24th June 2003
"It's only comedy!" I hear you say. "What's the point of waxing lyrical and analysing something that goes on in dingy pubs and clubs?" It's just that I feel that if more of us performed this label-ripping ritual on a regular basis, then the world would be a much better place. Think about it. Labels reduce a complex human being to a single word. Labels separate people into boxes. They do not unify people. In fact, they do quite the opposite as they only lead to conflicts and misunderstandings. The terrorists who attacked the World Trade Centre were against 'Americans' - they thought of them just as a homogenous mass, not a group of individuals with identities. Take away that label and you're left with millions and millions of people who just happened to be born on the same bit of soil in the middle of an ocean.
During that week in September, I did not want to do comedy. Comedy had been dwarfed by real life and it suddenly seemed frivolous, unimportant and stupid. So what if I'm making people laugh? It doesn't matter. I'm not saving lives. I'm not a fire fighter or an aid worker. Before I went on stage at my next gig, I met a fellow comic and I expressed my negative feelings about doing stand-up at a time like this. He told me how he had spoken to a friend in New York who was trying to deal with what had happened. She had gone to a video store to try and rent a comedy film, but every store she went into had sold out. They told her that since the terrorist attacks, comedy films had been so popular that they were now out of stock. When I heard that, I nearly kicked myself. Who was I to decide what people would draw strength, positivity and courage from? Of course, at that moment more than ever, people needed cheering up. But I'd forgotten that, and judged comedy to be a worthless profession at a time so bleak. Feeling a little less cynical, I did the gig, and was greeted afterwards by an American woman. She thanked me for making her laugh so much and said that she had needed some light relief.
So there you have it. My answer to the question, "Isn't being a stand-up comic the scariest job ever?" is a resounding "No." The top ten most common fears are desperately in need of a new number one. And if you're still not convinced, how about this: it's the only job in the world where people don't laugh at you if you cock-up ...
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