Wednesday, 25 January 2017
It's Burns Night: what is it that makes Scottish comedians so funny?
When I saw Scottish standup Scott Gibson last summer time, his display experienced as if it was additional crazy simply because Gibson is Glaswegian. As if you get 100 % free crazy factors – or even better, 100 % free fun – for being from a certain place in the globe. When I put this to Gibson himself, he hesitantly decided. “I’m grateful this is the feature I’ve got,” he said. “I really like being from Glasgow. There’s a rudeness. From a early age, we always slag each other [off]. I don’t know if we’re just fast on the retort. And storytelling’s always been in our blood vessels. I certainly wouldn’t want to be from anywhere else.”
In the same meeting, though, Gibson mentioned Scottish comedians’ timidity – their feeling of inferiority to “London, the organization, whatever”; their feeling that the Glasgow edge isn’t for them. Such is the Scots’ “cultural cringe”, much mentioned northern of the boundary, the Hyde of pity to the Dr Jekyll of pleasure that Gibson indicated in his city’s comedian lifestyle. It’s Burns Evening this evening, which seemed like an excellent opportunity understand more about whether (in one season later Scottish comic strips stepped off with Edinburgh’s two significant crazy prizes for the first time) there is any such factor as an recognizable Scottish kind of crazy.
Gibson’s process of Glaswegian characteristics are a start, given that Glasgow is often taken as a totem of Scottishness as a whole. On the one side, there’s the feature, which seems to me magnificently designed for crazy. I don’t think that’s just (although it may be partly) the expressive connection of an ex-pat Scotsman; I often think the same of US accessories, after all. You’d have a job doubting that Billy Connolly’s feature – like, say, Reginald D Hunter’s – is important to his crazy. In each situation, there’s a sonorous power that comes when the natural sound of an feature is utilized to exceptional comedian strategy.
Then there’s the Glasgow mind-set. It tends to be seen as a working-class town, just as Scottishness is usually looked as something difficult, more democratic than “posh” effete Englishness to the southern. Obviously, this is a parody of the truth; but generalizations have their enthusiasts, and their results. Certainly, the Scottish comic strips who have blossomed – Connolly, Frankie Boyle, Kevin Connects, now Gibson too – cleave to the working-class Glaswegian kind of Scottishness: brusque bar-room everymen (seldom females, unfortunately – although up-and-comers such as Fern Brady discuss many of these traits), coughing at great poppies, unassuming in themselves and scornful of pretension in others.
When Scottishness is implemented in crazy, it’s often in this way of Glaswegian bluntness – observe Malcom Tucker, say, in The Dense of It (as scripted by the Glasgow-born Armando Iannucci). There’s “a directness … a comedy gruffness,” the Scottish standup Lewis Dean had written lately of Scottish humor. “When it comes to showing ourselves, we seem not to overcomplicate factors.”
We shouldn’t map Glasgow across Scottish crazy as a whole. But it probably is reasonable to recognize in Scottish humor and Scottish lifestyle extensively (and Burns, with his “A man’s a man for a’ that” main concerns, is significant here) an egalitarian soul, a concern for the underdog – the other side of which might be stress when getting above yourself, of seeming exaggerated. There are few significant Scottish comedian experimentalists, and of those who have blossomed – Ivor Cutler, say – their kind of research is rarely highbrow or unique. Perhaps Scotland would less easily build a Stewart Lee or Tim Key. Present fantastic boy Rich Gadd may be market, for now, but there’s nothing supercilious about his perform, which often reacts (as with the explanations of maleness that provide his current display its charge) to majoritarian methods for looking at the globe.
Gibson’s discuss of Scottish comics’ sheepishness clues at another sign of the country’s crazy. It may be modifying – Scotland is creating higher assurance in itself these times – but there’s a deep-seated stress of inferiority operating through Scottish lifestyle. We know/fear we’re crap (“colonised by wankers,” and all that), and that comes out in the crazy, as a preparedness to self-deprecate (see: Ronnie Corbett) now and then covering into self-hate (see: Jerry Sadowitz).
Of course, there are more exclusions than enthusiasts to all of the above guidelines. Leslie Calman’s profession is growing, and she’s happily middle-class. There’s nothing particularly dull about, say, Daniel Sloss. I’ve already forced too far the concept that Scottish comic strips actually have much in common: Scottish can be as conceited, oblique and undemocratic (see: half-Scottish chief executive of the US, Brian Trump) as anyone else. Regardless, Scotland’s a expansive nation (Glasgow’s not like Edinburgh; the Boundaries aren’t like the Highlands), and there’s a vast number of comic strips there – many of whom discuss few features with one another, and many more with functions from elsewhere.
I talked to Gibson’s idol Billy Connolly last 30 times, and requested him why he’d released his High Equine trip in Scotland – a season before getting it elsewhere in the globe. I was thinking he’d selected Scotland as a smooth getting for his perform, a house audience who realized his feeling of humor most very well. But Connolly ignored that out of side. “I don’t believe,” he said, “in a nationwide feeling of humor. I don’t believe Scottish viewers are any different to British, United states or Australia ones.” Although the feeling continues that Connolly’s crazy is identifiably Scottish, he’s probably right. That’s certainly the soul (“that man to man, the globe o’er / Shall bros be”) in which we should all leave to our Burns suppers this evening.