Opinion: Red Raw – Live Comedy At Its Purest
By Michael Park on June 22, 2012 in Stage
Until recently, Newcastle was suffering from a comedic crisis of conscience. It suffered at the hands of a non-existent scene punctuated by sticky carpets and labyrinthian corridors where audiences were more likely to run into a demonic David Bowie than someone actually telling jokes.
In truth you’ve only had The Stand for about half a year now and I think many of you might still be a little wary of it. There could be any number of reasons for it. You might see live comedy as the staple of the arch-identifiers who tread the boards of The Apollo and Wembley or perhaps you believe that Michael McIntyre must be funniest man in Britain because he makes the most money and has the biggest media profile. Coming from a city that has a comedy night on somewhere pretty much every night, I can categorically deny that suggestion. Live comedy is and always will be at its most exciting and vital in clubs and in the back rooms of pubs.
Don’t let the freshly washed face of stand-up comedy fool you into believing that it’s the god-given right of telly comedians to bound out and crack a few jokes, scientifically hand-picking audience members from the front row of 1,000 seat theatres in order to work them into their pre-prepared opening and have you pay through the mortgage for the privilege of seeing them do it. Comedians being able to fill theatres is no bad thing but it’s only when you’re sitting in a subterranean club with three hundred other people half-paralysed with fear about the verbal bollocking that they might be subject to and half-overcome with a near orgasmic excitement that they might discover “the next big thing”.
That is the beauty of stand up comedy.
Walking into The Stand on a Wednesday night, paying £2 to the lovely person on the door and taking your seat in a hotbed of comic talent is the beauty of live comedy. You can pay £50 to go and see the Michael McIntyres of this world if you want to; that’s your right, but allow it a separation from the first time you go to Red Raw.
The tight one-liners and witty repartée identical to every other show is fine in its place but you can equate that to going to see Bruce Springsteen at the Stadium of Light and then going to O’Messy Life at The Cluny. They share similar heritage but there’s something more romantic and vibrant about the emerging act seeing it all for the first time, doing it all for the first time and allowing you to join them on that journey.
Some of what you might see at Red Raw might be the most astonishing tripe ever to cross a stage but it makes Red Raw what it is. It’s a risk for the performers; these brave souls who have to climb on stage and reveal what is often a horrifying series of traumatic and embarrassing facts about themselves as much as it’s a risk for the audience who could be left bereft and broken in a tumultuous ocean of inane observations and clumsy punchlines.
I will reassure you by saying that I’ve never been to Red Raw and not enjoyed it.
Regardless, you’re in it together. The comedians, some of whom will be performing at The Stand for the first time, some who will be experienced and trying new material, and some who will never have stood up before rely on the audience to be as supportive as they can and in return the audience rely on the acts to provide them with their very best set. This is Red Raw after all; only your best is good enough.
The reason I tell you all this is because Newcastle has the potential to have an incredible live comedy circuit. There are great acts who have come out of the North East and there could be so many more if you, the good people of this fair city, go along and support live comedy. Out of Red Raw, the scene will grow, encouraging more independent promoters, student union gigs and even pubs to put on their own comedy nights. Many people see the Edinburgh Festival as the pinnacle of comedy but it’s just not the case. If you create a thriving comedy scene where everyone buys into it together then that is the pinnacle.
It’s not all about big names and bigger egos, it’s not about paying more than a tenner a ticket for some big show. It’s about the connection that you feel with someone when they make you laugh and the feeling that they get when they see a room of smiling faces who are entertained by an act that they really believe in.
Live comedy isn’t cynical, live comedy isn’t commercial and live comedy isn’t a means to an end. It’s a passion, and when you embrace it, it’ll embrace you.
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