Tragedy + Public Forum = Cathartic for Mark Hughes at The Fringe

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When you hear that one of the funnier stand-up comics in the city is putting together a one man performance piece for this year’s Vancouver Fringe Festival entitled “Tragedy + Comedy = Time Served”, you might think that you’re going to leave the show with stretch marks on your cheeks and abs sore from laughter. But like the Bee Gee’s or Faith No More or whomever you trust, it turns out that the joke was on me. As it turns out the only comedy involved in the production were the remnants of the sarcastic and often sardonic parts of the local comic’s being. The part of the being or soul that serves as our personal protection agent, commonly referred to as our wall. The witty parts of the dark comic that you couldn’t whip out of him, and you wouldn’t want to. The part of all of us that is so ingrained into who we are that gun to the our head we couldn’t help but make a smart-ass and life ending quip.

Local comic Mark Hughes’ “Tragedy + Comedy = Time Served” is at The Fringe running now until September 17th at Studio 16.

Having known very little about Hughes beyond a cursory examination of his Facebook page, and having yet to fully master some of the conditioned responses in my own thought process, I did what most of us do hundreds of times daily, I drew conclusions.

Having seen Hughes’ stand-up routine in the last instalment of The Comedy Shocker in July where he addresses his colourful past resulting in prison served to provide some insight into the man, but how much if anything a comic says on stage can (or should) be taken literally?

Assuming “Tragedy + Comedy = Time Served” is both an homage to Patton Oswald’s special “Tragedy Plus Comedy Equals Time”, as well as a clever play on words what with having only one additional word to the title and it serve to achieve a perpetuity and completely different context. So naturally, I blindly promoted the show and attended a matinee viewing.

Not to plead complete ignorance, I sensed there would be a therapeutic element for Hughes’ production; I just had no idea that it was going to be a cathartic purging of the soul and mind of the man I barely knew.

Another (not so comedic) shocker that became clear early on in the show was just how many parallels Hughes’ life story had with my own life’s undertakings. Not as much directly correlated, but abundantly applicable in almost every avenue. Perhaps a loving mother here, or a failed hold up there and… well, let’s just say that it surprised me after seeing and hearing “Tragedy + Comedy = Time Served” that Hughes’ and I didn’t see our paths cross prior to The Rickshaw theatre on July, 09.

Uniquely engrossed in what Hughes was saying during his performance, it started to sound more like a presentation. At one point I wondered if the studio lights were going to abruptly come up, and the audience would reveal themselves to be my own friends and loved ones there to challenge me.

Imagining how he would tell this same life-story in a more comfortable environment, my advice to Hughes would be to do just that, tell the story. Forget about how you phrased it when you typed it up. Forget about the mugging, stage blocking, dramatic effect pausing, and deliberate gesticulating that didn’t just naturally flow out of him. Just tell the damn story, tell your story. Natural flow and sentence structure will mirror the night’s prior in short order, and you’ll still be able to hit that punchline, maybe even harder.

Of course the irony being that I did indeed had an opportunity to say all of those things, but I bailed on it.

Hughes was doing a reading (of which he did several) about a month out from The Fringe where he just wanted to rehearse in front a handful of people in preparation for his first solo (non-stand up) show. I told him via Facebook that I wished to attend, and on the day of, though legitimately swamped bailed on him, even walking half-way there before I did. He told me that it was “no big deal”, but naturally I carry the same Irish guilt that Hughes does, and I could tell that though it was no big deal, it wasn’t nothing either.

Once again, I’m sorry Mark.

I was legitimately thrilled with the egregiously offside humour of The Comedy Shocker: Ninth Gate of Hell.  (The Comedy Shocker 10: Decalogue of Death goes Saturday October 1st, Doors at 20:00, show at 21:00)

My enthusiasm for how funny the show was must have flattered Hughes, because once the article singing the praises of the several comics on the taboo bill was published, he and a couple other comics friended me on Facebook. For a couple days we bullshitted back and forth via private message and I was elated to have made a friend that could conceivably riff with me and keep up, going down dark corridors of off-limits humour.

I made the mistake of utilizing the same, albeit watered down (for public consumption) kind of risqué humour publically on Hughes’ Facebook wall; only this time not with him, but at him.

Figuring, he’s a comic, he’ll know I am just acting a fool and nothing will be thought of it beyond that I was just saying the most absurd thing that came to mind with the effort to make Hughes and his people laugh. Instead, after a brief jousting back and forth, which I assumed, was par for the course, I self-deprecatingly turned it around on myself to cast no doubt as to my having been joking. Those posts have since been deleted, however a post Hughes had linked to his Facebook via his Twitter account read, ‘You can tell how insecure someone is not by how many selfies they post, or their humblebrags, but by how fast they get mean on the Internet.’

Now, unless provoked I am overwhelmingly kind online (kinder than my reviews), choosing to champion what it is that I enjoy, rather than slander. I, of course was joking on the prior thread thinking that was comic nomenclature. Naturally, I can’t know if the Internet comment was in reference to me. I certainly have my insecurities, much like everyone, and they go just about as far as selfishly assuming that the above post was passively aggressively directed at me. Cleverly, one could never ask due to if they do, they run the risk of looking…you guessed, insecure.

After witnessing “Tragedy + Comedy = Time Served”, I have a better idea as to why my jokes directed at Hughes may not have been received with the jest with which they were intended.   

Without giving away any pertinent details, those that are into human psychology should book a ticket to “Tragedy + Comedy = Time Served” now. Not to poke and compare with an individual in the midst of reform, but to witness honesty. To witness a man that at any point could’ve broken into your life, and the circumstances with which he believes those choices were made. There is no Hollywood ending in “Tragedy + Comedy = Time Served”. But what there is an abundance of is perspective that most have not considered before. What there is at Mark Hughes’ “Tragedy + Comedy = Time Served” is a chance at understanding someone possibly in your life that perhaps does not play by conventional rules, a window as to ‘why’? What “Tragedy + Comedy = Time Served” has beyond hope and prayer, is a conduit to a place that seems to be rapidly diminishing in modern day Western culture, a conduit to empathy.