Fringe Factions: The Light vs The Dark
"I was reading an article about the five regrets of the dying," says Mrs Barbara Nice. "It seems that on our way out, most of us wish we’d laughed more and cared less about what other people think."
The two are intertwined, thinks Barbara. We become more self-conscious as we get older, less sure about laughing unless it’s in tune with others. "Barbara’s on a mission to bring back a proper laugh. Not the head laugh, that real belly laugh." But she hastens to add this isn’t about being anti-intellectual. "A comedy show is like serving up a good meal: you’ve got to have a bit of everything." The main aim, she says, is for people to come out feeling rejuvenated with laughter.
Sara Pascoe proposes this distinction: ‘Light comedy is escapism, forgetting the world; dark comedy is holding a mirror up to it.’ That said, she does not necessarily count herself on the ‘light’ side. Her material, often coming from personal narrative, can tread into heavy territory. In honing her Edinburgh show, she found she had to tailor the way she told her stories so that they didn’t end on a ‘minor’ note. ‘At a tender moment,’ she said, ‘it could turn dark. You have to make sure there are jokes that relieve tension.’
Neither act is saccharine. Barbara may seem like a happy-go-lucky kind of girl, but she’s also a housewife who’s a bit fed up and bitter: it’s exactly this that makes her quest to find the humour in everyday relatable moments even more poignant. Pascoe speaks to the power of flippancy that can deal with large, very powerful issues. "The funnier you are," she reasons, "the longer someone will listen to an opinion that's serious, so you earn the right to occasionally go 'I think this – you should be aware of this."
Death, insanity and even child grooming are fair game for Late Night Gimp Fight but the aim, says Dave Moon, is not just to offend. "An audience wants to laugh at that stuff that perhaps they feel they shouldn’t. Once they do and they question themselves, that’s a beautiful moment." There’s a concerted effort to steer clear of the middle ground, however – he openly admits that the team enjoy stuff that "causes strong reactions" – but ultimately, funny comes first.
This desire to push things also drives James Hamilton. As the main creator of the Casual Violence shows, where the narratives run from bad to worst, he’s after a reaction that goes beyond the laughs. "I like shows that have affected me in ways other than making me laugh," he explains. He loves the hushed pitying ‘aww’ that people let slip when they feel sorry for the character: sympathy is the jackpot. As well as laughs, he hastens to add – "obviously I don’t think you should get one instead of the other!"
Like the Gimps, Hamilton doesn’t set out to create dark by default. "I never sat down and thought ‘I’m going to write a really bleak show," he says. "You take characters and you think of the worst thing that could possibly happen to them and then do that." Connecting with people is the backbone of both shows, but both concede it’s not for everybody. "If they don’t like it, it’s genuinely a shame," says Hamilton. "We want people to enjoy themselves."
It’s not all gloom and doom though. There are musical numbers in both shows, and the Gimps especially have ramped up the razzamatazz this year. "I long for the days when it was just sketches," Moon laments. "It’s got out of hand – costumes, songs…even if you’re not in the sketch!"