Someone once said that if you want to understand a place, you should listen to their comedy. I think it was a famous person. Or it might have been my mate Liam. Or I might have made it up. Anyway, I still think its true.
So, last night, I went to a stand-up comedy joint to get to know the ‘real’ Belfast. I listened to an amusing 40 something man entertain a room full of 20 something students. I then watched a 20 something woman fall tits over arse (metaphorically speaking) in front of a room full of 20 something students. Here is what I learnt:
1) Belfast is a place where no-one minds advertising a comedy night starting at 8pm and then not starting it until 9:40pm, not considering the possibility of young, female backpackers, on their own, with no-one to talk to before the show starts and who want to get back to their hostel at a ‘reasonable’ hour so they don’t have to walk the possibly IRA infested streets of Belfast alone.
2) Catholics are still funny. Though, to be fair, when the 40 something comic started making fun of Catholics, there was a shift in the air of the room, and some of the kids started to ‘boo’ good-naturedly. Also, interestingly, the jokes about Catholics weren’t about them being stupid, but about them being victimised or how they were young and eager new recruits into Belfast civic society. So, there you go.
3)’The Troubles’ are funny too, as is Belfast’s reputation for being a dangerous city.
4) Belfast seems to be suffering from a crime-wave of skinny, little white punks that think they are black and live in LA.
5) Belfast has an ice hockey team (??seriously??). Its not very good. Its full of depressed and unfulfilled Canadian players.
6) People who work out a lot are funny.
7) People who are fat are also funny.
8) Belfast is racist. Very racist. But, racists are also funny. At one point, I thought the comic was doing an appalling impersonation of a Chinese person, but it turned out to be an Irish person doing an appalling impersonation of a Chinese person in order to get out of jury duty. Much less racist. And much more funny.
9) Belfast is a city that doesn’t like to hear exceedingly crude jokes told by women in the same way that men tell jokes exceedingly crude jokes. They don’t like to hear women making jokes playing on a double meaning of ‘crack’ (Irish: A good time, or a good vibe, Everywhere: well, you know). Belfast doesn’t enjoy jokes about the difference between virginity and anal virginity. Belfast doesn’t enjoy jokes about women wanting abortions when the child is 4 years old because they are no longer cute.
10) However, Belfast does enjoy women making jokes about how else to get rid of said toddler (‘Go to Portugal, go out for the night and don’t get a baby-sitter’)
So, there you have it. Enlightening, I’m sure. But, seriously, I’ve found Belfast fascinating. I walked along Falls Rd (traditionally, the Catholic/Nationalist road) and Shankill Rd (traditionally the Protestant/Unionist or Loyalist side). I went to the Irish Republican museum, where they sat me down to watch a DVD on the Troubles seen from the Republican side, and I was joined by 3 young Belfast men, who astounded me with the strength of their opinions and knowledge of the history of the conflict. Their understanding was far beyond anything I would have expected from similar young Australian men concerning recent Australian history. I saw the so-called ‘Peace Line’, which is remarkably sinister even in light of the ceasefire and the relative calmness of present-day Belfast. I saw Sinn Fein’s headquarters and the Republican burial ground at Milltown Cemetry. Belfast feels like a place where the air is thick with the recent past. I walk past people in the street and want to stop them and ask, ‘What did you see? Whose side are you on? How was your family affected? Do you think its really all over?’ Because, that’s the thing, most people over the age of about 25, would’ve seen or experienced something. Obviously its not anything like it was. But, it still feels like, underneath, there is a crackling of remarkably strong and opposing political beliefs. You could light a match off of it, except I worry that it would set the whole place on fire again.