David Lister: Where there's love, there's material for stand-up comics

The Week in Arts

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The act I'm most looking forward to in the Brighton Comedy Festival which begins this weekend is local boy Stephen Grant.

He's not a particularly famous name, but he achieved notoriety a few days ago when it was reported that he had won a £40,000 legal battle to discuss his ex-wife on stage.

What you have to go through to tell a joke these days. His ex, Annelise Holland, had tried to get a gagging order to stop Mr Grant from making jokes about her and their divorce. Here's a couple of examples: "When I finally got the house back, the only thing she left was a broomstick, which was odd, because I thought she might have needed it for transport." "I'm still surprised at what she did with her being a Christian. Maybe she didn't see the 'not' part of the Ten Commandments and thought it was a to-do list."

Well, after a few drinks and with the sea air, they're not too bad. But it's not really the quality of the jokes that is the point. It's the legal battle. Mr Grant won after he proved that not talking about his divorce would violate his human rights. That seems a rather overblown way to describe the right to tell a gag. It was also reported that the he must now tell the truth on stage, which also seems somewhat limiting for a comedian. That broomstick gag might have to go.

This was not a problem that troubled Norman Wisdom, the wonderful comic who died this week. He was one of those entertainers who began to make their names during the war years, along with Benny Hill, Morecambe and Wise, Frankie Howerd and the Goons. They would never incorporate their private lives in their acts. Even with the few comics who did use the old line "Take my wife", you knew that the ensuing joke would be a piece of fantasy.

Now, a narrative about sexual or relationship problems is a staple of the stand-up routine for male and female comics, and it would be a bit of a disappointment if Sarah Millican did not joke about her boyfriend or Michael McIntyre about his wife and children.

It goes with the territory, and the territory is better for it. One can sympathise with Ms Holland as she becomes an unwilling and absent straight woman in Mr Grant's act next week. But she has only herself to blame. The moral is an easy one. Comedians, like novelists, use their raw material for their work. It helps to build up their character on stage. Besides what's funnier in life than a relationship? As Mr Grant says: "The whole divorce procedure she put me through was so ridiculous that you have to see the funny side of it. It makes great material."

That's what a comedian's lover is: material. If you want to keep your private life private, then don't go out with a comedian. And never believe any of those promises that you will not feature in the act.

Love can die, and the routine always needs refreshing.

Tamara Drewe isn't the best role model

When Tamara Drewe premiered at the Cannes Film Festival earlier this year, I expressed disappointment that the delightful Gemma Arterton, who plays an Independent columnist and music writer in the film, did not research the role by taking me out to a dinner or three. This week I saw the film, which is now on general release in the UK. Miss Arterton's character, Tamara Drewe herself, goes to interview a rock star for The Independent and within seconds is rolling in the hay with him.

This hasn't generally been my experience when interviewing for The Independent, though Madonna did once give me her hand to kiss, which is probably as near as I will ever get to groupie activity. We will allow Stephen Frears's film a little dramatic licence in the case of Tamara Drewe's interview technique. I am alarmed, though, that at no time did Miss Arterton appear to be armed with a recording device or a notebook or even a pen. We Independent staffers are relaxed about being portrayed on screen as sex objects. But unprofessional? It hurts.

Poetry is for life, not just for one day

Some years back Mick Jagger and the then arts minister launched a now long-forgotten National Music Day. It faded away because there was no great need for it. Music is everywhere and doesn't require help to be a part of all of our lives.

Two days ago was National Poetry Day, accompanied by the usual readings, surveys and various stunts. It seems unnecessarily desperate to me. There is no National Novel Day or National Film Day. We accept that these art forms, like music, are an integral part of our lives and don't need the extra help of a day in their honour. The greatest compliment that can be paid to poetry is for National Poetry day to be axed. It is an insult to poetry to suggest that it isn't already a vibrant and ubiquitous part of our culture.

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