What’s the point of comedy? And, while you’re pondering that one, here’s another one: What’s the point of comedy in the fractious and impossibly stupid time in human history we’re currently living through?
Though these questions have no real answers — or, maybe just too many answers — affable Scottish comic Danny Bhoy tries his best anyway.
“This is the whole thing I’m exploring, to some extent, but I’m not doing it overtly,” he says. “I’m not going, ‘Hey guys, let’s see what the cultural impact of words [is].’ I just subtly talk about things that transcend the problems we’ve got at the moment. I don’t explicitly say, ‘Gosh these are awful times and we’re all shouting and screaming at each other!’ What I talk about is what is important in these times.”
Bhoy is talking about his new show, Age of Fools, which he’s bringing to Montreal for a two-night stand at Place des Arts on Nov. 18 and 19.
“The show is called Age of Fools because the premise of it is that we are concentrating on the wrong problems, and shouting and screaming while the things we need to focus on are not necessarily the things we are focusing on. There’s politics in it because there has to be — it’s a semi-topical show, but it’s more about the value of the greater good.”
This is as close as we get to explicitly discussing the content of Age of Fools. Full credit to Bhoy for not wanting to give too much away — though I’d submit that when your show’s tickets sell so fast they have to add another one to accommodate all the people who want to come see you, you can afford to be coy.
Thing is, he’s not being coy. Bhoy admittedly doesn’t do a lot of press, and compared to most headliners, he’s an elective mute, so what might otherwise seem like a tactic to shroud his show in intrigue comes across as an honest effort to not accidentally blurt out a spoiler. “It’s all very clear in my head,” he assures me, “but it’s hard to articulate it without giving away the jokes.”
A seasoned veteran who’s performed pretty much everywhere, Bhoy’s success is a confirmation of the value of craft and consideration. Whereas many comics seem interested in appealing to specific audiences and only those audiences (“comedy now is very sectioned,” he tells me), Bhoy remains committed to bringing something more complete and thoughtful to the stage.
“I’m from Edinburgh, remember; it’s an unofficial home of comedy because we have the Edinburgh Fringe every year. I know to some extent this is part of the problem, that we all stick in our own tribes, but I go and see quite a broad range of stuff [there] and I find that [the] interesting kind of comedy now is very much in my wheelhouse in the sense that I like to see an hour of comedy, I like to see someone who’s got a narrative rather than someone just doing jokes.”
Long and cohesive narratives, of course, are harder than “just doing jokes.” The jokes have to work, the moments between the jokes have to work, the overall arc of the show has to work and it has to be road-tested. Frankly, it’s exhausting just to hear him talk about it
“My premise when I construct a show — and this is why it takes a lot longer for me to construct a show — is that for a joke to be in my show, I’ve got to like it and the audience has got to like it. If either of those things isn’t there, then I take it out. I’m not precious or egotistical enough to say, ‘Oh fuck you if you don’t find that funny.’
“I only ever have the show I’m doing in my head,” he adds. “When I sit down and start writing a show, that’s my focus. My entire head is in that space. I think about what I want to talk about and I go for it and I start hammering it out, and I test it and test it and test it.”
With our time winding down, this discussion of craft somehow brings us back to the beginning, to the questions about the point or value of comedy.
“Growing up, my favourite comedian was Billy Connolly, and the reason I liked Billy Connolly, and the reason I have so many fond memories of him and his material, is because every Christmastime, we would sit around as a family — mother, father, four kids all of different ages, my grandmother who was in her 80s — and we would all piss ourselves laughing.
“I always thought that was the purpose of comedy. The beauty of comedy is seeing the cohesive nature of it, the bringing together of people who have shouted and screamed at each other over the entire Christmas period and are now sitting in a room together laughing at one thing and finding that uniting thing we all shared. I just thought that was the most beautiful thing that anyone could do, more than any counsellor or teacher or anything.” ■
Danny Bhoy performs at Place des Arts’s Théâtre Maisonneuve (175 Ste-Catherine W.) on Nov. 18–19, 7:30 p.m., $48.25–$54.50