A Comedian Blogs: Some Secrets About the London Comedy Circuit

By london_chrisc Last edited 134 months ago
A Comedian Blogs: Some Secrets About the London Comedy Circuit

Hello Jeff!

But don't bother opening your mouth to reply, because I haven't got the time to listen; I'm too busy celebrating! No no, don't worry, you haven't missed St. Satan's Day. I'm celebrating because it's been a year since I started doing stand-up!

You'll have to forgive me, as this may be quite a self-indulgent post. But I can scarcely believe I've managed to persevere for this long! You see, I'm a notoriously fickle person. I have a lot of life-changing ideas which I get frighteningly passionate about, and then lose interest in almost immediately. Like that time I had the idea of learning Japanese, saving up for a yacht, or gluing a load of cows together to make a bridge over the River Thames. I bought three hundred cows, then _totally_ lost interest. It was a massive waste of time. And don't even get me started on how hard it was to get Lambeth council to pick them up.

I'm glad I've past the one year mark, because doing comedy for a whole year grants you special privileges on the London comedy circuit. For a start, promoters start to refer to you as a "Humorous Betty", and you'll receive a cheque for £30 from the Queen. You're also allowed as much free milk as you can drink from any pub in London, and if anyone ever heckles you, you're allowed exactly twenty seconds in which you can legally force as many onions down the heckler's throat as you possibly can, without them being allowed to fight back - even if they really want to.

On top of this, you get the honour of wearing grease-proof paper on stage instead of boring old clothes. If you ever see a comedian in their own attire, they're either very new, or on rare occasions, true professionals. It's difficult to explain, but it's like how doctors are given the title of Doctor, but when they become a surgeon, they go back to being a Mister. Never become too good at stand-up comedy, or your days of sartorial parchment will come to a crushing end.

Finally, you're allowed five gigs a year in which you can talk exclusively about the Franco-Prussian War. You might not think that it's much of a treat, but being allowed to talk for twenty minutes about the nuances of the Battle of Mars-La-Tour is to a comedian what winning a sex lottery might be to you and your friends. In fact, the main difference between comedians and the average Clive is a love of all things Prussian. Some people might be brilliant at making their friends laugh down the pub, but would be hopeless on stage. Why? The difference isn't to do with timing, or the differences between making three friends laugh and thirty strangers laugh; the difference is that the comedian will have a knowledge of Otto von Bismarck which is so broad and deep that it verges on mental illness. If you don't love Prussia, you simply cannot hope to cut it in the comedy industry.

So you can see why I'm so excited about my comedy birthday.

Strictly speaking, my first gig was in 2004, but I only did about ten gigs in the space of a year, and got bored, so none of that counts. In effect, my first gig was at an open mic night in Deptford. I turned up on the night, just expecting to watch, to get a flavour for how open mic nights work, but managed to get on the bill, playing last out of sixteen acts. That night, I learned that everything I thought I knew about talking, timing, writing and delivery was incorrect, that my ideas were old and worn, and that I had a long journey ahead of me.

Since then, I've done about 120 gigs, and each has been as unpredictable as the last. I've played to three people above a pub in Soho, and to a hundred people at a glorious comedy club in Bath. I've had rooms of beautiful people utterly adore me, and I've made a room full of incredibly tough men want to put knives into my face. I've performed to office parties, sixth formers, old folk, families, couples, stag parties, and even a post-natal depression support group. I've done stand-up, stories, sketches, compering and improv, and set up my own comedy night. I'd like to say I've talked politics, sociology, philosophy and history, but in reality I've mostly made up nonsense stories about sandwiches going on strike, and about John Major fist-fighting Lisa Stansfield to get back his internet. I've made and lost more friends in the past year than in my previous twenty-four. I've not only met some of my comedy heroes, but also worked alongside them, and in some cases, got their phone numbers. And along the way, I've managed to make hundreds upon hundreds of people feel happy. Or disappointed. Suffice it to say, they felt, and for me, that's good enough.

But through all of it, have I learned how to be a good comedian?


In theory.

In fact, I've learned enough theory that I feel fully qualified to run my own How To Do Stand-Up Comedy course. In practice? Before I answer that, you must understand that I'm not naturally a good public speaker, nor am I naturally a particularly creative person, no more or less so than anyone else. But it's precisely this lack of natural ability that drove me into doing comedy, so that I could improve myself, and learn how to be both of these things. I don't do it to get ultra famous, I just want to be better at entertaining, thinking and speaking, and I want to have fun. I'm not as slick as many other comedians, with their "jokes" and their "personality" and their "ability to talk in sentences", and I've had to work hard at achieving what seems to be second nature to most public speakers. But now, after a year of performing, if I find myself stumbling over my words, forgetting things, or generally being a bit clumsy and shambolic, it doesn't matter too much because I've also learned how to be natural on stage, and hold the attention and trust of an audience. Well, for the most part. ;)

I still find joke writing hard. Let me be clear: I find writing jokes that make me laugh perfectly easy. It's making jokes that make other people laugh that I find rather taxing. A friend of mine recently commented on an interview with Nine Inch Nails frontman Trent Reznor, where he described how much difficulty he has in creating music, and overcoming writers block, which can last for months, even years. And it's fine, because when he does overcome it, he makes music which is, in my opinion, close to perfection. But comedian's can't really do that. For most people, a comedian who finds it hard to write jokes is generally considered to just be a bit rubbish at being a comedian.

But in the past year, I've learned an immense amount about how to write jokes, how to tell them, when to tell them, who to tell them to, how to adjust jokes to fit the situation, and all the other things that you could only learn from the stage time I've been fortunate enough to get. And most crucially, I've learned to not only feel at home in front of crowds of people, but I've come to crave it, to melt with happiness when all eyes are on me. Where most would feel nervous, I feel annoyed that I have to wait - I want to be up there now!

Sometimes I'll be supremely confident in what I have to say; other times, I'll feel like a fraud and a charlatan, but through it all my love of live comedy has escalated to dizzying heights. I'm fairly confident that I'll be considered by most to be an amateur for some years to come, but I'm so deeply in love with performing, with being silly, and with making people happy, that no matter what happens, I can't ever imagine myself stopping.

Wish me luck for another year! Go on. WISH IT!

Image adapted from Chiceaux's Flickr photostream.

Last Updated 18 November 2007