I went to a stand-up comedy night last night and the last comedian finished his act with a Max Wall routine. It’s a bloody difficult routine to do and he did it amazingly; but it prickled slightly – that’s someone else’s material.
To be fair, he didn’t try to pass it off as his own; but somehow it just doesn’t feel right.
Which is weird.
If it was a band performing a cover version of a famous song, I wouldn’t bat an eyelid. Unless it was shit, then I’d just be annoyed; but I wouldn’t find it strange.
However, a comedian using someone else’s material? A comedian doing a cover version of a bit?
But … why? Why shouldn’t a comedian re-use another comedian’s material? Especially if that comedian is dead. Why should material be consigned to forgotten albums or lost performances? Why shouldn’t a man who was a genius in his day have his genius celebrated and repeated?
I don’t have an answer to this by the way, I’m just wondering.
Is there such a thing as a comedy tribute act?
If not, why not?
Is it because it’s easier to duplicate a pop song than it is to duplicate a comedy performance? On the surface, they should be similar – you learn the notes/words, the timing and sound/pitch and you should be able to replicate them perfectly; but maybe there’s something unique in the way an individual comedian performs his material (frequently written by a third party) that’s missing when a band plays?
Or is it just expectation?
If you go to see a stand-up twice and he repeats the same material, you feel duped. Like you’ve wasted your money.
If you go and see your favourite band and they don’t perform their biggest hit (usually in the fake encore) then you feel equally gypped … why?
Is it because comedy relies on shock and surprise whereas music relies on familiarity? A joke rarely feels funnier than the first time you heard it, but songs often grow on you.
But then, why do people buy DVDs of comedians? Why do certain sketches or moments (Del Boy falling through the bar) seem to tickle people eternally?
Monty Python’s live shows were repetitive performances of TV material and people loved them. Is it TV which makes it acceptable to reuse stuff and live performances which have to be fresh and original?
Why has there never been a Monty Python tribute act? Is it a copyright issue? Or has no one ever thought of it? Come to that, why aren’t there Eddie Lizzards and Freddie Izzards running around?
Or maybe there are and I’ve never noticed? I could Google it, but I can’t be arsed.
To put it into a script writing perspective, if you’re writing a sitcom aimed at teenagers – is it okay to re-use a joke from the 1950’s? They won’t have heard it before and it’s still funny – should that joke be left to moulder and die (or perhaps be a treasure unearthed by those curious enough to seek it out); or should a funny joke be celebrated and re-imagined for newer, fresher minds to enjoy?
I try hard not to reuse anything; but sometimes bits creep in, bits which hide in your subconscious and masquerade as your own ideas – should these bits be stamped out? Or should they have their origins celebrated and be held up for the world to admire?
I don’t know.
Would I pay to go and see Freddie Izzard? Possibly not. Maybe, if he was playing in the local pub and it was only a fiver. Would I go and see Freddie Izzard if the pub were paying him and entry was free? I still don’t know.
Is this a gap in the market? Or is it blasphemous and I should be burnt at the stake for even thinking it?
I don’t know, do you?