In, out, in, out. Mobius and Memory

Jesus said to them, “When you make the two into one, and when you make the inner like the outer and the outer like the inner, and the upper like the lower, and when you make male and female into a single one, so that the male will not be male nor the female be female, when you make eyes in place of an eye, a hand in place of a hand, a foot in place of a foot, an image in place of an image, then you will enter [the kingdom].”

(St Thomas gospel- one of the “Secret” gospels found at Nag Hammadi in 1945 and supposedly based on “sayings” of Jesus. Not canonical to the Bible).

To cut a long story short, the above quote, which I read in a battered copy of R.D Laing’s “Politics of Experience”in 1994 was really important for me.

It helped suggest a way out of the binary either/or thinking I was beginning to realise was a dead end of much thought and language. It said something about the appearance/reality split which I’d been obsessively thinking and worrying about since making a break from my family aged sixteen. They appeared to be one thing and were another, so was I. And what was all that swirly, nebulous stuff underneath that didn’t have words?

I looked at Tarot cards, Jungian astrology, the words and biographies of Leonard Cohen, Beat Poetry, Zen Buddhism, D.H Lawrence, hermetic magic and mystic Christianity for answers. To be honest, the contents of “The Works” bargain bookshop in Bradford had as much impact on my quest as any organised search. Also very long phone conversations with my friend Mark who had read a LOT of Nietzsche and took all this stuff as personally as I did. Meanwhile, I lived a sort of life as a post-family teenager and twenty-odd year old (odd twenty year old), attempting to negotiate a degree and a life without buffers.

Mark liked The Smiths and this quote from “What She Said” made him think of me:

“What she read, all heady books and she’d sit and prophesise”

I genuinely don’t remember him quoting the next bit:

“It took a tattooed boy from Birkenhead to really really open her eyes”.

Basically Mark and Morrissey were pretty much right, but that’s another story.

Anyway, fast forward twenty years. I finished my degree, did a passionate “Anti-dissertation” which was reflexive and funny and post modern and very convinced of the pointlessness of writing (except for fun). It got me a First but made me believe my own dead end and I went off to become a radio journalist and then a stand-up poet and, as my old Professor Mick Billig said when giving me a PhD reference twenty years later; “I’m glad you’re not doing an ordinary job”.

Me too. Though I could have done a PhD earlier. But I’m here now. And those long buried ideas about inner and outer are still important. They’re returning to me as if for the first time.

Which brings me back to this from TS ELiot’s Little Gidding;

We shall not cease from exploration

and the end of all our exploration

will be to arrive where we started

and know the place for the first time

 

which seemed to be quoted in every bargain book and library accident. Which led like the Minotaur’s thread and popped up in my anti-dissertation and my poems. And comes into my head again in a week in which, talking about my PhD comedy shows and how I might annotate one and turn everything into one continuous performance auto ethnography, coming in and out of academic discourse and audience intimacy and “self” and “other”, leads Anna Fenemore, one of my supervisors to ask if I’d heard of Lacan’s “Extimacy”. A concept in which inside meets outside- the inner is in the outer and the outer is inside and other. It’s traceable to St Augustine’s idea of God being “more interior than my interior being”. It connects back to St Thomas and Laing, and the thoughts I’m having about the social inside the self and the self inside the social which tie into relationality, Norbert Elias (and Deleuze and Guattari apparently – but that’s another story and quest).

She mentions a circle and I talk about the public engagement conference last weekend in which images for creative processes came up- I said I liked working with spirals. Others talked of circles, waves, braids. Someone joked “A pretzel”. “A mobius strip” said Anna suddenly, the inside and the outside. She got a strip of paper and curved it round on itself, pinned it with a drawing pin while I took a photo.

The inside and outside inextricable. And then and now. Beginnings, endings.

 

 

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Out of Practice?

I’ve been deep into making a new piece of work for my PhD. A piece of practice, as it’s a practice-led PhD. Though even that term frames it as something different to a piece of stand-up comedy or poetry. Stand up comedians don’t usually talk about their “practice”. It’s their work, or their show or their material. Occasionally, their art.

Stand ups often talk about exercising their performance muscle. Gigging regularly keeps you sharp and in good condition. Able to think quickly, respond to an audience, re-absorb your material back into your muscle memory and overcome the strangeness of putting yourself on stage in front of a crowd. For full time stand up comedians even a few nights off can make them feel like they’re losing their peak performance condition. Out of practice in a different sense. I’ve also heard about teachers talking about the difficulty of getting back into “performing” in the classroom after a holiday. As a stand up poet I don’t make my living by gigging every night- lots of my income comes from other things like workshops and commissions- but I certainly feel I perform better when I’m in a flow of gigs. I had two months after Christmas where I barely performed at all and then, in March have had a great variety of performances which feel like they’ve got me back up to speed in time to do my PhD show.

It’s a hard balance to achieve when doing a full time PhD but I’d make an analogy with someone doing a practical PhD in running. If their research was partly based on it (Maybe they were going to try out innovative ways of running races), then they’d have to keep race-fit even while they were doing the rest of the reading and research that their PhD requires. It’s not necessarily talked about in the terms and conditions or facilitated by their department, but they can’t do their practical research without it.

This is partly why I’ve been reluctant to commit to which particular version of my PhD performance I’d record and write about for my thesis. Usually for me, making a show is a process. A lot of it happens in front of an audience. I do start off with a script, but then it’s only in front of an audience that I get a real “Feel” (in my body mostly) for where the energy of the show is. Partly because I’m often soliciting audience responses like laughter or talking back to me about the topics of the show. Then of course, every audience is different. The same script can feel flat one night, and come alive the next. Part of the trick of developing a show is to tighten up the bits that feel “Loose” and become familiar with the energies you want to create (or find that you are creating) as you move through different sections of it. Almost impossible to predict when you’re running through the script in the car or in your living room to your husband and dog  or in your office while looking at your Powerpoint slides on your laptop. All of them are my usual rehearsal spots- though I sort of baulked when Anna, one of my supervisors, asked if I’d have a Dress Rehearsal. For me that term’s a theatre term, not a stand-up one and suggests a director sat making notes and a small audience primed for a rehearsal (Not that I’m not used to a small audience you understand, what with being a stand up poet…).

Having said that, I’d arranged to do a “Scratch” performance on a night run by ARC arts centre in Stockton. I’ve done these before when making a stand up show about not wanting children and found the feedback you get from attendees useful (They go and have discussions at the end and answer questions you want them to about your show on sheets of A3 paper and then someone at ARC types it up and sends it to you). I always feel welcome at ARC and Annabel Turpin, its Director has always been very supportive of my work and shows (and produced two in fact). The downside for me there is that I can usually only get a small audience in the studio and they’re not a very “comedy”/energetic audience. (Though have been great to research shows with). How much an audience laughs depends on a complex mixture of the space, the performer, the expectations of both and all sorts of things but generally places set up cabaret-seating style (round tables) with a bar encourage better audience cohesion and release of inhibitions. A small theatre studio with other acts trying things out can say “Let’s think about this” to an audience rather than “Let’s experience it and also laugh loads so the compere doesn’t think we’re miserable” like in a comedy club. I’ve had a few gigs in the past couple of weeks where I’ve had to warm an audience up from a standing start without a compere doing it for me (Including giving them lots of cues to laugh- including very unsubtle ones like saying “Feel free to laugh”) and I feel like I’ve got better at it.

Anyway, I was prepared for the gig at ARC not necessarily to give me cast iron information about where the laughs were- but certainly to enable me to get into the bodily rhythms of the show (Including a Unicorn onesie I put on at the start which is partly a cue to laugh because it looks ridiculous), changing slides and juggling with props for a game in which I get the audience to compete to see how much Cultural Capital they have. In the ARC show, this game was the point at which the audience became an audience. Rather than being separate clumps of people they cohered. It’s a very satisfying feeling. You can tell because they start laughing at what each other says, laughter rolls on rather than starting and stopping quickly, people’s faces relax and I feel like I’m talking to a crowd rather than separate people.

I ran a spoken word and comedy gig in Northallerton last week and there was also a moment where this happened for them. There had been a group of eight people, younger than the rest of the audience who’d come with one of the acts, a brilliant Bradford poet called Kirsty Taylor. They sat at the back and laughed loudly at her, much louder than any of the older, more inhibited, perhaps less used to spoken word gigs audience. I had talked to people at different tables at the start to get a sense of who they were and felt like I was almost pretending the role of stand up comedy compere, asking people where they came from, what it was like there, making slightly cynical comments about Bedale, where some came from, as opposed to Northallerton or Bradford. (I didn’t ask people “What do you do?” as that’s both the cliche and useful craft of a comedy compere and I didn’t feel like straining to make up funny things about people’s jobs whereas it was partly interesting for my research to see how people reacted to artificial rivalries about local towns I’m still getting to know). During that chat and until the interval different pockets of audience were laughing at different things and Kirsty’s crowd were still laughing louder than anyone else. But after that, after more drinks and relaxing, after about 15 of the 60 strong crowd wrote entries for a topical poetry competition I announced on the shouted out topics “Sweaty socks” and “Donald Trump” and I read them out and got the audience to vote on a winner, the audience became an audience. Volume of laughter was consistent across the room, my “callbacks” to Bedale not having a bandstand got laughter from the whole audience (So some of the earlier groundwork paid off- we already had the communal experience of an hour ago to reminisce about) and then the act I announced as headliner, Rob Auton came on and did his very funny stand up and poems and the audience enjoyed rolling laughter together for half an hour.

Rob seems to be a master of energy- very quiet and anxious seeming off stage, he does a series of rapid fire one liners and call backs at the start which get big laughs and claps, then varies the pace throughout with poignant bits in poems mixed in with the punchlines. Towards the end of his set he also led the audience into to a quiet, more traditional “Poetry reading” state of listening to unfolding images and a narrative about a tortoise making him thinking about the seasons and then being commemorated with a tortoise statue. There was a palpable “Aww” and sense of emotion collectively felt at the end. Rob hadn’t done it by saying “Hang on everyone, this one’s a serious poem, unlike the others so do change your demeanour and don’t laugh”, but through changing his tone, being still and through the writing itself unfolding as story and bringing the audience closer into him. Later, in the pub, some of the audience members were suggesting that Northallerton is very middle-class and most of the audience were initially reacting in the traditionally inhibited way of people concerned with being “respectable”. The younger audience members shifted the dynamic and also happened to be from cities rather than a small, rural town. They knew Kirsty and responded with laughter and recognition to her poetic stories of council estate life in Bradford- perhaps harder for people from an “out-group” to do that initially. But then eventually they helped bring the rest of the audience with them. Laughter is, after all, contagious-along with other bodily responses. It was interesting to me that class was mentioned- it’s a key part of my research about how different audiences and performers produce and react to solo stand up performance. The “Cultural Capital” game where the ARC loosened up, is also a way of talking class without explicitly talking about it. Feeling myself to be in between working class and middle class in a culturally homeless sort of way, I can find it hard to mobilise the energy (and tension) around class in different settings but the Cultural Capital game and asking about where people came from seemed to be a way to do that. (Kirsty also said that me doing some material about Bradford where I’m also originally from, seemed to make it easier for her to go with hers, or for the audience to be receptive straight away- and I got a very big whole audience, ironic laugh when, after thanking her on stage I said that me and Kirsty were obviously here on behalf of the Bradford tourist board)

I’ve digressed there, I was going to say more about my performance autoethnography and how it went at ARC, then at a research seminar in my department in Leeds. But hopefully I’ve said something about how practice is important when it comes to working with audiences and being able to feel and manipulate the energy of a text, yourself and an audience all at the same time- practice which might be conceived while sitting with piles of books threatening to topple over in your living room (That might just be me) but which really only is experienced during those fusions of performer and audience bodies, breathing in the same space (and in the different imagined spaces they come from and inhabit).

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Actual footnotes from my show- in the shape of a foot…

Finding Your Voice? Fractured performances

It was an impulsive decision; to ask a group of mostly novice writers and performers to stand in front of the rest of us, the workshop group, and simply “Be present” in front of us for a few moments, then walk off (I’d designated a space as a “stage” and said we were an audience).  It followed an exercise where I’d got everyone to walk about the airy conference room in the National Glass Centre (which had a stunning view of the Wear outside) and name things they could see as they walked around, so as to anchor themselves in the room. As soon as I asked it, I got nervous. It’s quite an exposing exercise, I didn’t want to put people off. Also, it can sound daft and off-putting; just “Be present” in front of an audience, surely I already am here?

It’s possible I was reacting to one of the workshop participants, an actor and director, who asked in the break if I was going to make suggestions to people about how they could perform better. He pointed out a few things some of them could have done better when we read through poems we’d just written. Project more or look less nervous, stop rocking on their feet. I thought I obviously hadn’t made it explicit enough in the workshop that my way of working was going to very much to get people to build up confidence and skill by doing. By being in what I’d call a “Safe space”. By gradually taking on feedback from me and fellow participants when they performed and, in future, to take on more feedback. It was a workshop billed as a “Toolkit” for people wanting to get others to write and perform rather than an “Improve your skills” session. It reminded me that being really present on stage was something I used to encourage a lot when I ran workshops specifically for comedians or poets. Unlike actors, they’re not in role, they’re being themselves. Audiences respond to authenticity. Real fear is better than fake confidence. (I don’t think I’ve ever said that in a workshop but, at some level, I believe it).

The first couple of people came up. A bit nervous. Shifting from foot to foot. I suggest they name things they could see in the audience to help them really, really look at us rather than just pretend. I was talking about the looking, but really I was hoping the process where the performer is really there and the audience knows it, kicks in. I asked the other participants to say what they could see about the performer- were they really with us? There was talk about externals- they look nervous, they’re nodding. I still wasn’t being very explicit about this being something that would be felt inside the performer and the audience. Then Angela got up. She’d spoken earlier about being very nervous about public speaking, though wanting to do it as part of her community work. She came and stood in front of us. Standing small and quiet, looking around at us. “I can see you’re nervous too” she said with surprise, as she looked at us. “But you’re smiling, or nodding. Willing me on”. She kept looking at us. “I feel calm. I didn’t expect to feel calm, but this feels alright. I feel like I could do this”. I felt a welling up of emotion in my chest. Thought of what I’d read in stand up comedy researcher Tim Miles paper about the contact between comedian and audience, the quote he’d used from anti-psychiatrist R.D Laing; “I experience you experiencing”.

That’s what was happening to Angela. Instead of being confronted by a faceless, hostile, judging audience, she saw us looking back at her, a bit afraid of being looked at, a bit anxious to have the right expression, as she was. We didn’t engulf her, or overwhelm her- she was able to look at us, as we looked at her. In the space between us, was the third space I think Buber, the existential philosopher talks about. A space where communication can happen- not just bodily, not just vocal, but both. Intersubjective. Had she stayed there longer our breathing might have come into sync. If she was doing stand up comedy she might have pulled us closer, pushed us away, tested our laughing responses, provoked applause. As it was, afterwards she said she felt like she’d had a breakthrough. She’d been on a journey, she said, of finding her voice for a while. Said she’d been brought up in a working class home by her Gran. Creativity wasn’t for the likes of her. She’d had to be very small- she mimed her body held in, her head down- but now she was learning to speak.

This was a visceral reminder to me of why I’d first loved running workshops in solo performance. I’d not long before found my own route to a voice in that third space between performer and audience, and passionately wanted to help facilitate that for other people. One of the people in the first workshop I ran now has a really successful career as a stand up comedian (Sarah Millican) and in the narrative I sometimes tell about that, it was through the democratic form of stand up comedy that a working class woman from the North East was able to make a creative living. Starting off in a workshop funded by Gateshead Library. But actually, for a long time for me, the significant thing about that workshop and Sarah’s process to becoming a performer, was that she found a place to find her voice at a time when her identity had been fractured. She was going through a divorce, felt rejected and unsure, but an audience accepted her, as she spoke to them with truth and real vulnerability (and some killer one liners even then: “At least if he’d died I’d have got my mortgage paid” she said in a quiet voice, then more forcefully “And I could have danced on his fucking grave”) and they both experienced each other as experiencing. Some of what they experienced was the fear of speaking in front of other people. I remember her pale, still face, the way she stood close in to the mike, didn’t move across the stage. Now when she performs her face is animated, she takes the mike out of the stand, walks about with the bodily confidence of all the best comedians- but still creates a sense of intimate conversation, just having a chat to the audience.

Bourdieu is really important as a theorist in my research because he draws together the subjective and objective- the ways that social structures operate in us bodily and come to seem natural. I’ve also been reading about Norbert Elias today- his use of the word “habitus” to describe this bodily embedding of social power relations predates Bourdieu’s. He wrote about how society is becoming more “civilised” and that middle class mores were reinforced by the many etiquette and rule books of the nineteenth century. Before that, Royal courts had rigid rules about how to be civilised and keep your unruly bodily urges at bay, but they needed spreading more widely as states grew- and they needed implanting in citizens so that they’d regulate their own behaviour. He emphasises how this is relational and processual- struggles for power mean that dominant groups may take on some of the “Habitus” of dominated groups, as well as vice versa- hence what Wouters has called the “Informalisation” of social rules now.

I think of Angela and a habitus she explicitly linked to being working class- one in which she was expected to be small, not to imagine too much or speak out in public- seemed to change right in front of us. How Sarah’s comedy, which is sometimes about sex and farts and eating too much, appeals across all sections of society but is sometimes derided by reviewers as “Too” focused on the body. How the space between one speaker and an audience can become somewhere to challenge ingrained habits we didn’t know we had. How it might be an opportunity for somebody to tell us to “Stand straighter, act confident, speak up” in a way that suggests an appropriate and improving self or to “Be present” in a way that probably suggests an essential and authentic self. How it might call up those internalised, self-regulating voices saying “Don’t draw attention to your self, don’t blow your own trumpet, don’t make a fool of yourself” and reinforce the dominance of others. But how, despite all these, something visceral happens when a self meets the social- and the social meets the self. The actor man had pointed out to another participant that she looked very nervous and winced as she got up out of her chair to walk on the stage. I said that for me, it didn’t matter. She had a sort of quiet, self-contained presence. I talked about the difference between acting a role and being a version of yourself in comedy or poetry: “I like fractured performances” I said, which I’d never said in those words before.  I think I meant that I like it when you can see the effort needed to maintain a performance, but, unlike in a social situation where someone might try to “Save face”, the performer is unafraid (or unashamed?) to let us see the slippage and wants to communicate with us anyway. With the fractured, performing, in-between selves we are.

Grin Up North-Three Minute Thesis

I’m interested in whether humour and performed auto-ethnography can work in academic settings. There’ve been tiny indicators that it might not always fit at Leeds- the newsletter that didn’t like me mentioning a spoken word cabaret event would be enjoyable and had drinks at the bar (wine and canapés at classical music events are totally acceptable), the panel for the post-grad conference who debated whether my performance paper would be serious enough. On the other hand, I think it can work as a critical tool and I could see the “Three Minute Thesis Competition” would be a good place to try it out. Apparently sixty people entered the heats and I qualified to be one of the final sixteen in the imposing setting of Leeds’ Great Hall. I’d been sanguine about progressing and thought I might not have much chance against the breast cancer curers and atomic clock investigators (It was mostly scientists), but on the other hand knew that engaging an audience was something I’m used to as a performer. Could an actual demonstration of including an audience’s voice work or would it not be clear that practice-led research involves practical techniques and I was using one of them to illustrate one of the properties of stand up performance? I went into Participant Observation mode during the competition and noticed that visceral responses were quite muted across the talks, but mine did seem to generate quite a big audience “Hum” afterwards (as well as laughs where I hoped there’d be). I was also a more visceral audience member than many. In the row of thesis entrants I began to feel a bit like the mad lady on the bus, with my hums and nods and laughs at other participants. I also began to realise that if I was wanting to say I’d experimented with using humour and dialogue to subvert the single voice of academic discourse, it would be handy to prove this by being placed somewhere (Otherwise I’d have to go and ask where in the order I’d come and look overly concerned about results). Happily, my engaging with the audience chimed well with the audience engagement rhetoric of “Impact” and “Outreach” and the buzzwords that motivate this sort of competition and I was placed third and got the bonus of a £100 prize. I also managed to do some vox pops with a couple of audience members (It is quite awkward to go up to someone and basically say “Tell me what you thought of me” but I’ve been thinking a lot about how if I’m asserting that stand up is a dialogic form then my research sometimes needs to include both performers and audience of the same gig. This was just a small step in that direction). The text of the thesis feels like a bit of a simplification of where I’m at with it- but also a useful temporary distillation. Here it is:

Grin Up North

We have a great variety of voices and accents here in this hall, but my own, my Northern English one is not particularly acceptable in academia. Studies have shown that most female academics lose any regional accents entirely in order to be taken seriously. So do some men, but some exaggerate them on purpose.

This probably explains the lack of regional English accents in our public sphere. Have you ever heard a Geordie reading the news or a Brummie announcing the Queen’s speech?

However Brummie, the Birmingham accent, actually came out top when some non-UK natives were asked to rate accents for beauty.

It’s the association with being working class that makes regional accents problematic in serious spheres.

We’ve still got big class and gender issues when it comes to who represents us- for example, 70% of judges went to private schools compared to 7% of the public, 43% of newspaper columnists went to public schools and 42% of Radio 4 Woman’s Hour’s Women of Power list.

Still, I thought- at least Northerners could be taken seriously as comedians? Stand up comedy is seen as meritocratic- it’s just about being funny.

Well, my research is showing me that they’re not. Interviewing Northern performers shows they feel they’re often dismissed or stereotyped as club comics by London based reviewers. Only 2 out of thirty years of winners of the most prestigious comedy award, the Fosters, have had Northern accents.

Across 48 series of BBC1’s satirical comedy Have I Got News For You, only 5% of the guests have had Northern accents.

At a time when comedians have increasing profile as commentators, this is another sphere in which Northerners voices aren’t being heard.

They have different ways to resist this- for example talking openly about class. Gavin Webster saying- “I’m not saying they’re posh but their ice cream vans play Rachmaninov” playing with language-

Hylda Baker saying she was off for electrocution lessons.

Me, storming the citadels of academia with my whippet and my flat cap and my baps- that’s why I’m doing a practice-based PhD and also, talking to audiences.

Stand up is a form in which dialogue undercuts the single voice of traditional modes like academia, science or religion- that’s why it can be powerful and scary.

So I’m going to slightly disrupt academic convention and ask you for the final word in this three minute thesis- since it’s powerful to hear other, diverse voices. On the count of three shout out your own regional or national word for a bread roll (It’s okay if it’s bread roll) 1, 2, 3…

Myths

It was a bit like a wine suggestion. On hearing me say I’d finally got round to reading Richard Hoggart’s “The Uses of Literacy”, one of my supervisors, Calvin Taylor (Cultural Economy Professor at Leeds University), said it would go really well read in conjunction with Barthes’ Mythologies, especially the wrestling essay.

I’m going to treat that suggestion properly. Sit down with both of them in a soft light, wield a pencil, take it slowly. For now, I’ve located my Undergrad copy of Barthes Mythologies and got it down from the shelf. I didn’t buy many books on my first degree (Twenty years ago) as I barely had enough money to buy Findus Crispy Pancakes, but I remember this as a satisfying find in a second hand bookshop, in Edinburgh I think. £1.50 pencilled on the flyleaf. I used it to inspire my semiotic analysis of the first National Lottery advert all those years ago (The magic hand saying “It could be you” and the twinkly background of stars uses mysticism to erase the fourteen million to one chance that it actually will be, just as the processes of capitalism are erased in adverts where mashed potatoes are instantly made by aliens). Those were the days. I developed an affection for Barthes complicatedly simple and elegant phrasing and was sad when our Persuasion and Rhetoric Professor Mick Billig revealed that he’d been run over by a laundry van in Paris. Could there be a more French death for a literary theorist?

I turned first to the back, to his essay on myth as a type of speech. The way that myth, as a concept evoked by a signifier, makes the historical seem natural. “Myth is read as a factual system where it is but a semiological system”.

I thought about a central myth in my research- that associating Northerners with humour (a natural humour). Northerners are just funnier aren’t they? someone might say, laughing at Peter Kay, watching a Victoria Wood DVD. Things are just funnier with flat vowels.

Northern speech is funny and should not therefore be used to deliver the news, to run Universities or to rule the nation. Northerners laugh in adversity, at all the adversity of their industrial past and it’s loss, therefore their adversity and the loss of their industrial past is funny…

A myth which might even stop revolutions.

Barthes points out that myths are hard to defeat from the inside. Lots of writers have tried to subvert the mythical system of Literature with radical writing- “It is well known that some went as far as the pure and simple scuttling of the discourse-silence-whether real or transposed-appearing as the only possible weapon against the major power of it’s myth: it’s recurrence” (p 135).

I think of the recurring figure of the club comic in reviews of Northern comedians (Mick Ferry and Gavin Webster are two comedians who have spoken about this). The boorish, oafish, primitive. North as primitive. The recurring myths.

Stewart Lee is perhaps the most obvious contemporary example of comedian taking the radical route- subverting comedy to reject Stand Up as a mythical system. Barthes cautions that these attempts are likely to fail: “The very effort one makes in order to escape its stranglehold becomes in it’s turn the prey of myth: myth can always, as a last resort, signify the resistance which is brought to bear against it”. (Think of the flak Lee gets from The Sun for obscurity and unfunniness say, or from some comedy fans and critics for narcissism, the myth of the tragic comic holding on to something he’s not or attempting to be taking seriously).

I am excited to think about the other route Barthes suggests as one that might actually work: “The best weapon against myth is perhaps to mythify it in it’s turn and to produce an artificial myth: and this reconstituted myth will in fact be a mythology. Since myth robs language of something why not rob myth? All that is needed is to use it as the departure point for a third semiological chain, to take its signification as the first term of a second myth”.

Ah, is that all? A counter-myth. A meta-myth. A de-mythification. And the one that I think needs de-mystifying or countering is that of Northernness = Funny. Maybe I’ll need some actual wine to think on that.