Jeff Innocent - Comedy For Grown Ups
Jeff Innocent is putting on a new series of shows 'just for grown ups' - and by that he means those over the age of 40. Here he provides a few thoughts on young comedians and audiences...
It's just past nine o'clock in the morning and I'm sitting at my laptop writing this. Normally I would have dropped my son off to school and by now either be walking the dogs, have gone to the gym, swimming, shopping or - depending on what happened the night before - gone back to bed for a while. All of which represents one of the greatest things about being a stand-up comedian, which is that whilst normal folk are surviving the rat race, commuting to somewhere they don't want to be in order to put food on the table and keep a roof over their head, we are more or less doing what we want to do - whatever takes our fancy. However, since I decided to enlist the services of a PR woman to help me promote a show I'm putting on in October, my life has not been my own.
Let's go back to the beginning. I started earning a living from stand-up comedy about fifteen years ago when I was in my early forties, which - even then - was considered a ripe old age to be starting out. I don't think it would be allowed now. At fifty six I have since become one of the oldest comedians on the circuit. In all that time I have seldom performed to an audience who are my age or older, certainly not in comedy clubs. Arts centres, theatres and civic venues such as Corn Exchanges often attract an older audience but those gigs are few and far between, and usually on Wednesdays for some reason. (Maybe Thursday mornings is pension day?) Where I generally ply my trade is in comedy clubs, with hen parties and stag dos, jugs of cheap beer, shots, cocaine in the toilets, a disco afterwards (and I'm not using the term disco anachronistically). All activities, apart from the cocaine in the toilets, that people of a certain age might seek to avoid.
There are other reasons why people of a certain age might find the culture of a modern comedy club less attractive than staying in and listening to archive episodes of Melvyn Bragg's In Our Time on iPlayer. Like policemen, comedians are getting younger. Indeed it is rumoured that the two biggest comedy agencies are, in a similar way to football clubs, signing up acts whilst still in the womb. Imagine the routines, "Embryotic fluid, what's that all about?". I can tell you first hand that it is difficult to listen to comedians young enough to be your grandchildren, telling YOU about life. I put up with it in the dressing room because I have to, I certainly wouldn't pay for the privilege. If I have to listen to how 'brilliant' The Wire is one more time from people that haven't even watched The Godfather or Goodfellas I'm going to shove their boxsets up their backsides sideways.
Not only is it boring for us to listen to how difficult it is for them now that they are thirty, or what they consider nostalgia ("Who remembers the nineties?"), we also have to put up with the casual ageism. On countless occasions I have stood whilst waiting to go on stage and watched as some hack compere in his late twenties picks on an audience member for having grey hair, calling him 'granddad' or 'silver fox' or some other such patronising age-related comment, while his victim sits there bemused. I have to be honest here and say that I have been guilty of this myself. Once, whilst performing in Nottingham, I noticed a bloke in the audience who must have been at least ninety years old and I couldn't resist saying, "So, Robin Hood, what was he really like?". Actually, I was a little surprised that the audience, mostly thirty years old or under, even knew who Robin Hood was. A couple of times I have made cultural references to complete silence. Like the time a woman with bleached hair and dark glasses walked across the front of the audience and I said, "Look, it's Christine Keeler" or when a member of the audience rushed to extinguish a candle that had got out of control on a table and I said, "Who do you think you are, Red Adair?" Worse still is trying to perform observational comedy about being in your fifties to an audience in their twenties, especially when they are texting, tweeting or checking the consistency of their hair gel.
All of this has often made me feel a little like one of those sad older blokes who keep going out with women that are far too young for them. You know, where they have to keep making intellectual compromises and committing fashion crimes just to keep the relationship going. Wearing ridiculous clothes and hairstyles because 'they' think it looks good. Having to agree on the musical merits of Girls Aloud and pretending that you think that astrology is a legitimate way of understanding people's personalities. So, before I make a fool of myself and morph into the Peter Stringfellow of stand-up comedy by wearing a metaphorical thong on stage, I've made a decision. I've decided to put on a show targeted at an audience more my own age, an audience with a shared sense of history and experience, an audience that remembers Red Adair, Christine Keeler and even Robin Hood. Young audiences still enjoy my comedy and what I want to say to them is this, "It's not over but I think it's time you went and found a comedian more your own age".
I've got to go, the phone's ringing and it's probably my PR woman. With her in mind, I mustn't forget to tell you that the show is called Comedy For Grown Ups and it's at The Leicester Square Theatre on October 18th and November 22nd, and will feature me as host and two great comedians, of a certain age of course. Oh, and under forties are not allowed unless accompanied by an adult... bliss. Be there or be square, as we used to say in the old days.
For tickets to Jeff's 'Comedy For Grown Ups' visit the Leicester Square Theatre website. To find out more about Jeff visit www.jeffinnocent.com
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