Comedy: League of his own
Monday 07 June 1999
VERY FEW stand-up comedians can claim to have been inspired by Nietzsche's Beyond Good and Evil. But there again, very few stand-up comedians can claim to be anything like The League Against Tedium. It is a bold title for a comic act to adopt. Cruel critics might easily be tempted to sum him up by using only the final word of his moniker.
But Simon Munnery's extremely strange creation is far from tedious, though it is undoubtedly an acquired taste. From the very beginning, his intention was deliberately to alienate the audience. "Attention, scum," a voice boomed out of the PA before The League's entrance as an orange giant. "You are nothing. Absolutely nothing. Behold Superiority."
He went on to sneer, claiming "I have no need of your tedious applause" and providing his own from an image of three clapping Kafkas (yes, it was that sort of self-consciously surreal show).
Delicately eating grapes, he then posed a question that may have been running through some people's minds: "As I'm walking around talking nonsense in front of a paying crowd, I ask myself, `How self-indulgent is this?"'
All this was interspersed with what Brecht would have called "alienation effects": use of a made-up language, spoof ads, a cod sermon, a send-up TV channel filmed live by The League, and a brilliant Bob Dylan parody.
But try as he might to push us away, we were inexorably drawn towards The League's multimedia blending of bizarre big-screen images with even more bizarre aphorisms. At one point he ruminated, apropos of nothing: "That which does not kill us makes us stronger - Frosties, par exemple." In this country we are said to be wary of overt cleverness, but there is something genuinely mesmerising about The League's perverse brand of it.
He himself admitted that parts of the show are "a sort of ongoing mess". After an experimental encore as an Aussie clown, he was the first to acknowledge: "That was rubbish, wasn't it?" And, given the amount of obscenity in the show, I wouldn't rush to take up his offer of availability for children's parties and bar mitzvahs.
But despite all that, The League Against Tedium is a deeply original act. After all, which other comedian can you imagine engaging in a philosophical knock-knock gag with the animated image of Wittgenstein?
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