Uncanny Valley: A definition

You may have heard of the term uncanny valley.

In this post, I want to get you to understand the meaning of uncanny valley. I also want to expand the definition. With everything going on in the world today it’s fair to say that the term is only going to become more applicable.

Polar Express and the uncanny valley

Robert Zemeckis film The Polar Express might be when you became aware of the term “Uncanny Valley”.

Kill it with fire

To be honest, it was that scene from 30 Rock. The one where Frank uses The Polar Express to explain the uncanny valley to Tracey.

The uncanny valley is something that looks like the real deal yet there’s something not quite right. It’s that inability to define what it is that is wrong that gives us that creep out feeling.

The Polar Express had an unsettling effect with it’s at the time cutting-edge CGI. There were people in the audience who found the whole thing troubling. Something was missing. There was a dull deadness behind the characters eyes that some found off-putting.

That’s when you know you’re in the uncanny valley.

The uncanny valley is a term that has been used mainly about computer graphics. The idea can go further.

The Shining and Freud.

What about the word uncanny, what does it mean?

Well, obviously, it’s the opposite of canny, duh.

I did a dissertation on The Shining and what was it that made it a perfect horror film. Spoiler alert the essay was terrible, and I’m going to summarise it here.

The Shining is such a good horror film because it epitomises that emotion. The feeling of being unsettled through use of the uncanny.

Freud defined the uncanny, and I’m summarising for the sake of swiftness here. The uncanny is the idea of the doppelganger, the double, your dark shadow.

Next time that you watch The Shining keep an eye out for the use of doubles. There are the twins, most obviously, but it goes further than that. There is the two caretakers, the two Jacks, the two Dannys, the use of mirrors, young lady/old lady. The list goes on, you get the idea.

“What has this got to do with me?” I hear you ask on the other side of the screen.

Let me tell you.

The Uncanny Valley in our day to day lives

You might think that the uncanny valley only occurs on a screen, the truth is it doesn’t.

Think of a robot, imagine in your mind’s eye, a robot. You’re probably thinking about something that is humanoid in shape that has the wires and all.

Now imagine a woman. For some of you reading this you may find it more manageable. Just imagine a human woman. For those of you struggling here you go.

What I like most about photos is that they are silent

Now watch this.

Unnerving isn’t it?

It’s too close for comfort. Something that is similar to us will have its differences more pronounced. Those differences are what repulse us.

I love doing impressions. I do a good Jimmy Stewart and created the Eisenberg Scale which is one voice in different pitches. It ranges from Kermit, the Frog at the top. It then goes through Jordan Peterson to George Lucas, Jesse Eisenberg in the middle. Harold Ramis all the way down to Ray Romano at the bottom.

I used to be able to do impressions of those around me, but something strange happened. The closer and more accurate the impression was, the less comfortable the subject. So I stopped doing accurate impressions of people. They became ridiculous and overblown. People could say “I don’t sound like that” and feel the impression was nothing like them. If I do an impression of you and it’s nothing like you it’s because your comfort is important to me. If I do an accurate impression of you, never mind.

It’s probably why some people don’t like photos of themselves. It’s how they look, and they don’t like that.

Where are you going with this Kieran, get to the point.


People you dislike, you’re more like them than you care to let on.

That’s what I’m trying to tell you.

I don’t mind if you disagree but think about a person you don’t get on with.

Even the expression “They get under my skin”. How can someone do that?

There was a guy I didn’t get on with. He was lackadaisical. He was never organised, always late and thought the world revolved around him.

Hold on was I describing him or myself?

Once I realised that it made what I had to do all the more clear.

I had to become unlike him to get on with him better.

From then on I started to plan ahead and organise myself better. I did what I could to be more punctual. I did my best to acknowledge that I was more a Judy than a Punch.

This person and I will never be best friends, but I now consider him an acquaintance.

If you find yourself disliking someone, look for ways in which your similar. You don’t hate the person you just see aspects of yourself in them, and it leads to that uncanny valley effect.

You see that in society as well. Working class white people are more likely to blame other working class ethnicities. They blame others rather than themselves for their misfortune.

Even political parties are more similar than they are different.

Big societal issues are divisive because both sides are closer to agreement than they are apart. It’s just the details. No one thinks that school shootings are a good thing, it’s how do we prevent them in future is where the arguments start.

All the main religions are agreed that there is an afterlife. The question is not, does the destination exist, it’s, how do we get there?

I’ll be using the term uncanny valley more often on this site. I want to make sure that you know where my heads at when I use the phrase.


Female Stand-Up: Why you should flat out ignore them (if you’re a man)

Female Stand-Up Definition

First of all, this post is specifically about female stand-up, not female comedians.

I know what you’re thinking, “Wooo, another male perspective on comedy, just what we’re short of”.

This post isn’t going to be another one of those clickbaity articles on whether women can or can’t be funny. That people even have that discussion anymore is sexist and absurd.

If you read my post from Wednesday you’ll know that I performed stand up recently and it didn’t go too well.

Another occurrence on Monday

I wasn’t even going to tell you about the other occurrence that happened on the Monday I did stand-up.

In fact I probabably shouldn’t be telling you.

The people who were there on Monday witnessed what happened and to behave like it didn’t happen wouldn’t be honest.

I’ve had some time to process the event and gather my thoughts so now I’m going to tell you even though I shouldn’t.

Never compliment a female stand-up (on stage)

The first act on Monday was a female stand-up.

Her act was about going to the gym and her lack of success on Tinder.

At one point she said that the reason for her being single was her looks and personality.

She was joking, but no one laughed.

My reaction to the line instead of laughter was, “don’t be so hard on yourself”.

Fair enough it was OK not to laugh but what I shouldn’t have done was voice that reaction.

Especially not on stage

I’m not that smart.

When it was my turn on stage I said: “Don’t be so hard on yourself, you seem like a lovely person. Men are intimadated by your confidence”.

Normally this would be fine, but on stage in the context of stand-up, I was signing my death warrant.

Even though I mentioned every other act, I should have pretended that the female stand-up didn’t exist.

The reason I should have ignored her was because of what happened next.

Nothing comperes to you

The compere, out of all the acts I spoke about homed in on me complimenting the female stand-up. Even though there was only one more act to go on after me, the compere milked it for the remainder of the night.

The compere went on and on. It was funny but to some degree I was feeling a bit wick. Not because I complimented her but because she was continuously brought up for comic effect.

The compere made her a prop and it was my fault.

“Don’t worry love, Kieran has complimented you, so it’s all been worthwhile”, he said. He added “It must be so great now that you have approval from a man”.

I wasn’t trying to give her approval. I was trying to be positive about all the acts, but that doesn’t matter that’s not how I came across.

If people say you’re dead, lie down.

It’ll be alright when he white knights

The experience was strange. While I was ham-fisted with my compliment, the host defending her was equally bad. Did he have to jump to her aid because she was incapable of standing up for herself?

The girl I was with pointed this out to me. While my comments were unnecessary and weird the host was just as if not more condescending.

He went to town trying to protect her. At one point someone sitting near the front shouted, “Your white knighting has been noted”.

Despite the embarrassment, I was glad of the slagging I received.

First, it taught me that I should never acknowledge a female stand-up on stage.

Secondly, the compere’s reaction to my reaction got me thinking, and now I’m going to share my thoughts.

Gender gaps

You’re not going to agree with my hypothesis. I can feel you getting angry before you have even read it. I’m going to share it with you anyway.

Stand up is strange. You stand up in front of people, tell them your most embarrassing thoughts or secrets and hope they laugh at you.

You have to degrade yourself before strangers.

Men degrading themselves is grand. Power for the course. It’s part of our disposablitiy.

History is strewn with the corpses of men who debased themselves for the greater good.

Whether that is through war, workplace mortality, incarceration or a cheeky suicide, men die earlier more often. These are gender gaps that no one seems interested in bridging.

Men are disposable.

I’m going to delve further into male disposability at a later date but first of all, let me get you into the right mindset.


Would the Leonardo DiCaprio/Kate Winslet Titanic be as romantic had Jack lived?

Imagine an alternate ending where they took turns going on the door, and they both got rescued. The ending would have lost all impact, and the film would not have had as many women returning to watch the movie.

The romance from Titanic comes from a male making himself disposable for a woman.

There’s another reason why I think it struck a nerve with audiences but that’s for another post.

Men are disposable while women are precious, why is this?

To put it simply, it’s to do with our ability to reproduce. Reproducing is hardwired into our genes. A man can impregnate several women in one day and keep fertilising eggs up until death. Yet, a woman can only get pregnant once every nine months and has until menopause to have her children.

The window for women to potentially reproduce is much smaller than it is for a man. This scarcity is what makes women more important than men.

What has this got to do with female stand-up?

I have taken you the long way for a shortcut so let’s get on with my hypothesis.

Hypothesis now

The female stand-up said that she was single because of her looks and personality. That brought out a subconscious protective instinct in me. I tried to give her a boost. You and I both know that was a mistake.

The host saw my compliment as an attack on her. That brought out his subconscious protectionist instinct.

What I’m trying to get across is that when a heterosexual man sees or hears a woman being down on herself, our reaction is not to laugh but to want to pity.

When a man talks about how he’s a garbage person you expect that because many men are awful and we recognise that. Whenever it is a woman talking about how awful she is men don’t believe them. Unless your Baby P’s mum or Maxine Carr men will instinctivley think of you as better than the majority of men in the room. The bigotry of high expectations.

Comedy, for better or worse is a male-dominated space. That won’t change anytime soon. If you want me to go into detail as to why that is would you mind commenting because I could do a whole essay on that.

Here is my hypothesis, female stand-up acts who go too hard on themselves will never get that many laughs. Not because it’s not funny but because it will arouse pity in the male members of the audience.

If you want to get laughs you are going to have to find a different way than behaving like a man.

I can’t tell you what you should do.

My experience on Monday has given me insight into why I react in specific ways to certain kinds of female comedians.

All I can do is point to some of my favourite female stand-up, like Sarah Silverman and Lisa Lampanelli.

I also recommend Teresa Livingstone.

I wish you all the best. Although, I will never tell you that I wish you all the best.

You never know when there is compere lurking.