Wednesday, December 21, 2011
Ferguson and Geoff - a 'two-act'
I've been watching a little (under-statement) of Craig Ferguson and his robot side-kick Geoff Peterson (CBS - The Late Late Show - check Youtube). They are an interesting subversion of the comedian - feeder relationship. Ferguson often plays straight to trigger Geoff's set pieces and catch-phrases. Ferguson, for example, will ask Geoff has he every been to such-and-such a place. Geoff's traditional reply is that he has a house there, they should go up for the summer, throw beads at people, take off their clothes and go swimming etc. This spiel has become so much part of act that Ferguson now rattles through set-up, even preempts some of Geoff's replies, and tightens the sequence to the point that it becomes an in-joke.
This is important for a couple of reasons. First, it suggests that humour used in this manner is an inclusive act - Ferguson, by playing straight, is the stand-in for the audience. He is controlling the flow for the audience, even if this means trimming his role. This in-joke, where the audience has to know the joke before it is delivered, makes the audience part of the performance. The second reason is that it suggests, as some humour theories deny, that jokes and comedy in general fail after the first telling. Having heard the joke before does not limit the possibility of humour. Ferguson, from the 2nd through nth telling, gets this to work by altering the context. At the first performance the text is all - by the nth telling context is all.