Wednesday, August 03, 2011

My comedy retirement, my comedy rebirth - pomposity is my rai·son d'ê·tre/rāˈzôN ˈdetr(ə)/

Why did I give up stand-up comedy after 2 gigs almost 20 years ago?

I didn't like some of the people I dealt with. Particularly the 2nd promotor and I just thought, nah, I can't be bothered with this. I had already been writing for about 4 or 5 years and thought I was going to be recognised as a writing genius any day. I figured I could be a quite-good comedian, but never as good as I could be as a writer. The other comedians clearly cared about success and hard work more than I did. It was their thing - it was my 'thing-on-the-side'. The first gig went well - at a place I can't even remember the name off. I remember doing a 'joke' about the Bullring in Birmingham and putting a large pair of red underpants on my head. Something to do with attracting bulls. I don't remember the joke. I also had a toy furry dog on a lead. I don't remember why. Anyway, the second gig was at the Buzz in Chorlton and as no one was listening to me and no one was at all bothered that I was standing behind a microphone the compere came and dragged me off.

I was very miffed. My young testosterone fuelled ego was not happy. Actually in retrospect the compere, Mr Agraman, was quite polite and told me afterwards that other people trying to do 'weird' stuff had struggled at first. He mentioned Eddie Izzard. He wasn't comparing me to Eddie Izzard, probably just being nice. And of course I wasn't hearing any of that. Just the rejection and the people sitting at the front chatting to their mates. I could see no way how I could get their attention. I didn't have the confidence to actually talk to the audience. Then the next comedian came on and just started saying the Prime Minister's name and swearing. "He's an effin  twat." etc. People were laughing their socks off, so I retired. Stand-up comedy seemed stupid and boring. Angry, cocky men talking about their day or the government or why women were stupid. Pah. Forget it. I retired to my room to work on a series of unpublished novels and unperformed plays. And eventually a published one and a few performed plays.

Why do I want to do it again?

Make the best use of what is in your power, and take the rest as it happens.

"People can lose their lives in libraries. They ought to be warned."
Saul Bellow

"I've discovered that rejections are not altogether a bad thing. They teach a writer to rely on his own judgment and to say in his heart of hearts, "To hell with you."
Saul Bellow

 "All human accomplishment has this same origin, identically. Imagination is a force of nature. Is this not enough to make a person full of ecstasy? Imagination, imagination, imagination! It converts to actual. It sustains, it alters, it redeems!"
Saul Bellow

There are only two mistakes one can make along the road to truth; not going all the way, and not starting.

Why do it? Why not? Fear of failure, fear of rejection, fear of looking stupid, fear of realising that you can't sit there any longer saying and thinking - I COULD DO BETTER THAN THAT IDIOT.

 It is entering into the world of life, out of the cocoon of ideas and books. The gladitorial arena of macho men who aren't actually that good at fighting. It sounds horrible, but that is the reason I am interested.

Why might I give up again?

Well, boredom and a combination of my general shitness and the audience really not 'getting me'. That's my big worry. I can work on my shitness (if we can define quality in any formal way). But I suppose what I would need would be the ability to appeal to a wide variety of people. That's not something I'm sure I can do. But it's certainly something I can do more these days than I could in those days. I can make small talk with people quite successfully these days. In those days, I thought I was above all that and merely scowled at people for being idiots.

Obviously, they're still idiots but now I don't mind so much. And angry young 21 year olds probably think I'm an idiot. We definitely do change in so many ways as we get older, not just hormones, looks but inside our brains. I don't have the words to explain but we all know this, "we're none of us getting any younger, eh?"

Why won't that happen in 2011?

a) The smoking ban. Gosh. Really, I can't believe how happy I was about that. I remember going to a play in Salford. Or some kind of theatrey thing and leaving at half time just cos I couldn't breathe. Everyone was smoking or else creating roll-ups and preparing to smoke some more. I think it really affected my throat. A few years after that, I did end up having some nodules removed from my vocal chords and had to have speech therapy to make sure I used my voice correctly. I don't think it was passive smoking related but I was pretty sensitive to it physically. And my parents both smoking and then dying never really endeared me to indoor smoking.

b) Silence. More silence than before anyway. Apparently nowadays people are (forcibly) encouraged to listen to the acts these days. Of course they can boo em off or shout at em. I'd quite like that. It would appeal to my sense of life's essential misery. It would feel like I was a hopeless character in a Greek tragedy with the chorus telling me how shit I was and how some essential tragic flaw was coursing my inevitable downfall. "You're shit!" Yes, I remember Aeschylus writing a drama about a hero whose tragedy was that he was a bit shit and unfunny.

In 'my day' at The Buzz people were just having a conversation with friends they hadn't seen for ages. These days people have mobile phones so they would have talked earlier while they were driving to the gig. Some of them may have died as a result but that's their own fault. Also, hopefully, I am more able to engage with real live breathing people these days. It's a teacherly thing and a being more confident thing. Shouting at them without shouting. I really should be a Buddhist monk rather than an apprentice stand-up comedian.

c) Heckling is fun. I am really looking forward to being heckled. It's a bit like S&M. If someone is hitting you at least it proves that they care. Care enough to be disgusted by you or to hate your guts, but that's better than them ignoring you. Yawning is the ultimate heckle; and as a regular yawner myself, I know that sometimes you just can't help that. It's the not sleeping thing that causes that. I can yawn when having sex. But then I am very boring at doing sex. 

Has teaching helped?
Yes, it has. And why am I asking myself questions? I teach ESOL (English to foreign people) so I spend all day doing the pantomime of making myself heard. I'm used to having to be simple and direct. And teaching 16 and 17 year olds and other idiots has at least given me some experience of crowd control. Telling people off and negotiating with bored and angry people can get wearing though. But this comedy thing will be different. It may be short lived. But it will be a life lived for however long it lasts.

Next time I will try and think about my comedy skills and my comedy ethos. And I will look up the word 'ethos' to discover what it actually means.


  1. Nice to see you writing again! And woot to your comedy career, you are funnier than most.

    I got asked to explain what I meant by ethos in a job interview once. I didn't get the job.

  2. Hello Mrs MD and many best wishes for your immediate future plans. 7 more weeks of balloon smuggling I believe.

    'Funnier than most'. I'm going to put that on my list of reviews. Actually it is my list of reviews.

    I have a job interview tomorrow. I think I will have to explain 'Quality Management', benchmarking & probably 'Quality Assurance'. Wikipedia is like a God to me.