A couple of years ago I got free tickets to see Andy Parsons record a live stand-up show at a London theatre. The tickets were free because I was reviewing it. Had they not been I almost certainly wouldn’t have gone, since Parsons’ style isn’t to my own comedy tastes. But humour is subjective, so I can think what I like and not belittle him or his fans.
I’d taken my brother along to see the gig and we happened to sit next to a large, muscular, bald man who, within the first minute of the show, clearly demonstrated that he was delighted to be present by laughing.
“Of course he did, you moron,” you might cry “it was a comedy gig”. But this, my hypothetical friend, was not a normal laugh. It was a loud, persistent and frankly obnoxious guffaw which seemed powerful enough to churn butter or power a small mill.
Had we been laughing along too this might have been tolerable. But the sound of someone else enjoying something to which you are indifferent at best is a sure fire way to transform this feeling into an active dislike. We hated the man and, in the second half, we hated Parsons for interacting with him for about 15 minutes. It’s all on the DVD Britain’s Got Idiots if you want to see it.
Last week I went to a screening of Ted, Seth MacFarlane’s first movie as director and star, in which he plays a magic CGI stuffed toy. As the film began, I was worried that history was about to repeat itself. The man I’d randomly sat next to laughed improbably loudly as soon as the title card appeared, as if he was unable to control himself at the sight of some large, green letters.
This soured my mood and, were it not for the fact that the volume of the movie was kicked up loud, his re-enactment of the ‘Parsons Incident’ would have filled me with a rage I could not vent. As it was, I just got a bit miffed.
A broader thing an audience can do during a film to wind me up is to laugh longest and hardest at the jokes or sequences which have appeared in the trailer. It could be that the people who put these promotional clips together have really done their job well, identifying the funniest moments which will put an audience into fits of hysterics. But I can’t escape the feeling that people are laughing out of recognition, because they have heard the joke before.
I was proved partially correct during Ted as my cacophonous neighbour actually said ‘Wuh-oh!” a second before a gag prominently featured in the teasers. He said it out loud, without irony, as if he knew I was studying him like some kind of grumpy David Attenborough.
You can play this game yourself if you like, using any comedy movie. Just watch a popular trailer before you head to the cinema and see how much more vocally an audience responds to the jokes it features than to those that are unexpected. There will definitely be a difference. I am not mental.
I am aware that this is a petty, personal neurosis for which I deserve to be lightly beaten. In fact I’m almost certainly being hypocritical, because I tend to laugh at points in films which were not intended to be funny; e.g. the sex scene in Twilight: Breaking Dawn Pt 1. But I’d rather be the only person laughing at something sincere than part of a whole audience laughing at an animated bear making lazy racist jokes.