A manifesto for the creation, restoration, and integration of chaotic disintegration, high comedy, and carnival chic
as manifested by The Pathological Upstagers
Forward: Some Notes About Continuity
“Siamese twins are the only people who aren’t truly alone in this world. But the rest of us surrounded and separated from others by skin must fend for ourselves.” (Ardal O’Hanlon)
The Pathological Upstagers are as close to being Siamese twins as two physically separate people can be. We scheme, dream, and gimp-and-dyke tag team as one. However, we also have individual, and sometimes conflicting, interests. Therefore, some notes about continuity are in order. (Anyone who guesses as much due to the bold section title thinks too logically to be a Pathological Upstager, and should stop aspiring above your station.) The term “We” should always be taken as referring to the Upstagers as a unit. We will speak individually in certain sections, and the speaker will be noted in such cases. To anyone who is perplexed, this is all that you need to remember: Tell us that you love us. Now.
Look, just follow the numbers, and when you run out of numbers, go back to where you started following the numbers. It’s kinda like Choose Your Own Adventure, only you’re not choosing it.
Summary: A Bulleted List
“You want me to explain comedy with a bulleted list?” (Sarah Daniels, paraphrased)
- PU comedy, in order to attain its purest form, needs to tackle Rik Mayall and Ade Edmondson.
- PU comedy combats the tyranny of political correctness and social boundaries through Open Communication and Deliberate Integration.
- PU comedy follows the following formula: Order— Security— Disintegration— Chaos— Liberation— Laughter, in order to express truth through absurdity.
- PU comedy is an intellectual and highly principled form of comedy, utilizing intelligence like the CIA does (disguised).
- PU comedy is carnival chic!
- Herebyforthwith, our manifesto will not abide by the traditional so-called quote-unquote “manifesto” form. PU comedy defies convention; therefore, so should our manifesto.
We Need To Tackle Rik And Ade1
“The fastest way to a man’s heart is through his ribcage.” (Bordello Of Blood)
At the tender age of (insert jail-bait age here), we realized that we, Vee Levene and Jill Summerville, needed to respectively bed Adrian “Ade” Edmondson and Rik Mayall. The result of this endeavor was our Manifest Destiny—controlling the world around us through the wilful creation of our ideal reality.
This enterprise was not merely sexual in intent (although that was nice, too), but a tool toward a larger terminus. For Vee, the ideal ultimate outcome is the amorous pillage of Ade’s wife, the lovely Dr Jenny Saunders; the path from husband to wife seems a natural transition to Levene, who hopes to prove by her actions that monogamy and polyamory can coexist, big time. For Jill, the ideal ultimate outcome is to become Rik’s poetic and personal muse; in helping him to discover his own ideal ultimate outcome of becoming the People’s Poet, and in helping him to conquer a particularly nasty creative/sexual dry spell, she will prove that the courtship of a Jane Austen novel is not incompatible with a good lay.
(There is another facet to this venture which is the astonishing parallel we have seen in ourselves and in the characters Ade and Rik respectively portrayed in the TV programme “Bottom”. We see our transition into middle adulthood as an inevitable manifestation of these archetypes. We are not strong enough to resist this fate, and so therefore wish to exert our willpower by confronting them before we become them. And changing them, maybe, so that we don’t have to become them.6)
We made these goals independently of one another and our relative choices have brought us closer together; we have no need to fight, no need to argue. This relationship can concisely describe our nature as an inborn cooperation that most groups clearly lack, but that we don’t. This intrinsic correlation is indicative of a larger notion, that we as a duo emblematize the ideal of collaboration, the yoke of combined effective action.7
1. I came up with that, rather cleverly I think, when referring actually to what we needed to write—i.e., “We need to tackle (the) Rik and Ade (section of our manifesto).” In the very words of Rik Mayall in “Bottom”, “I think I’m coming down with double entendre disease.” —Vee2
2. The “tackle Rik and Ade” story is a perfect example of what makes our collaboration so successful. Vee was talking about art, and I was thinking about sex, and somehow we managed to combine the two states. We make sexy art, or artsy sex, or…Just keep reading. —Jill3
3. Art is always more important than sex. It is a much more fruitful pursuit. Duh. —Vee, the asexual queer, or queer asexual, or frigid spinster, or spinning Frigidaire, depending on the day4
4. Point taken. My amourous pursuits are always fruitful (Read: Full of gay men and the accompanying heartbreak.) Therefore, romance only exists for me through art, and that principle forms the basis of my work as an Upstager. All I mean to say, Vee, is that you are right. Art is more important than sex. Hey, did I not tell the people to keep reading? —Jill5
5. Sorry. Do as Jill says; keep reading. —Vee
6. But I’m glad I know what Baby Cham is, just in case. —Jill
7. Rik and Ade were at the forefront of the Alternative Comedy scene, which arose in the very late 1970s in London. Inspired by the anti-establishment sensibilities of the Punk movement, Alternative comedians were openly at variance with not only the dominant political ideology of the time (hello, Thatcher), but also with what the mainstream comedy scene had become. Alternative comedians did not rely on the setup-punchline formula for jokes, instead creating their own mode of being funny, or irreverent; they did not rely on the prejudices so rampant in the comedy of their day. In the words of Alexei Sayle, “I’m an Alternative comedian; I’m not funny. The thing is, I’m not racist, I’m not sexist, so don’t laugh at me you fucking fascist shitbag, all right!”
The Pathological Upstagers are greatly inspired by particular members of the Alternative Comedy scene to varying degrees. Our coining of the term “post-alternative” is a tribute to those revolutionary visionaries as well as an acknowledgment of the movement as just that—a movement, to be recognized as a movement which evolved out of a particular political climate, a particular cultural time; a movement which should not just have its name so nesciently stolen. —Vee8
8. The British comedy troupe Monty Python reinvented comedy in the 1960s, just as the Alternative comedians did in the 1970s and 80s, although without such lasting effects. The Pythons’ television show, “Monty Python’s Flying Circus,” featured sketches that broke the traditional scenario-complication-punchline formula. Skits could be abandoned midsentence, and links were either nonsensical or nonexistent. The most important aspect of the Pythons’ work (also the most dangerous, from the point of view of conservative Britons) was that it demonstrated just how radical five boys with traditional schooling could be once they rebelled against their teachers by actually thinking. —Jill9
9. Well, if we’re going to go there, I’ll have to bring up the Kids In The Hall. The Kids are a great inspiration to me because, though they are considered comedians, they are not always funny in the “ha-ha” sense of the word. Not only do they fly in the face of conventional sketch standards, their style allows the discomfort many comedic forms do, but without all the catharsis of the punchline laugh. Bruce McCulloch in particular—who is now, thankfully, considered just as much of a writer/poet as a comedian—embodies this philosophy. —Vee10
10. Well, if we’re going to go there (You bitch! Don’t do this to me! You bitch!), then I must give to Stephen Fry and Hugh Laurie the admiration that they deserve. “A Little Bit of Fry and Laurie” is classic high comedy puns, double entendres, and wit that is drier than well-aged sherry. Fry and Laurie use their characters’ relationship to words to determine their relationship with each other. Ah, if only being well-spoken carried such distinction in the real world. Sadly, their videos are, at present, the closest one can come to such a linguistic Utopia. —Jill11
11. The Upright Citizens Brigade are as much a personal as a comedic inspiration. I met them at the tender age of 17 and became a regular fixture—a “mascot” some called me—at their theatre in lower Manhattan. Before this, I had expressed an inkling of an interest in the performing arts, but didn’t think a livelihood of such was possible. The UCB inspired me to recognize this life as a valid pursuit; they were a live example of people in the arts who were not starving. I probably wouldn’t be the intensely creative person I am today if not for them. That and the whole chaos thing. —Vee12
12. An artist is someone who understands sorrow. A comedian is someone who transcends it. Anyone who says that comedy is painless has never slipped on a banana peel. —Jill
Combating The Tyranny Of Political Correctness And Social Boundaries
“There’s nothing more intense than a female anything.” (Henry Rollins)
Our work may make some people uncomfortable. There are many reasons for this; one is that we intentionally make some people uncomfortable. These people are those who are way too politically correct.13 We believe that political correctness (which, whoops, we know, is not a politically correct, er, multiculturally sensitive, term) has possibly become as dangerous to our society as anything which preceded it. Some of the socio-political issues tackled in our comedy are not dealt with in what one might refer to as “politically correct” ways; however, that is a conscious decision and we hope that, by doing so, we will sell our agenda of Open Communication. The goal is to give people a forum to consider ideas without fear of being harassed by the PC police, and to ergo create a more amicable form of dialogue.
We currently live in a defining time, an in-between time, a weird time, when ideas once thought to achieve social justice have been refuted.15 The result of this is a scramble for new ways to attempt change. We dig some; we laugh at others. We attempt some; we’re too unmotivated and cynical for others. And so, while using identity politics to fight social ills might be a great pursuit for some people, we believe in the idea of Deliberate Integration to obliterate social boundaries. We see it as a much more Big Picture, optimistically- and future-oriented kind of thing. Queer theatre troupes and disabled dance groups are common (though certainly marginalized) enough, but how often do you see a straight-gimp16 and dyke-norm17 pairing? Never! Until us. We are just that revolutionary.
13. I would like to qualify the usage of the term “politically correct”. I am referring not to the theory of political correctness but rather how it has, in practice, become bastardized. (Think of it like political correctness-gone-awry.) This is not an uncommon fate of great ideas; look at Marxism. I haven’t always made this distinction, not until I lived in Scotland; there I discovered how much I appreciated a particular linguistic sensitivity begotten by political awareness that I did not encounter there, that I at least saw some Americans attempt, if not take too far or too off-point. Hence the amendment to my inference; ultimately, like most things, I think a nice balance is in order. But that’s just me. Jill might disagree. —Vee14
14. I do disagree. —Jill
15. I.e., the aforementioned Marxism. Sigh. —Vee
16. More specifically, I like to consider myself a winsome gimp—and no, that’s not a contradiction in terms. —Jill
17. More specifically, I like to consider myself a feminist comedian—and no, that’s not a contradiction in terms. —Vee
The Structure Of Chaos, Or How In The Bloody Hell…?
“Most actor/comedians lapse into the ridiculous…The Upstagers leap into it whole-heartedly.” (The Washington Post)
The most common misconception about improvisation is that it happens effortlessly. Improvisers work quickly, to be sure, but improv is a technique that requires as much discipline as other art forms. Improvisers bring the misconception upon themselves, in a way; good improvisers always makes their work look easy. The relationship between the performer and the audience is based upon the truthful representation of artifice. The improviser acts naturally, but the ease of his performance is an artifice.
We strive to take this principle of necessary artifice even further. We, as PU comedians, create fantasy worlds in our work, worlds where the line between the real and imagined selves becomes blurred. Reality is defined by what our characters believe their reality to be. A gimp can work in a modern freak show. A famous straight female comedian can be in love with a woman she has never met. A conversation can consist entirely of clichés.
However, we cannot take leaps of fancy without pushing off from solid ground. PU comedy is based upon the principle that structure (reality) must be present before chaos (humour/our reality) can be created. To make people laugh, one must take them by surprise. Construct a world with whose rules the audience will be familiar, then vanquish that world. A true PU comedy consists of characters who are in situations to which an audience can easily relate…But the characters act as audience members wish that they could act in such situations.
PU comedy expresses truth through absurdity, but the truth must be familiar in order to be powerful. We see the energy transfer of humour in this way:
Order— Security— Disintegration— Chaos— Liberation— Laughter
Laughter is the comedic equivalent of a catharsis. By laughing, audience members dissipate any tensions that may come from watching characters who act (sometimes embarrassingly) like themselves. They confront a truth about themselves, and then release the pain of that truth in laughter.18
18. I like the idea of disintegration. It allows one a certain freedom from the constraints of so-called “organization,” because we all know that our brains don’t function linearly; neurons are firing everywhere all the time, which can make attempts at lucid communication challenging. Plus it really psyches out the audience. —Vee
The Restoration Of High Comedy: Ben Elton19 Versus The Three Stooges
“My dad, he moved in some very mysterious circles… He had one leg shorter than the other, you see.” (“Bottom”)
PU comedy’s aim is to restore high comedy to its rightful place in the pantheon of brilliant comedic, thematic, theatrical, and filmatic techniques.20 PU comedy is an intellectual and highly principled form of comedy, more like Ben Elton than The Three Stooges (even if there are three of them). However, we recognize the danger of the pedantic; we realise that intellectualism is only effective when countered with humility. This so-called “disguised intelligence” (kinda like the CIA) is one tool PU comedy utilizes to bring humor to the masses effectively, in ways that foolish stupidity and pompous intellectualism cannot on their own. By presenting our comedy in this way, our audiences understand our work on multiple levels, regardless of their personal experience.
19. Ben Elton was, like our beloved Rik and Ade, a key player in the Alternative Comedy scene. He also happens to rock my world. —Vee
20. Apologies to any grammatically savvy readers. “Filmatic,” which appears in the above paragraph, is not actually a word. The correct word is “filmic.” —Jill21
21. Oh, well, pardon me, Little Miss Junior High School English Teacher. “Filmatic” sounds better, therefore I use it; I defy convention! —Vee22
22. [Caps her sorely needed red pen and blows a long and well-deserved raspberry in Vee’s direction.] —Jill
The Carnival As A Comedic Symbol, Or Carnival Chic23
“Here comes the carnival, Death like a rattle in one hand, Life like candy in the other; shake one to scare you, offer one to make your mouth water. Here comes the side show, both hands FULL!” (Ray Bradbury)
For us, the carnival is the ideal symbol for comedy. (By carnival, we are referring to the American traveling carnival; in particular, its hey-day of the first half of the twentieth century.) First, the carnival’s audience is not bound by the strictures of socioeconomic class, as is the theatre’s.24 Second, the carnival embodies the elements that we are most drawn to: a heightened reality, ritual, and a circumstantial concept of normalcy.
These elements are most evident in that most famous (and infamous) act in the carnival—the freak show. On the surface, the freak show, like some of our own work, may seem overly fantastic, and even grotesque. Yet, those who object to the freak show as a degradation are missing its value. The freak show is an act of confrontation. When carnival goers28 stare at the freaks, they are being forced to acknowledge their existence. Of course, they will forget them, or at least pretend to, as soon as they leave the carnival. Still, having stared into the eyes of a freak, they will have no choice but to recognise the so-called “abnormalities” (i.e., “idiosyncrasies”) in themselves.
The most important part of the ritual is that carnival goers are not expected to be passive. In the traditional theatre, spectators sit passively while ideas are brought to them. Carnival goers are active participants in their own amusement, choosing to enter a world wherein the power dynamic that they have been taught to value is reversed. (Sideshow freaks, who often led celebrity lives, referred to non-freaks as “norms”—with contempt.)
We do not value titillation for its own sake, and we readily acknowledge that titillation may be all that some take from a carnival, and from our work. Our interest in the absurd may intimidate some audience members. Others will be brave enough to reach beyond the real world and accompany us into the world of the imagination.
23. I coined that term. It began as a way to justify my wardrobe, but evolved into so much more; a way of life, if you will. —Vee
24. Ooooh…“Socio-economic class. ” Aren’t you Little Miss Junior Social Psychologist? —Jill25
25. As a matter of fact I am. I recognize the importance of distinguishing between class labels which are merely economically-defined versus class statuses which incorporate a number of tenets, such as culture, community, employment, education, and access, any of which are just as salient to social class members as income level. —Vee, written under the linguistic influence of some feminist theorist or another26
26. Oh, well then. If you must know, I recognise such distinctions as well. However, as I feel certain that I was a member of the British aristocracy in a past life (hence my present obsession with it), I do not trouble myself with the social, economic, or socio-economic station of those below the class to which I pretend to belong. —Jill27
27. Fair enough. —Vee
28. Vee, who knows quite a bit about carnivals, has told me that carnival goers are not actually called “carnival goers.” They are called “marks,” because carnies would place a mark on their backs as they were entering the carnival. The mark signified that they were gullible and could be cheated. I found this information to be fascinating, but Vee and I both decided not to include it within our main text, as our readers would only become confused. They would not know what in the hell we were talking about, and…Wait a minute. What in the hell was I talking about? —Jill
Conclusion: References For Further Study
“Education is an admirable thing, but it is well to remember from time to time that nothing that is worth knowing can be taught.” (Oscar Wilde)
If you are confused by any of the terms we use or references we make that we did not sufficiently explain, you should really just Google or Wikipedia them.
Ok, fine, here are some links:
- Wikipedia: Alternative comedy
- Wikipedia: Anglophile
- Wikipedia: Carnival
- Wikipedia: Feminism
- Wikipedia: Fry and Laurie
- Wikipedia: Jane Austen
- Wikipedia: Kids In The Hall
- Wikipedia: Marxism
- Wikipedia: Monty Python
- Wikipedia: Political correctness
- Wikipedia: Queer theory
- Wikipedia: Upright Citizens Brigade
Afterward: Have You Really Been Paying Attention?: An Explanation Of Our Language
“Writing may not be sacred, but words are.” (Tom Stoppard)29
As an Anglophile, Jill feels a duty to use British spelling whenever possible. She finds British spelling to be more pleasing to the eye than its American counterpart, just as she finds British accents and expressions to be more pleasing to the ear. She strongly believes that the ability to speak and write well is a very important one; the quality of the written word must be safeguarded at all times. For her, this means that the written word should be British. She also has a special, very personal reason for trying to make this Manifesto seem as British as possible. As she writes, she is imagining the sexy, British voice that will be reading her words on The Upstagers’ first book on tape.
As a failed Anglophile, Vee has decided that instead of attempting to co-opt British dialect and spelling she’ll just make up her own bloody language. So-called “Levenish” incorporates American English (particularly the regional dialect of middle Rhode Island, from where she hails), as well as a number of British, Irish, and Canadian dialects, gleaned from her various and obsessively numerous media intakes, having lived in Scotland for a spell, and some American counterparts of these peoples.
The “Have You Really Been Paying Attention?” part of the title means that, if you have been paying attention, you’ll probably be able to tell who wrote what parts, collectively or individually, sidebars notwithstanding. It’s kinda like how Jill can tell which Monty Python members wrote what bits and how Vee can do the same thing with the Kids In The Hall.
29. Another good quote for this section could be “The pen is mightier than the sword, and considerably easier to write with” by Marty Feldman, but my vote was ousted. —Vee30
30. As you know, Vee, we both agreed that the Stoppard quote was more relevant to this section. Stop sucking on sour grapes. —Jill31
31. Whatever. —Vee32
32. What you really mean to say is: THE END. —Jill33
33. Sure fine whatever, Little Miss Always Having To Have The Last Word. THE END. —Vee34
34. Fine, we will say it together. One, two, three…THE END. —Jill (Well, Vee and Jill.)
The Pathological Upstagers are Jill Summerville and Vee Levene.
This manifesto was completed in February of 2006.