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Trevor Griffiths' Play Comedians

Categories: CapitalismComedy

At the beginning of Act three the comedians return from their show to discuss their performances. There is a “low, tense, anxious, angry, baffled mood”. Trevor Griffiths creates this atmosphere through the use of language, form and structure. There is a feeling of defeat at the start of Act 3. The comics who remained loyal to Waters have failed in their aspirations to become comedians; those who pandered to Challenor’s view of comedy have betrayed their teacher and the values they aspire to.

Griffiths creates the sense of their failure through stage directions.

The comics sit “glum, drained and separate” with “simple exhaustion underpinning the low” atmosphere. Price’s mock funeral service for the comedians is symbolic of this failure “we are gathered here today to mourn the passing of several promising careers in the comedic arts”. Waters is also defeated by the previous scene’s performances, he’s “white, tired, drained and old”. In contrast to act one where he was described as “quick” and “purposeful”.

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Water’s theory of comedy is “comedy is medicine.

Not coloured sweeties to rot their teeth with”, and his attempt to teach this to some of his pupils has failed. Those who abided by his philosophies will not be signed by Challenor from the board of agents, and he has hindered their chances of becoming successful comedians, making his work seem futile. He seems to have lost his sense of purpose. Griffiths conveys this when Waters begrudgingly “relinquishes” his desk to Challenor. The desk can be understood as a metaphor for the power he had over the comedians in his class.

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After Challenor takes over his desk and class Waters is referred to as a mere “onlooker”. Waters is often portrayed as a socialist reformer in the play. He suggests to his pupils that “most comics feed prejudice and fear and blinkered vision, but the best ones… illuminate them, to make them clearer to see, easier to deal with”. I believe that this was conveying the sense that comedians had the power to tackle problems of social inequality and stereotyping. In contrast Challenor can be seen to represent capitalism through his statement “they demand, we supply” .

This refers both to Challenor’s political standpoint and his view that comics should support the status quo by feeding the prejudices of their audiences. Griffiths effectively creates a sombre atmosphere amongst the audience when, through Water’s giving up his desk and the power over his class, he is arguing that capitalism controls the world and socialism is relatively weak. He has brought his audience to a realisation of the plight of the working class, where the only escape is through conforming to the capitalist society that oppressed them in the first place. There is tension between the actors on stage.

This is created by dividing the comedians into two groups, those who remained loyalty to Waters and those who betrayed him, thereby creating tension through the suggestion of gang warfare. The groups know who they side with; those who betrayed Waters feel guilty and those who stuck by his principles resent the fact hat others will be rewarded for their actions. The speech is in short sentences and the comics are quick to retaliate to insults. After Phil refers to Connor as Seamus, a stereotypical Irish name, Connor remarks “my name’s Mick”, in a “dangerous, suddenly, very deliberate” manner.

The actors sit a “deliberate distance apart” and there is “no eye contacts”. The stage directions tell us there is “silence”, indicating that the actors have little to say to each other and through the use of ellipsis we can see the forced pauses in their conversations. Waters comments “we wont be long now… “. He no longer feels that he has anything worthwhile to say to his students. It is clear to him that and some don’t respect what he has tried to teach them and has made him question whether he has anything to contribute..

To convey to the audience the sense of guilt felt by some of the comics Griffiths uses an extended religious metaphor, comparing the comedic teachings of Waters and the betrayal of them, to Judas betraying Jesus in the New Testament. McBrain asks the rhetorical question “so when do I get my 30 pieces of silver? … I don’t want inquests I want work”. For money and a chance to escape his working class life McBrain is willing to betray Waters, but he feels the need to be in part “self punishing”. He shows his guilt at betraying Waters, and his frustration at having no other choice, by banging his fists on the table.

Later on in the scene as McBrain leaves he’s “hard inside the compromise” that he has had to make in order to secure his future being signed by Challenor. The other comedians are angry with those who betrayed Waters. Yet they realize that by doing so the others will be successful. “You’ll be alright George, you knew what to do alright”, Ged comments. Price’s act of breaking a piece of wood on his own head and his comment “you are going to crucify the man, do the job properly”, testifies to the aggression that they all feel. Language such as “cunt” conveys the anger of the comedians, creating an aggressive atmosphere.

Stage directions describe the “hostility” between the comics. Griffiths also uses humour and irony to create a hostile atmosphere. Price’s mock funeral sermon ends with the motto “it’s easy to be a bit of cunt, you’ve got to work to be a shit house”. This was aimed at the comedians who changed their act to appease Challenor and was intended to tell them that their action makes them unscrupulous people. Another example of the resentment felt by some of the characters is Ged’s action in giving Samuels, whom they knew to be Jewish, a pork pie. Ged acts innocently, “don’t you like pork? .

This can equally be seen as Ged suggesting that Samuels forgo his faith in order to become successful. At the start of Act Three Griffiths creates the defeated, tense and angry atmosphere that has come about as a result of the divided loyalties amongst the students towards their teacher. The conflict between personal values and the opportunity for success and the battle between socialism and capitalism rear itself at the beginning of the scene and mark the act as violent and depressing. Griffiths convey this through the use of cleaver staging, metaphor and stage directions.

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Trevor Griffiths' Play Comedians. (2020, Jun 01). Retrieved from

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