As much as we all love U2, there are a few songs in their catalog that never hit it off with the fans. “Miami”, from Pop is one such song, as is “Scarlet” from October. Another example of these fan non-favorites is today’s topic, “Stand Up Comedy”, from No Line on the Horizon. I hope to cast this song in a new light today and celebrate the many things about “Stand Up Comedy” that there are to like. I think that people forget sometimes that U2 is a rock band, in addition to the many other hats the band wears. A lot of their music serves other functions as well, like moving us emotionally or spiritually, or making us think long and hard about the world we live in. The first responsibility of a rock band, though, is to rock, and “Stand Up Comedy” does that in spades. With a monster guitar riff that sounds like it was lifted straight out of the 1970’s – undoubtedly inspired by the time that Edge spent with Jimmy Page from Led Zeppelin while filming the documentary It Might Get Loud – and a great hook, along with some interesting vocal treatments on the chorus, “Stand Up Comedy” commits the cardinal sin of simply being entertaining. It’s a fun rock song that’s bereft of U2’s trademark “other level”- that special something other that makes most of U2’s music so much more than solely entertainment. “Stand Up Comedy” still stands heads and shoulders above the output of most other rock bands.
If there is a shortcoming in the song, perhaps that lies in the lyrics. The song features some lyrics that, at first glance, appear to be utterly incomprehensible. Lines like “stop helping God across the road like a little old lady” left me scratching my head for many weeks, and incited questions from others who heard the song. I think I finally hit upon a reasonable explanation of what Bono means by that phrase, though. I think that Bono felt at the time that people sometimes, although meaning well, get in the way of the work that he believes God is trying to do. So another way to turn the phrase might have been “get out of the way and let God work”. Throughout the song, Bono is in full sloganeering mode for “Stand Up Comedy” a phase he sometimes goes through that finds him seemingly more concerned with coining a good soundbyte than creating something of real import, but perhaps that’s where the “Comedy” part of the title comes from. Despite all of this, there’s still a good message communicated during the song’s chorus – stand up for the things you love.
Perhaps not surprisingly, “Stand Up Comedy” has never been performed live, although I don’t think it’s because of fans’ dissatisfaction with the song. In fact, I was surprised at one 360 show I attended to hear folks in the GA line before the show hoping that “Stand Up Comedy” would make an appearance. I think that the reason that the song has never been performed is that it might be difficult to duplicate the phasing audio treatment on the calls of “love, love, love, love” that appear at the end of the chorus in a live setting. Otherwise, I honestly believe that the song would fit perfectly into a high energy section of U2’s live set-list, where it would have the many casual fans – who might not know that it’s not hip to like the song – moving and grooving to the up-tempo piece. If you’re reading this, I recommend going back and giving “Stand Up Comedy” another listen, then let me know your thoughts on the song in the comments below.
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