Edinburgh Fringe 2013
In a world where we tend to value "getting a laugh" at any cost; a world world of endless panel shows and comedy DVDs, where stand-up comics sell out 50,000 seat stadia and rake in millions, Rachel Mars presents a thoughtful deconstruction of stand-up techniques and tropes in her meditation on jokes, family, death and the Holocaust.
Dressed in jeans, a "whacky" t-shirt and a blazer, the stage set with a mic stand and a comfy story-telling chair, Mars is lays bare the comedian’s tools in her energetic and highly focussed deconstruction of stand-up comedy, of jokes and joke-telling, why we value making others laugh and how we use it to mask emotions, truth and inadequacies.
Mars shows us how we’ve come to believe that we can say or do just about anything, and that so long as we can then distance ourselves from an offensive or controversial thought thought, implying we didn’t really think it in the first place, well then, that’s alright. The more "edgy" the better! As long as you don’t really believe it. It breeds a culture in which we don’t need to commit: is that really what we want?
Let’s be clear: this show is not a stand-up act, and Mars is considering comedy from the point of view of an artist. She holds up her own history of joke-making, consulting the joke-book she received as a child, sharing its sage advice and questionable topics of humour.
It’s a self-examination as much as it is a comment on the comedy world. One of her early lines is telling: her family is such a bunch of joke tellers that "we never know how anyone is." The particular focus of her meditation is her grandfather, who died just three months before she was born; she deftly situates his penchant for telling jokes (sharing a few that are spectacularly dated) and pulling pranks within the context of his and her grandmother’s response to being Jews who escaped Nazi Germany.
Mars is an energetic, self-assured performer. It felt like she was running an experiment on us as an audience, testing the limits of what we found funny, tasteless or silly in a methodical and deliberate way. As the work builds to a beautiful crescendo, she uses the kind of skills you see in the greatest of story-telling comedian, in which she reincorporate several early, seemingly throw-away thoughts to reach the emotional centre of the piece – one that packs considerable punch. It is a poetic piece that’s a perfect mini-critique of a Fringe festival that’s increasingly becoming a comedy festival; it’s also the antidote to the endless reams of directionless stand-up we see everywhere.