said ‘What now?’

Well they started partying a little too much. They softened up on the rules of entry, engaged in orgies and slept in. Got fat and watched too much daytime TV.

Pretty quickly, relatively speaking, they were defeated by the Thebans in 371bc and passed into history.

Sparta, to quote a mildly important document, had earned the right to go after the pursuit of happiness. In short, they became self-indulgent and lost their edge.

Why is this relevant to comedians?  Well there is a tenuous link coming so please bear with me.

One common denominator between Spike Milligan, Billy Connolly and John Cleese is they have all written biographies and they have all written them from a psychological perspective.

The books are analysing why they do what they do, where does the motivation come from and what is the driving force behind their need to be funny, in front of people. It’s this introspective step which I believe is the problem. It’s a bit like that awful Big Brother program. Within a day or so of entering the house, the occupants of the house go all Lord of the Flies and start eating themselves from the inside.

Whenever you stop and start wondering why you do what you do you run the risk of losing the thing that you do in the first place.

I liked Billy Connolly the edgy, offensive comedian. 

I don’t however find Billy Connolly the reflective, quiet, well-rounded person funny.

I am sure he is now comfortable with himself. I am positive his inner self is at peace with the abuse he suffered as a child. I am very happy for him that he has reconciled his mojo with his aura or whatever the fuck he has gone and done.

Self-analysis and an internal focus isn’t necessarily a good thing though. By discovering or conquering your inner demons you will probably become a different person. This does not necessarily mean you will become better person.

Stand up comedians are edgy, they need to be to be funny. Laid back, calm and at peace with the world are not traits I would immediately associate with stand up comedy. They should be angry, they should be opinionated and they need to be a little left of centre.

The Spartans became soft because they lost the desire to beat everything in front of them, like an up and coming boxer trying to fight his way out of the ghetto. What happens when there is no one in front of him and he has an awful lot of money in his back pocket? These comedians have followed a similar route, they reached the top, got a bucket load of cash and then started becoming self-indulgent.

I tuned into a television program the other night. It featured the new well balanced Mr Connolly touring around Canada. He would stop and look at some arts and crafts shops. He drank tea and ate scones at a local cafe. He then spent a day on a fishing boat and discussed in detail the demise of the fishing industry with the hard working common men.

All in all it was a television program about Canada, a dull, un-enlightening program about Canada and absolutely nothing more.

If this is what finding yourself does for you I would suggest we should all simply stay as we are.

If we do, we might be a little weird, a little damaged perhaps, but we will definitely be a lot more fun and I might not be able to find a barely perceptible link between Billy Connolly, Sparta and Blue Cheese.