The link between comedy and tragedy has been long observed – from the emblem of Greek theatrical masks and the trope of the sad clown; to the more modern notion that comedians are deeply unhappy souls in desperate search of approval. So with that in mind, the idea of a stand-up tragedy night isn’t as off the wall as it first sounds.
And there are certainly far more depressing ways of spending a Friday evening than in the company of this entertaining bunch of melancholic oddballs in the Hackney Attic, at the Picturehouse Cinema. That said, not all the acts strictly observed the theme of ‘tragedy’ or in fact ‘stand-up’. But the rich mix of bizarre performances – from James McKay’s recital from the Book of Ezekiel, to an audience participation choose-your-own-adventure-style game with Kit Lovelace’s romantic life – kept the three-hour-long set fresh and fun.
Favourites included Joe Murphy, who performed a wonderful, if unlikely, song about the first 1,000 years of Papal history and the movement of the Holy Roman Empire to Avignon, along with a catchy tune about Irish pubs on Holloway Road. Equally brilliant was Gráinne Maguire: ‘Sometimes I just walk down the street and think, god, I’m a horrible person. And I don’t know why. Maybe it was that homeless man I killed.’ And Andy Bodle, with his macabre, yet touching stories of half-hearted adolescent suicide attempts.
Stephe Harrop also deserves credit for her creepy Angela Carter inspired gothic fairy tale, as does Timandra Harkness for coming up with possibly the best relationship analogy I’ve heard: ’Like cars, you don’t look under the bonnet to see if they’re working until it’s too late.’ And I loved Lou Sanders’ story about her disgust at finding out an ex’s favourite song was Robbie Williams’ Angels- ‘He’d been inside me!’
As an aside, this was also the first time I’ve been to a stand-up night where there were nearly as many women as men – a big change (in my anecdotal experience, at least) since I first started going to comedy clubs more than ten years ago.
Organiser Dave Pickering did well to get such a great range of acts, and set the tone for the evening by highlighting the deeply twisted side of life in his reading of a kid’s story about a tragic encounter between a tadpole and caterpillar. However, the closing sing-along felt way too much like assembly time with the slightly mad RE teacher for my taste.
For just £5 this night is great value, and at the very least won’t you leave you feeling down about the state of your finances. And in these depressing times, surely that’s something to smile about.
Stand-Up Tragedy took place on Friday 18 January 2013 at Hackney Attic in Hackney Picturehouse.
The next Stand-Up Tragedy will take place on Thursday 28 March at:
389 Coldharbour Lane
Tel: 020 7733 7515