A The comedy show is probably not the first place to hear about a hot new issue, but stand-up routines have a habit of quickly reflecting on the concerns of our time. The fringe lineup at this summer’s Edinburgh festival took the threat of artificial intelligence and ran with it.
A series of performers at the month-long festival, which begins August 4, will either use the technology to generate a show or play with fears over the rapid rise in its use.
London-based comedian Peter Bazely admitted he was “out of ideas”, so he turned to AI to help him create a show “relating to” the Laughing Horse. As a result, he plans to play a straight man in a computer-generated comic called AI Jesus – also the name of his show.
Equally fearless of an algorithm is a show at Gilded Balloon Teviot called Improvisational Artificial Intelligence, hot from the Brighton fringe. Hosted by Piotr Mirowski, co-founder of theater lab Improbotics, a researcher on Google’s DeepMind project, the show features both actors and robots responding to audience prompts as chatbots compete with humans for the best punchline. .
Behind the theatrics lies a serious purpose, according to Mirowski. The future security of any artist who relies on their imagination rests on the public’s appetite for quality, he argues. “We don’t use humans to introduce AI; instead, we use AI, demonstrating its obvious limitations, to showcase human creativity, ingenuity and support on stage,” he clarified over the weekend.
Australian comedian Tom Ballard also delved into the potential pitfalls of AI addiction by including a joke written by ChatGPT on his show. Tom Ballard: It’s me. While among those more tech-savvy standups to tackle the subject will be Colleen Lavin, who is billed as a “professional hardware geek” and worked at Nasa. Seeking support for her first show in Edinburgh, she claims to have built a robot that can determine if she is funny. “Come laugh,” she urges humor fans, and “stay to impress future robot lords.”
Robots will also feature elsewhere. American comedian Stephen Brower has used coding to perfect the prototype of what he suspects makes the most palatable type of gay man for his new show, Palatable gay robot. Described as an “edgy fusion of stand-up and theater”, his show, Brower says, will “take the tech world by storm”.
At the Pleasance Courtyard, the ideal female robot will give her a hard time in the form of Los Angeles-based clown Courtney Pauroso, returning to the festival this time as “sex robot” Vanessa 5000, an entity undergoing a seizure on his own existence. Pauroso’s show’s selling tagline reads, “Artificially intelligent. Really stupid. ChatGPT has nothing on Vanessa 5000’s nice synthetic ass.
As humor critic Veronica Lee, co-founder of culture site TheArtsDesk.com, points out, at each Fringe festival, a “hot topic” emerges from hundreds of disparate acts. “Well, at least it’s not rape ‘jokes’ this year,” she said. “Last year was comics with ADHD; the best joke I heard was from Colin Hoult’s alter ego, failed actress Anna Mann, who said she had just been diagnosed, adding “but all the other assholes on the sidelines too” .
Critics, Lee points out, talk about carrying a fictional “bingo card” in their head, ticking off topics that crop up repeatedly in the acts each year.