Letters To A Young Comedian

Monday 31 January 2005, The Stage

It is easy to identify the day comedy stopped being funny on the BBC. It was the day I was sacked from Paramount City, a show I presented for one season in early 1990. That was the moment the rot set in, when I was replaced by younger comedians who were know-alls who knew nothing and who were obviously less funny than me.

My subject today is bitterness. Comedians, it would appear, are especially prone to being bitter. I can think of a number of documentaries focusing on a comic who, past his heyday, lounges around at home complaining to a camera about the conspiracy in the media to keep him off the screen. His sitting room is besplattered with dozens of photos of our hero on stage, receiving awards and meeting Sammy Davis Junior. He reveres the entertainers of the generation above him and despises those who have come after. Of his contemporaries he only rates those who are less successful than he.

The hubris continues - he will moan about his ill treatment at the hands of his former employers, how they never sent him a letter of thanks, how his new ideas are left languishing in an in-tray and his calls go unreturned. There is, ironically, a comic element to this bitterness which was mined to great effect by Steve Coogan in his masterful portrait of Alan Partridge.

You donít have to be over 50 to qualify as a bitter comedian. I have come across several in their twenties who feel jaded and rejected. I have some sympathy for them. Itís hard to go from the red hot ego-boosting acclaim of a good gig or TV show to being ignored after your moment has passed. And I too recall the brief irritation I felt that I never was actually told I was leaving Paramount City. I found out from someone who worked on the show, whom I bumped into on the street.

There is no point in being bitter, just as there is no point in my fancying Isabelle Adjani. You have to learn to shrug your shoulders and try to think of something new. Banging on about your enemies and your dislike of fellow performers does not make you an attractive person to work with on new projects. You become boring, someone to avoid. At that point you either shape up or go home and drink yourself to death.

Bloody hell, this is miserable, futile stuff Iím writing. I sound like some tedious therapist delivering up platitudes on coping with failure. And now I remember that a couple of months ago I wrote about the nature of rejection. Whatís my problem? I myself am enormously handsome and successful. Much more so than you, you pathetic loser. Clearly I have allowed the cold and lack of sunlight to affect my literary ebullience. On my next column I shall hymn the glories of my profession and the thrilling comic pulse of this brief ridiculous life. But until then Iím that odd bloke muttering darkly in the corner of the caff.
Matron, my medication please.

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