The comedian was unfunny, the chair uncomfortable, and I had a sneaking suspicion that my dinner was attempting to make a run for it.
Despite being proclaimed as ‘A Side-Splitting Barrel of Laughter for the Whole Family’ I wasn’t overly convinced. The only thing I could see close to splitting was the dress of the woman sitting next to me, whose heaving gouts of laughter placed a tone of wonder on the miracles of modern fabric design. A family sitting further along seemed divided in opinion: the parents looked on with undisguised mirth; the children seemed to share my distain and sat around listlessly, kicking the chair in front of them. I considered doing the same, but the ex-naval tattoo on the man in front of me suggested, quite politely, that this might not be such an excellent idea.
I allowed my eyes to wander. The bar was one of those derelict places (but almost intentionally so, as if to save on cleaning) which appear cheap, but are simply dingy and populated entirely by college students who don’t know any better. A dartboard hung packed away in the corner, in prescience of the comedian’s performance. A single family populated the table to the right; the remainder were filled with the usual assortment of dull-comics and habitual barflies. A few spiels of laughter rang out occasionally like the dying calls of a moribund bird indigenous to Australia.
I played with the napkin in front of me, and attempted unsuccessfully to shepherd a piece of lettuce to the centre of the plate, where something dark was hiding embarrassedly. I placed down my knife, edged the plate determinedly away and perfected the wings of my origami swan.
“You’re not really listening to this, are you?” a voice from my left asked. The comedian had just descended into a Republican parody which had been lifted clumsily from last week’s Saturday Night Live.
The voice belonged to a woman at my side who look positively enraptured in the performance. I said something to the effect of ‘If I could tear my ears off without making a scene – I would’ and she laughed.
“It’s genuinely awful. Which also means that it’s the best performance I’ve seen in months.”
I looked at her quizzically. She was blonde in a way which spoke more of sunshine than hydrogen peroxide, and had a figure that was svelte instead of ginormously rotund.
“There are few things in life more liberating than seeing something that is a complete and utter disaster. You give up the idea that comedy needs to be structured and controlled - that seriousness needs to be something moody and austere. Instead, you’re left with something that has so left the mark, which has departed so far beyond either the serious or comic that it becomes farce. It becomes wonderful for that. I love it.”
I stared at her in a way which I hoped displayed befuddlement and bemusement without appearing creepy. She laughed.
“Look at this place – have you honestly ever seen a place as hole-in-the-wall, as awful and dingy and just plain dirty as this is?” Something scurried out from behind her plate, did a circuit around the table and returned slightly abashed, as if that was all the exercise it was willing to do today. She ignored it, and continued. “It’s wonderful. It makes me happy to see that there are still places like this – places where they are so far removed from what should be in society that it becomes beautiful instead. You feel a part of it, the grime, the dirt, the unwashed glass and infested beer. But at the same time you feel apart from it, able to recognise the farce with amusement and incredulity.”
I looked from her to the failing comedian, who had started on an unconvincing impression of the former president.
“Part of you realises this, doesn’t it? You didn’t walk in from the street to see an unsigned comic with the expectation that they would actually be good.” She peered at my clothes. “You certainly didn’t arrive here to meet with someone. No, part of you realises that there is something magical about seeing the terrible in life occasionally. This kid might actually be good one day; he may put all evidence aside and actually make a name for himself. But until then he only retains the potential for that. Now, he is simply awful – determinedly, enthusiastically but above all genuinely awful, and for that it is a gripping performance.”
I spent the remainder of the performance in relative silence, digesting everything that she had said. Eventually, I asked her if she would like to get a drink afterwards.
She laughed. “I like things that are awful, but that would be pushing it.”
I left alone, uncomfortably.
I hate comedians.