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Edinburgh Fringe 2023

Colleen Lavin: Do The Robots Think I’m Funny

Colleen Lavin

Genre: Comedy, Solo Performance, Stand-Up

Venue: Greenside @ Riddle’s Court


Low Down

Colleen Lavin’s stand-up show comes with a twist: she has programmed a robot to analyze whether or not she is funny.


Murderbot is displeased. Not long into her set, the robot Colleen Lavin has programmed to gauge her laughter score begins to heckle. This, too, is part of his purpose. Murderbot listens to the audience for signs of being tickled, and when a joke has gone over poorly, he makes it clear through verbal abuse. I knew the robots were coming for our jobs, but outsourcing heckling was not something I had on my ChatGPT Apocalypse Bingo Card. AI has become the latest in a long line of hyperfixations for Lavin, many of which we hear about in this funny and unique hour of stand-up comedy. 

Lavin touches upon many subjects in her act, but never strays too far from home. The stories of having to stand Thanksgiving with a cousin who saved someone from a fire when her only contribution is baking a pie, or her father’s definitely not a cult membership, or her childhood spent trying to pick the lock of the cage her parents put over the coveted family computer are some of the best moments. So, too, are when Lavin unleashes on Thomas Edison or Subway sandwiches, or mentions how brunettes in glasses are the most widely trusted demographic for people asking for directions. Perhaps you have seen her on the Mile asking punters to tell the difference between her actual headshot and one that is computer generated. “The eyes look wrong on this one,” a woman opined over her actual picture when trying to deduce the fake, thus accidentally providing fresh material. Lavin admits she doesn’t know where she stands on AI, even after writing this show. She is both intrigued and repelled by it, comparing it to the expectations of how the telephone would be used when first invented versus the end result that we currently have in all our back pockets today.

I suspect Murderbot might have been a bit quiet this round, because the audience was riotous for much of the set. Lavin has such an approachable, friendly way about her that some in the audience would even answer rhetorical questions as though it was a conversation. I would be remiss not to mention her parents in the audience, who Lavin was able to play off of fantastically. “This is as raunchy as it gets, mom,” she ad-libbed, “I took out the swears for you, I can’t take out seven minutes of material, and if I did I’d have to replace it with stuff about you.”

It’s hard to believe Chat GPT has almost been around for a year, and yet it also feels like it’s been here much longer. As Lavin herself says, like many tech buzzwords it is ubiquitous for a bit, but then it seems to fade away, though not because it has actually gone, but because people have stopped talking about it. Such terms are also great for identifying if you are “about to have the most annoying conversation of your life”. It is far too early to see how this kind of AI will impact the world, and that uncertainty is clear in Lavin’s portrayal. Who knows if fifty years from now I will lament to my grandchildren about how real people used to heckle comedians while they shake their heads at me and joke about how grandma thinks Murderbot 5.0 used to be people. “Murderbot is going to asses my performance,” says Lavin at the top of the show, “And then you’re going to decide if you care.” At least in this case, the robot did find Colleen Lavin to be very funny. I have to say I agree.


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