Monday, 19 September 2011
And so it begins.
I write this on Monday evening. By Friday I will have performed my first five minutes of stand up comedy.
How can I describe the terror I’m feeling?
You know that feeling when you suddenly realise that not only have you agreed to perform stand up comedy for the next 12 months, despite having the stage presence and sense of humour of Lib Dem gerbil Sarah Teather, but also that you literally are about to perform your first stand up set within the next 48 hours despite not having written enough material or even practised the little you have actually written and that you have no idea how you’re going open your set or how you’re going to say any of the words not that you’ll actually REMEMBER the words and sweet shitting Jesus Christ what the hell are you doing and you’re just hugely aware that it’s going to be the worst and longest five minutes of your short and uninteresting life and you want to die? That feeling?
Despite the terror, despite the disturbing and irresponsible lack of material, I am going to be attending comedy gigs all this week, each of which have several ‘open mic’ spots for any chump who turns up. Some require you to pay, some demand you bring friends, others will ask you to flyer for their event in return for a spot. None of them guarantee you a go but with any luck (wrrrrrrrheeelllpppmeeeee) I’ll get on this week. Failing that, I’ll get to know what kind of gigs these mirth/meat markets are.
People keep telling me I need to get onstage as quickly as possible, that it’s like ‘ripping off a plaster’. Like ripping off a plaster, a plaster that is attached my heart and lungs, then ripping off all my hair and clothes and then standing in the window of the flagship Topshop on Oxford Circus on a Saturday afternoon with my sweat-smeared scrotum pressed against the glass for passers-by to point at and then crying and then crying and then crying and then crying.
Anyway. As well as deciding on (or, writing) my material over the next couple of days, I also need to decide what kind of comedian I am going to be.
Using strictly controlled double-blind testing, I have come with the following, scientifically nut-tight list.
You know the ones. They’re so ANGRY. About EVERYTHING. Even little things. Hell, ESPECIALLY little things. They shout. And it’s funny cos they’re soooooooo cross. Life is a constant chore, and everything is against them. This is very tempting for me as a) I am not the cheeriest. And b) it’s relatively easy to do/easy to fall into.
Firstly, it’s perfect for structure (‘Here’s a few things that piss me off….. And ANOTHER thing that winds me up’) and easy-ish to get laughs. You can be genuine angry (‘what the hell is it with Nick Clegg!?’) or faux angry (‘what the hell is it with croutons?!’). But you can stomp off all that nervous energy and, if the material falls flat, compensate by flapping your arms about and becoming angrier.
Reasons I might do it - easy fall-back; I’m grumpy most of the time anyway; shouting is fun and my therapist said I should let off some steam.
Reasons I might not - can be a comedic turn-off for audiences; could be a substitute for actual jokes; can be a sexual turn-off for audiences.
Those little curious squirrels of life. They’re always noticing things. And they’re so curious about these things. And the thing about these things is that you’ve noticed these things too it’s just you’ve never noticed that you’ve noticed them until Mr Funny comes along and says ‘have you ever noticed…?’ and you hoot ‘YES! Yes I have!’ You have, haven’t you? AHAHAHAAAAAAAAAA.
AHAHAHAAHAAAAA. AHAHAHAHAHAHA. AHAHAHAHAAAAAAA. HHHHHHAAHHAHAAAA. HHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA. AAAHAHAHAHAHAHAAAAAAAAAA. HHAHAHAAAAAAA. HHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHAAA. AHAHAHAAAAAAAAAAAAA. HAH. HA. HA. AHA. Ha.
Reasons I might do it - easy for most audiences to relate to; a whole world/life of material.
Reasons I might not - haven’t really noticed anything.
3) High energy/octane
Ooh! They’re a bundle of nerves, talking at 100mph, jumping about, firing off ideas and thoughts at breakneck speed. They sweat. They pant. Their eyes bulge like two pickled onions trying to fight their way out of a bowling ball. They are irritating cocks, generally.
Reasons I might do it - nerves may make this an unavoidable default option; fun to watch onstage; audience can at least admire your stamina if not your jokes.
Reasons I might not - may render me incomprehensible; may forget where I am; may start crying.
OH NO HE DIDN’T! Ooh, yeah, they’re the guy or gal who ‘goes there’. Previously very popular with male stand ups (‘rape!’ ho ho), controversialism seems to be the current trend of new-ish female comics (‘rape!’ ho ho).
Obviously, if you’re not funny then this can lead to trouble. If the material falls flat you’re more likely to be greeted with a series of grimace-y ‘oohs’ and slow head-shakes, than a series of he-went-there! shrieks.
Of course, if you’re dead clever and that, you can always peddle the popular ironic-controversial material (‘rape! Only kidding!’ ho ho).
Reasons I might do it - might make me look cutting edge and clever; an element of danger; rape! (ho ho)
Reasons I might not - Frankie Boyle; every other new comedian.
Oohhh! Ooorrr, errrr, woo, jam and dogs and that. And little talking monkeys driving U-boats in a sea of custard. How did he even thank of that!?
Cripes, this dude’s mad. And he’s treating us to a little safari through his krayzee imadgernayshun. He’s probably bi-polar. But bi-polar in a fun way. I knew a girl like that once. I mean, most girls cry after sex with me, but with her I could pretend it was something else. (see 4)
Reasons I might do it - you can let your imagination run wild; people will think you’re fun and/or bi-polar.
Reasons I might not - don't want to; that's it really.
For this Sad Sack, life is rubbish. Everything is shit. He doesn’t even want you laughing at his jokes. Your laughter, in fact, is just making it worse. And, for some reason, that makes you laugh more. This morose, glass-half-full-but-half-full-of-shit chap is miserable but lovable. The comedy equivalent of an ‘I woke up this morning’ blues standard.
Reasons I might do it - a downbeat personality would help measure and control material; I could pretend not to care about the lack of laughter; instead of material I could just sum up any random day from the last eight years of my life.
Reasons I might not - too close to home.
Whether through lack of experience, nerves or a genuine dearth of comic timing and not-utter-shit material, this hapless comic is a car crash. The only thing worse than watching this poor fool is being him. This is the kind of comedian that even runs out of sympathy laughs, almost as quickly as he runs out of jokes and confidence.
If this comedian was a character in a John Steinbeck novel, he’d voluntarily walk down to the Salinas river, convince himself to think of rabbits and alfalfa, and shoot his own poor, dumb brains out.
Reasons I might do this - ah, who am I kidding? Pass me the shotgun.
Wish me luck.
See you on the other side.
Sunday, 4 September 2011
In a moment of drunken fury and at-least-five-years-out-of-date Dave Gorman-esque whimsy, I have accepted a challenge.
To become a stand-up comedian. A successful one. In 12 months.
It’s this man’s fault - look at him. Look at his face. Study it. Look at his red leather chair. Study that. Where did that come from? Props cupboard probably. Forget about the chair, stop obsessing about the chair. It’s the man on it that’s important and that man is popular telly gigglemonger Dan Clark, best known for his successful BBC sitcom How Not To Live Your Life.
For almost utterly spurious reasons, I have always used Mr Clark and his show as a yardstick for shit TV comedy. Now, it’s pretty low-rent stuff but it’s by no means the highest teetering pile of dogshit in Shitville (that honour goes to Susan Nickson’s beyond deplorable Two Pints of Lager and a Packet of Crisps dynasty) but my distaste for it has resulted in an unhealthy fixation with Dan Clark.
Clark is, in all honesty, pretty inoffensive and has never done anything to me. However, I am not the kind of man to let that get in the way of my pre-packed opinion of anyone. In my head he had become a symbol of the very worst kind of cynical, sterile, bottom-feeding comedy. The kind of comedy consumed by the worst kind of people. The kind of people who would include James Corden on their fantasy dinner party invite list (even if you’re allowed dead people - I know!).
And then, to top off my unreasonable and unquenchable Clark-fury, I saw that he was doing a short run of stand-up comedy at the Edinburgh Festival this year.
I was INCANDESCENT (with rage). Oh, sure, I don’t give a toss if some crappy, lowest common denominator sitcom (the BBC‘s signature dish) is successful. Sitcoms, schmitcoms. But stand-up comedy is sacred. It‘s better, purer. ‘Dan Clark’, reasoned I in a calm and rational and emotionally mature manner, ‘should not be ALLOWED to do stand-up comedy.’
I muttered and chuntered (and occasionally defaced posters-ed) my way around Edinburgh, telling anyone who was interested (mainly flyerers and the Japanese) that Dan Clark was probably the antichrist or something and that his best joke would be about finding out that you could wash towels now he’s moved in with this girlfriend. Through a friend of a friend, Dan heard about my displeasure at his show. A text message was waved in front of my face.
‘Tell your friend Chris to actually see my show before he tells everyone it’s shit’. Ah. Ah hah. Now. This, Dan, is wrong on two counts. One, I reserve the right to slag anything off without having seen/read/heard/heard of it. I haven’t, for instance, seen The Inbetweeners Movie and I can tell you right now it’s utter bollocks. And, Two, by the time you sent that text, your show had finished. Hah! So, I win, right?
One evening last week, I was drunkenly boring the ears off of my friend Gareth on the subject of Dan Clark. Gareth was unhelpful and just muttered some frankly ridiculous things like ‘that’s a bit harsh’, and ‘you can’t just say things like that’ and ‘that’s just not true, or physically possible’.
Clark, he argued cowardly, is an extremely successful comedy writer. He should be given some credit, he continued BORINGLY, for easily selling out three nights in a 320 seat venue. He also gathered some very good reviews, talked Gareth with his lying mouth, which is extremely impressive since this is his first ever attempt at stand-up.
‘But he’s rubbish’ I spouted with utter conviction despite a total lack of evidence, ‘and even I’M funnier than him.’
But, said the increasingly belligerent Gareth, at least he’s doing it. He’s up there, putting himself onstage, giving it a go. You’re not. You couldn’t sell out three nights at the Edinburgh Festival.
No you couldn’t.
‘But I could.’
Well. Then. Do it.
Gareth should know better. It’s basically bear baiting.
So, here it is then. I have 12 months until the end of next year’s Festival, by which point I will have had to sell out three nights of stand-up comedy in Edinburgh. In any venue. By hook or by crook. I am frightened. Someone hold me.
There you have it folks. So far, so very Danny Wallace. The only difference being that I don’t have a book deal. Oh, and I’m also not very funny when I do talking. And I hate talking in front of groups of people. And I get stage fright at the Post Office.
But I’ll still be better than John Bishop.
This blog will chronicle my attempts to learn the art of stand up comedy - expect loud gutteral sobs and a lot of swearing. I wrote another blog once, in which I attempted to find love in 6 months, something promised to me by a well known online dating site. If you have read that then you will be well-used to the sound of my deafening, flapping failure. Expect it to be louder this time. And flappier.
So, I need to write some comedy, secure some gigs and work out how to be a stand-up comedian. Quite soon. I will also accept the first gig I am offered, even if that is tomorrow and I haven’t written any material. I do this for YOU.
But first. What the heck is this stand up comedy lark about? I know so little about it, I don't even know whether to hyphenate the words or not. Stand up? Stand-up? Standup? Fear not, I’ve been doing some bloody research, haven‘t I? I’M LIKE THE COOK REPORT. BUT NOT AS FUNNY.
Can the great and good of the world of comedy assist a fledgling like me, as I ponder penning my first funnies? Mel Brooks, he was funny, he did funny stuff. Ha ha. He says that ‘tragedy is when I cut my finger, comedy is when you fall into an open sewer and die’. Well, I can’t exactly do that on stage, fucking thanks, Mel. Charlie Chaplin is equally unrealistic - ‘All you need to make comedy is a park, a pretty girl and a policeman’. That’s how you make a skin flick, Chuck, but cheers anyway.
‘Funny’man and famed manic depressive Robin Williams believes that comedy is ‘acting out optimism’, which explains Patch Adams. John Cleese reckons comedy should be mean-spirited (I think I can do that), Moliere saw it as a tool for correcting vice in others (I think I can do that), whereas V. S. Naipaul feels that comedy comes from ‘deep hysteria’ (I can definitely do that). But then Naipaul also thinks that women are made from MDF, so who knows what to think.
In ocean of comedic advice, I’ll leave the last word to Roy Chubby Brown - ‘I can fart into the mic and people will love it’. Ah.
In next week’s blog I’ll be talking (talking? No, writing. Can I say talking though? I can, I WILL) talking about advice given to new stand-ups and securing your first gigs.
Anyone know any jokes?