Attitude - Wanna make something of it?

Wordy Allen

Malcolm Hay hails Tony Allen's
dissection of stand-up comedy.

Tony Allen has 25 years or more of what he terms 'full-time work, play and mischief' in the comedy game to draw from in his recently published book 'Attitude: Wanna Make Something Of It?'. It's a career that has consistently rejected the possibility of short-term commercial success in favour of exploring what's wild and anarchic - Allen would say 'shamanic'. That's what makes this highly personal study of the nuts and bolts of live comedy so valuable.

Structurally it's a bit of a mess. Allen channels his cascade of thoughts and recollections into five distinct sections - on the secret of stand-up comedy, the roots of alternative comedy, and so on - but many of his fragmentary observations could appear more or less anywhere. No matter. Time and again he comes up with powerful insights into the business of creating stand-up. There's a hell of a lot here to set the mind racing and (if you're into performing) get the creative juices flowing.

Allen's at his best when he's reflecting on shows - and other events - he's seen and teasing out their significance. He's excellent when it comes to explaining how Morecambe and Wise developed as a double act, or exploring the strengths and weaknesses of Ken Dodd, or describing the distinctive talents of Bill Hicks and Lenny Bruce and a host of other less well known comics. When he's critical, he can be merciless - Allen's critique of the Cutting Edge show at the Comedy Store tears it to shreds without once lapsing into gratuitous nastiness.

Equally devastating is Allen's assault on pun-based humour: 'I'm a pun-snob. They are the joke-from of the intellectually arrested, of those who are still struggling to understand the basics of language.' Hence their prevalence in comics like the Dandy or Beano. Dyslexic pun jokes, he grants, can work better. He quotes one. Then he adds: 'I laughed. It passed the time, but it would have passed anyway.' Allen's good on joke structures, though overly apologetic - this section, he declares, is 'for those who share my penchant for nerdy deconstruction'. And he's interesting when he's talking about long-gone nights like the early shows at the Comedy Store. Above all, however, he's willing to share his experience. This is a book full of tips for anyone aiming to make a living from stand-up.

The main secret, he says, is to find and develop 'comic attitude'. 'Know who you are, know what you want to say and get on with it' just about sums it up. Except Allen has dozens of other useful things to say as well. Dip into this storehouse of information and you'll stumble across them almost immediately. As for Allen's style - just a few days ago, in casual conversation, he described a marathon three-hour performance by wayward genius Ken Campbell at the Exeter Comedy Festival as 'a torrent of profundity and controlled mania'. That sum's up Allen's book quite well too.

Malcolm Hay - Timeout

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