In a world where football and comedy go hand in hand, Arsenal are so often the court jesters. Booing will only actually work for one of them though, says Johnny…
Well that was pretty awful. I hadn’t realised until now that the Emirates is actually a comedy club. I’m likely to find myself saying something is awful quite a lot this month, as I emerge from hot, sweaty rooms at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival.
This year I am privileged to be on the Fosters Comedy Award panel. This means seeing over 100 performances across three weeks in order to decide on the winners of three prestigious prizes. As there are over 600 acts that qualify for the Comedy Awards, it means you will see some dreadful stuff at some point and occasionally some brilliant stuff too. I have seen people staring across a room with terror in their eyes, wondering why on earth they had ever thought that their Powerpoint presentation about funny vegetables would launch their comedy career.
However, no matter how bad a show is, someone will always find some of it funny. Comedy is very divisive and one thing is guaranteed, a lot of people will disagree with whoever is chosen for the awards.
And football is very much like comedy. There is very little agreement and a lot of arguing. The most frustrating thing is sitting watching a comedian making lots of people laugh when you find them utterly unfunny. Clearly, comedy is a very subjective thing and yet it’s hard to think that is actually true because laughing is such a visceral thing. We all tend to default to the notion that what we laugh at is, quite objectively, hilarious and doubt the wisdom or even sanity of those who dislike what we find so great. When people have tears in their eyes at something which you think is just dumb, it can make you feel genuinely angry. “Why are you laughing?!” you think, looking around yourself with a bitter scowl on your face at all these laughing idiots.
But again, a life watching football prepares you well for this. We’ve all come out of football grounds to hear others talking about the match in a way which suggests they have been to an entirely different game. We’ve all watched a game and the bloke next to us seems to think the obviously worst man on the pitch, is actually the best. It’s very weird and again, it’s hard to think that your own perspective is not absolute and other views can exist.
I managed to catch some of the post-game phone-in comments about the Arsenal game and it was just like listening to people coming out of comedy show. Some saw it as a new nadir of rubbishness, others looked for the good parts that they enjoyed. Some referenced how they lost to Aston Villa at home in the first game of the season a couple of season ago, only to go on and do rather well. Others suggested this was therefore a lesson they already should have learned.
Arsenal probably embody this breadth of reaction more than any other top football side. The most divisive comedians in the league. Those who are fans of Arsenal’s comedy, take these losses in their stride and see it as all part of the bumpy road of a season, and are just happy to wait until they get to the good stuff. Others are less forgiving and see it as simply not good enough and symbolic of their manager’s inadequacy that it even happens at all.
Watching Arsenal does feel a lot like watching a performer who has good material but can’t always get their timing and pacing right. It must be the most frustrating experience to be an Arsenal fan. You know you’re going to get to the really good juice at some point but will also have to sit through a lot of stuff that misfires.
However, one thing watching seven comedy shows a day has taught me is that booing doesn’t help anyone. Booing the side off after just 45 minutes of a new campaign has zero chance of making things better. If you boo anyone off stage, in the full knowledge that they’ll have to return to face you again in 20 minutes, it’s unlikely to make anyone perform better. At least in a comedy club, if you get booed off, no-one expects you to come back out in a bit and try telling some more jokes.
One thing is for sure, though, a two nil opening day defeat to West Ham United isn’t funny for Arsenal fans, but for the rest of us, it is absolutely hilarious.