Monday 16 September 2019

Are you trying to be funny, or something? Don't. It's a sin

Stand-up: Sophie White. Photo: Tony Gavin
Stand-up: Sophie White. Photo: Tony Gavin

Sophie White

Trying to be funny is considered to be the ultimate in uncool in this country. Which in itself is funny because if we're honest with ourselves, most Irish people dedicate a lot of our time to trying to be funny. When talking to an Irish person you might have the impression that we are listening to you, but actually we're just scanning the conversation for our new 'bit' about dodging the TV licence or going to Aldi. And these are just the lay people.

I was listening to, and laughing at, a very talented young Irish comic, Oisin Hanlon, at the Hal'penny Inn last week, who talks about the cardinal sin of trying to be cool in Ireland. In a brilliantly funny bit, he explains how the Irish won't let anyone be cool. Even our biggest rock star export, Bono, is torn down repeatedly.

Because trying is not cool. We even learned this as children with the mammyism "Are you trying to be funny?" Nothing burned like being asked this in front of all the cousins at the birthday party when you drank Fanta through a straw while wearing a slice of Billy Roll on your face.

Any hint of trying is a major turn-off for humans. This goes across the board from romantic relationships to boardroom meetings to stand-up comedy. So this, I think, might be the key to a good performance, the appearance of not trying. But how to try while not trying? Fully not trying is not an option, we all saw Tommy Tiernan's unprepped comedy tour, and it was certainly fascinating, but it was not funny.

I am a writer, but when it came to planning what to say doing stand up, my instinct was not to write anything down. Instead, for a few days whenever I was walking or cycling anywhere, I mulled over incidents that had happened that week and slowly worked each one up into a little story that connected to the next little story.

After I felt like they were mulled sufficiently, I turned on the webcam on my computer and pressed record. The first time the camera rolled I couldn't bring myself to say anything. Even alone in my bedroom I couldn't bring myself to try. If I couldn't speak in front of myself, well, this was going to be a problem. I pressed record a second time and tried to be funny.

TIP: My tip this week for making a life change is so banal, as to be hardly worth mentioning but as simplistic as it sounds: Just try. Trying makes us vulnerable. Trying forces us to be sincere. It makes us admit what we want in life and trying can be every bit as rewarding as actually succeeding.

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