“Bonaly” is named after Surya Bonaly, a black figure skater. In ice skating, the judging is subjective and they score against the perfect ideal of a figure skater that they have in their head. Because Bonaly didn’t fit that mould of what the industry decided she should be, her talents were overlooked and she never achieved the first place finishes her skating deserved.
This resentment at being overshadowed came to a head in 1994 at the World Figure Skating Championships where she was awarded second place and, such was her sense of injustice, she refused to get on the podium or wear a medal. To her, second place wasn’t something to be proud of - it was ratification of what she’d always known, that she was never going to be accepted by her peers.
Four years later, at the 1998 Winter Olympics, Bonaly was competing for the last time. She was past her best, her knees had gone, she knew she wasn’t going to win.
She went out on the ice and did a backflip, landing on one blade. Nobody has done it before or since. However, the backflip is a banned move, so the judges just ignored it. She finished 10th.
She did something quite literally groundbreaking, right in front of them, and they ignored it because it wasn’t what they wanted to see.
And that’s kind of how I feel about comedy right now. The industry has its own ideas of what kind of comedy to push and who to give opportunities to, and if you don’t fit that mould then you ain’t getting a shot, it’s as simple as that. You’ve even got fellow comics deciding what other acts should and shouldn’t joke about, and audiences who decide they’re offended and act as the moral compass for everyone else in the room.
But what I’ve learned from Surya Bonaly is that there’s no point trying to make those people like you. Create the kind of things that you love, and hopefully enough people will get behind it that you won’t need their approval any more.
Do a backflip, not for the judges, but for the ones in the crowd that want to see something different. See Less