On the 21st November 2014, I attended Lee Mack's 'Hit the Road Mack' at the Blackpool Opera House. As expected, the comedian was full of energy and quick to adapt his material around the audience members he spoke to. In fact, he was also very quick to make a comeback at one particular audience member who when asked a second time for their name, responded with, "Are you deaf?"
Of course the comedian took it in his stride and used it to his advantage. If I could give you any advice, it would be not to try and get one up on someone as quick thinking as a comedian. You will not win. For every comment you throw at them, they'll hit you with five. It is hilarious for everyone else who is watching however…
Every now and again, Lee Mack would return to that particular audience member when we were least expecting it, still making it relevant to whatever he was talking about. That is what made it so brilliant. His ability to adapt to the many situations placed before him. The aforementioned man was not the only one who gave the comedian a challenge, but each one was accepted and overcome quite easily and in a way that we all enjoyed.
It is what made the performance so unique to watch; as Lee Mack responded to his audience, we saw a version of his enactment that nobody else will ever see. It is true that his script remains the same for the entire tour. However, each audience he performs to is different which is why going to the theater is still such a rewarding pastime.
Supporting act Mike Gunn was also very good at communicating with his audience. Not on an individual basis like Lee Mack but on a universal one. He talked to us as a whole. Asking us if we agreed, or disagreed with his ideas and he progressed knowing he was on the same train of thought as we were.
There was one thing I did notice about both comedians and it was the repetition of the phrase, "It's just a joke," or "You have to remember it's just a joke."
My immediate response to this is the light-hearted thought, 'You're comedians, of course it's a joke!' But upon reflection, I have realised we are in a new phase of comedy. One in which some audience members have become more sensitive.
Take Frankie Boyle's tour in 2010. It was titled, "I Would Happily Punch Every One Of You In The Face." If you hadn't seen any of his performances before, that title alone should have hinted towards a more violent sense of humour.
The comment that stands out to me in Click's review of the act is: "Despite gaining notoriety for his vicious wit, several members of the audience walked out before bearded Frankie was half-way through his barrage of disturbing one-liners."
If you buy a ticket to see a band, play, or comedian, it is usually because you enjoy their music, the story or their comedy. Those who bought tickets to see Frankie Boyle surely knew how dark his sense of humour was. Yes, he would take a little more than a step further than he was able to on the TV shows he works on such as Mock the Week, but that again is a factor that would surely be considered before buying the tickets. This is why the response surprised me. I have read some of the jokes he made and they are viscous but if you pay for Frankie Boyle, you will get Frankie Boyle. The audience's outrage isn't necessarily unjust but it shouldn't have been triggered by a feeling of surprise. This comedian certainly isn't secretive about his dark humour.
I can understand the offence taken during his performance on Russell Brand's "Give it up for Comic Relief" in 2013 in which he made comments on the Queen and the Duchess of Cambridge. That #Show included many comedians and supported a cause that many wanted to help out with. If there was one act of a variety that I didn't like, that wouldn't stop me from buying a ticket and I'd imagine various people would have thought the same.
More recently was the controversy about Michael McIntyre walking off stage during one of his performances due to a woman on the front row. This particular audience member was using her phone whilst sitting close by. In some accounts of the event she was drunk and loud, in others she was just loud. Either way it must have been distracting. One of the things Lee Mack joked about in his act at Blackpool was how he couldn't see the audience members beyond the first row because of the lighting. For McIntyre, that woman was a part of what little he could see and she was being very obvious about not being interested in the performance.
It would have been more unprofessional of him to lose his temper in front of so many people so walking off stage was the more controlled thing to do. He removed himself from the situation and asked for the problem to be dealt with so he could carry on with his gig. That doesn't sound like something to get frustrated about. In fact, the audience members present wanted the woman to be removed also. So why was there such a fuss?
The public's response hasn't been one of outrage as it was with Boyle. It seems they are more surprised that McIntyre let something that could be seen as trivial affect him. His comedy is always light-hearted and bubbly and so the comedian probably hasn't been seen to be anything but joyful. However, he does get frustrated in this instance. Not much is seen of him losing his temper as he moves out of the public eye before he does so, but the act of leaving in itself is enough to show how he is feeling.
It is true that some comedians would have used a distracting audience member to their advantage. They would have made a joke about it and put them on the spot. Such a thing might push them into being more respectful. After all, the comedian holds the spotlight and if they want, they can shine it on you if you don't behave in a publicly acceptable and respectful manner.
Some think this is what he should have done. The responses have mainly been between that and the concept that maybe the material wasn't very good if the woman had resorted to diverting her attention to her phone? But do we really believe that?
I think the huge response to this event was mainly triggered by disbelief. Performers are expected to put up with distractions in live theatre. But when those distractions are caused by disrespectful behaviour should they be made to just grit their teeth and put up with it?
It was unfair for McIntyre to have been made an example of for this. Those who didn't read beyond the headlines about it will probably see him in a bad light now. And that is what I would like to bring to your attention.
I have brought to light only a few of the many stories of controversy in the comedic world. The inner critic in all of us is pushing so many elements of comedy forward to be assessed. If McIntyre had dealt with that woman himself, he probably would have still been scrutinised for it. We all have the right to like and dislike, but whatever happened to being indirect. If you don't like a particular comedian, don't buy tickets to watch them. If you do like them, brilliant!
It may not seem like it now, but having a constant response to every little thing that somebody dislikes does have an effect on performers. They may not even realise it themselves yet.
For now there is just the odd reminder that it is "just a joke."
For now, our successful comedians are strong willed and probably won't buckle under the fear of offending their audience. Frankie Boyle, for example, knows he is controversial, but he doesn't want to gain everyone's favour and the many successful comedians of today will think the same. But what about the next generation of comedians, the ones who have yet to gain their audience's favour? How much will they adapt and cut out of their scripts to make sure they stay on their audience's good side? What will happen to comedy?
The risky jokes will certainly be lost. When heckled or distracted they'll have to form a wall in their minds to block them out. After all, they can't walk away and they can't confront the offender can they?
So, to conclude; Lee Mack's latest tour was a success and he has bagged himself a talented supporting act. Comedians are human, they make mistakes (quite frequently actually) but after bringing so much laughter to the world we should forgive them. And most important of all, learn to laugh because after all - they are just jokes! #Celebrities #Social media