Performance Artstatistics

Statistically, Taste Sucks

Had two emails after a gig the other week. One said, ‘Really enjoyed your set – when are you next in London?’ The other said ‘you’re F**King Sh*tt I hope you get turned into meat’ (ironically this latter email was apparently inspired by my jokes about irritating Buddhists). The gig itself had gone okay, everything got a laugh, and I was surprised to have such a varied response when I got home.

I suppose I shouldn’t be upset.

The trouble with comedy is, everyone thinks it is for them. You don’t get offended if you don’t like BBC’s AutumnWatch – you don’t tune in. But comedy, whether it be a family sitcom, a sketch show about aliens, or a mockumentry about life in a disused condom factory and everyone will decide if it was or wasn’t funny. As though it is black or white. Because everyone has a sense of humour, they think that all comedy should appeal to them. If you don’t find it funny then it aint comedy. Worse, you get offended that it is called ‘comedy’ in the schedule, when it clearly has been incorrectly categorised. It is like finding Zappa in the pop section at HMV.

I often listen to Smodcast (despite being a terrible skeptic, Kevin Smith is damn pretty) where Kevin Smith (still pretty) sometimes rants about the test screening procedure for his films. How scenes are spliced and rejigged to comply to reactions of a random sample of cinema goers (and how these are often soul-destroying as the test audience is not the same as the audience who is interested in the type of film being shown).


It seems TV and film are continually pawed over by executives like spin doctors dripping Tipp-Ex over a politician’s speech.

If you don’t see a problem with this, imagine trying it out on other art forms. Actually you don’t need to imagine because a couple of artists have already done it.

Back in the 1990s Komar and Melamid interpretated a professional market research survey about aesthetic preferences to discover what a true “people’s art” would look like. The statistical research is part of the art and can be viewed on their website.

One of my favourites is the USA most wanted painting, which is a large landscape, with plenty of blue, a tree in bloom, a family on an outing and George Washington.

Most Wanted Painting USA

It really is an interesting site. I will leave you to investigate if you haven’t already but the most important thing to note is: THE DUTCH ARE WEIRD.

However Komar and Melamid didn’t stop there. They also made musical versions. While the most wanted song is short, contains sax (as in saxophone), a marriage proposal, working the night shift, power chords, string swells and love, and sounds like the sort of lift music Father Ted pulls his hair over the most unwanted music is a masterpiece. Some 20mins long, it includes bagpipes, banjos, oompah-ing tubas, children singing out of tune, christmas and opera rap. That’s right. Opera Rap.

You can download it here. Courtesy of

Oh, and the most wanted music is here.

My point? The wisdom of crowds might be good for counting beans in a jar, but it sucks at choosing a good evening out. To anyone who watches X-factor this news comes as no surprise. Still, I’m glad to get the odd bit of hate mail. It means I’m doing something right.


Iszi Lawrence is an English comedian and paid doodler. Iszi helps run skeptics in the pub Oxford and performs throughout Europe. Listen to her free weekly podcast She has up to ten toes at any one time.

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  1. Ha! I had heard Komar and Melamid’s best/worst songs before and am always reminded of them whenever I think about trying to please everybody at once.

    Ugh…songs with child choirs. They should get turned into meat.

  2. I’ve seen these most wanted and unwanted things before! I think it was on radio lab. They are AMAZING.

  3. Why have I never heard of Komar and Melamid before? Wow, I really am a hermit. Super great stuff though.

    I’m currently working on a project right now that’s my first real exposure to the test screening process. It takes some getting used to, to say the least.

  4. I remember hearing about this study and had completely forgotten about it! Glad I’ve finally gotten to take a look at the results (which are fantastic).
    It also reminds me of that scene the movie ‘The Big Picture’, with the producer who uses market research to come up with premises for movies. Abe & The Babe, anyone?

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