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Published on Apr 2, 2008
Jonathan Pryce as Gethin Pryce in the play 'Comedians'.
This extract from Trevor Griffiths' play 'Comedians', as performed on the BBC's 'Play for Today' in 1979, features one of TV drama's most powerful performances. Griffiths' play is set in a night school where an old-time music hall comedian Eddie Waters (played here by Bill Frazer) teaches a collection of would-be comics the art of being a stand-up comedian. Within this framework Griffiths examines the nature of comedy itself and asks whether comedy should be seen as a means of revealing prejudice and expressing truths about the world that people would prefer to ignore, or simply aim to entertain and win 'cheap laughs', even at the cost of pandering to and feeding prejudice. On this point Waters is unequivocal, explaining in the play's central scene how at the end of his time in the army during WW2 he had visited a concentration camp, a place he found both abhorrent and yet also found that something deep inside him "loved it too". He recalls how later he attended a show where a comedian told a 'Jewish' joke and whilst others "laughed, not inordinately, just ... easily ... And I sat there. And I didn't laugh".
Gethin Pryce's response to Water's call to use comedy to 'speak the truth' is this performance, which reflects the work of Grock. In it Pryce expresses his refusal to 'stand in line', as had the victims of the camps, rebelling against the system of class and inequality when ensured that despite claims to the contrary, the 'working class' in Britain are, in Gethin's words, "still caged, exploited, prodded and pulled at, milked, fattened, slaughtered, cut up, fed out. We still don't belong to ourselves. Nothing's changed."