EDINBURGH — When you’re a comedian watching another comedian’s show, what do you say when you get “crowd-worked?” I’m genuinely rooting for whoever is on stage so I don’t want to be combative or vague or clever when asked a question. So when I reluctantly wound up in the front row of London-based comedian Matt Green’s show, I had to take a beat to consider my response when asked “what do you do for work?” In my previous dispatch, this question was posed to a head of BBC comedy and he played difficult in order to protect his position for as long as possible. It’s a bizarre dilemma when comedians and comedy industry are in the crowd unbeknownst to the performer. We don’t want to ruin the show but we also don’t want to be part of it either. Should we all just invent alternate identities? Should we all develop a secret wink that only we know?
Those little bits of information could be useful, but Green (pictured above) made a strong point that we live in a World of “Too Much Information.” Being distracted by too much information being readily provided was not only the central theme of his show, but could have described the interjections from the audience as well. Four lively Scottish women took their seats next to me and giggled out their opinions of nearly every statement he made. Green let them know that after 24 shows thus far, he had a “hair-trigger temper” and couldn’t be bothered to tolerate them (in the nicest way possible). Every time he managed to focus on their disruptions, they became more encouraged to share another excerpt from their life stories.
Regardless of the Ironbru-fueled locals in the room, the show was witty, intelligent and soundly relevant. At the core of his show is the idea that our technology has bred a universal network of distractions. Between Blackberries, iPhones, iPads, iTunes, Internet and corporate sponsorship, we have lost our grasp of importance. Couched in a story of interrupted intercourse, Green forces the audience to face their distractions – whether its checking emails during conversations “in case your friends are boring” or allowing Visa to sponsor a large event without wondering why they are “proud” that a credit card company has slapped their brand on it. Matt even made me envy the fact that UK television is fairly limited to BBC channels and basic cable “giving them hardly anything I want” while most Americans are scanning a superfluous number of channels without any purpose.
Green found technology turned on him, when somebody tweeted to a UK magazine called Heat to include Green’s recent commercial as the “Crap Spot of the Week.” One of the most genuinely awesome moments I’ve witnessed at the Fringe was when the girl trying to muffle her laugh in the second row turned out to be the person who sent the Tweet. Fans have a bizarre way of showing love.
With his cell phone on the stool, he urged the audience to “get out of your bubble and remove your filter that technology has created” while at the same time audience cell phones beeped and illuminated their faces throughout the show. Unplug for an hour for God’s sake! Worse came in the Comedy Reserve when a 19-year-old girl fumbled with her cell phone with an annoying, childish ring tone before answering “hello? I can’t talk right now. I’m in a comedy show.” She might be self-aware but she doesn’t’ understand irony. Bad audience. Bad.
An irony not lost on me now is that, as a comedian, I expect audiences to pay attention, engage in the show and laugh at will. But I’m finding that I hardly have the attention span to endure more than 15 minutes of showcase comedy. On the contrary, solo hours have held my attention due to their story arcs and strong delivery. But when I take in showcases, I want to leave halfway through the second act. What a hypocrite I am.
However, there was never a moment I felt like leaving my seat during Dave Gorman’s Power Point Presentation – even though I had a few ciders in my wee little bladder. Gorman brilliantly uses technology to cleverly abuse technology in a world consumed by technology. As you might expect, he utilizes a large slide-based presentation to highlight his comedic points. On screen early on appears: “every word I say will appear on-screen like giant subtitles” while Dave speaks the same.
Gorman (pictured to the right) points out that perhaps we are so engrossed in distraction from our technology that we don’t notice when our technology is marketed using bizarre devices. For instance, take a look at how many cell phone devices are advertised with the time being 10:08, since on a clock-face that looks like a “happy clock.” Mobile devices showing Facebook and Twitter exchanges “captures” unnatural exchanges that we are supposed to relate to. In reality, those exchanges are being sent from fake user accounts that only exist for the ad company to Tweet. “Advertisers have gone mad. They’re stupid but we must be stupider than they are.” I’m buying what he’s selling.
A deluge of information and technology has forced people to fall into auto pilot. One of Gorman’s more poignant jokes, whether intentional or not, was “Knock-knock.” Who’s there? “Pavlov.” If you don’t get it, do some research. Gorman is not a slave to his routine, however, proving to be a brilliant Set List improviser as well. Perhaps he was able to rock the show so well because he was already used to words appearing on screen behind him.
The idea of developing an act like his seems daunting and tedious, requiring impeccable timing, practice and multi tasking. His jokes are micro and macro-analysis of our social networks and conventions. It’s almost too much for my brain to handle, what with all these emails, blogs, Tweets, texts and status updates I have to digest. One has to ponder if all this technology is enhancing or handicapping our lives. Gorman’s use of technology is not a crutch; it’s a brilliant device.
Being at the Fringe has allowed me to get out of my “bubble” of technological dependency. I found that an international calling plan with my carrier is a rip-off, phones are “locked” according to national carrier plans and can’t carry other SIM cards, and that my life can still function without the constant access to calling, texting and data plans. Instead, I operate here on what any fan of The Wire would know as a “burner phone” from Vodaphone that takes me five minutes to send a text and has no other real function. I am “off-the-grid” most of the day, forcing me to connect with people on the street, in the venue, from the audience and from the stage. I don’t think I’m missing anything…Except for everything following the second act of a showcase.
UPDATE ON CROWD WORK AT THE FRINGE: The fearless French comedian extraordinaire, Marcel Lucont, told an audience “an audience is like cuisine. It takes one dick in it to ruin the whole thing.” When Keith Farnan’s hilarious joke “I was in Greece watching all the Sons and Mothers walk though the Oedipal Complex” received a criminally-low response, he told the audience “that joke should just be written down for you to read to me. That’s a funny joke.” Hope you’re reading it here, Keith, and laughing to yourself. (More on Keith to come!)