I don’t usually talk about the actual ART of stand up comedy, or give advice, because I only know what works for myself, but occasionally I like to make observations which are universal. This is a very important one, for anyone involved in performing, or even attending a stand up comedy gig. The most important thing in ANY comedy performance is the presence of strangers. Preferably, the entire audience. Comedy, I find, just can’t work in front of friends, or friends of friends, or in fact ANYONE that knows anything about you, or you about them. This is why I don’t like to be an audience member at gigs other comedian friends are doing, and why I don’t like friends or peers sitting within my eyeline at gigs. It’s why I don’t even like talking to comedy punters before I’m on stage. The whole set up for your stage ‘persona’ involves the audience and comedian knowing NOTHING about each other.
I once had gig where a bunch of old friends came along to support me, and sat right in the front fucking row. It was a horrible gig. Why? Because they know me. Most audiences reactions are based on the premise that you may or may not be telling the truth about your outlooks on life. Fuck knows what ACTUAL friends are expecting. I remember just staring at their blank, unsmiling faces for the whole 40 minutes, while people behind them laughed in ever dwindling volume throughout, as my own confidence slowly eroded.
Likewise, if someone you know starts heckling. I have no problem with hecklers, but again, you need them to be a complete stranger, because you need to ‘invent’ a personality for them to have, or to establish a fresh relationship between the two of you, for the ‘anti-heckles’ to work, and you need the rest of the audience to know you’re inventing said personality. If you’ve got your mate’s drunken friend heckling you, and you know stuff about him, especially potentially embarrassing stuff, you can’t use it, without just turning into a prick. You can’t invent stuff, because the drunken friend knows it’s not true, and usually tries to question where you got your facts from, killing the joke again.
When you gig at the Edinburgh festival, for instance, you can well expect to play to an audience of four (or less). However, if those four people comprise of two friends and a guy you know from Facebook, with his girlfriend, it ain’t gonna work, and you’re better off forgetting the fucking show altogether, damn what the festival organiser thinks. The key to a good show is knowing beforehand if a show has any workability in it. If you know it doesn’t, don’t even try.
Even the presence of other comedians can be a nightmare, particularly if they’ve seen you before, or know you well, but most have the decency to hang down the back, and the only laughs they’re likely to have are seeing you get involved with some nutter in the audience and that’s fair enough, you know they’re not there to be entertained by your material, but by how you’re going to ‘get out of this one’.
I once got pulled up by another comedian at Edinburgh as to why I wasn’t showing support by turning up for another comedian friend’s gig. So, I thought, ok I’d better go lend my support. The audience ended up being me and three other people, and I KNOW I did nothing but throw that comedian just by being there, right in the middle of the sparse ‘crowd’. They would have had a more manageable gig without me. Another thing about being a professional comedian is that most comedy is not funny to watch after a while. Particularly if it’s the type of comedy that’s 90% confidence, because a comedian can see right through that. It’s why I don’t laugh when watching stand up on TV anymore, and why I’m a bad comedy audience member, because all you’re left with is faking laughter, and the comedian up on stage knows full well it’s a pretense, albeit it a well-intentioned one, and again, it will do nothing to help the show.
Alas, with the current recession, and less people going to live entertaiment nowadays, most shows’ comedian:punter ratios seem to be inverting, and it’s all contributing to a much different type of animal, an animal that the comedian’s saddle doesn’t seem to fit anymore.
Here’s a silly bonus cartoon, for the day that’s in it: