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Every couple of weeks I get emails from new comedians asking for advice. To be honest I tell most of them to GIVE UP because I don't need the competition and the world doesn't need anymore jokes about Chewbacca or Ninjas ... but if you're a beginner you might find something of interest/help in here. I've also asked a bunch of comedians I really like & respect to give their thoughts. There are no rules to Stand-Up Comedy, these are just some things I've learnt...
I'll add to this list every couple of weeks so keep checking back.
- A lot of the time you get jobs via recommendations from fellow comedians. Complete the circle. You know a promoter who’s looking for comics? Pass on some names and numbers. Don’t try to keep it all for yourself.
- Stagetime is everything.
- Work hard. If you’re not seeing positive improvements, you’re obviously working hard on the wrong things.
- Scribble notes. Keep your notes in a box. Pull the notes out at random and be surprised by your ideas. Or make a nice paper-mache collage.
- Gigging out of town? Walk round the town. Keep your eyes open. One local observation can get the audience on-side straight away. It shows you actually care about the show, and aren’t just trotting out your set.
- Try the local beer.
- New shoes and a highly polished stage leads to a ‘Norman Wisdom-like’ performance.
- Always go with your gut feeling.
- Confidence will come, arrogance is no substitute.
- Britain is full of small Arts Centres and beautiful little theatres. Most are staffed by hard-working volunteers. They do it for the love of theatre/comedy/the Arts - they deserve your respect. Leave the dressing room tidy, and say thank you as you leave.
- New Comics: watch the MC. The MC has asked the audience where they’re from. The MC has found out what the audience do for a living. Don't repeat the same questions.
- I MC’d a show recently, spoke to a nice couple in the front row, found out they were from Glasgow, and let that lead into a routine about my experiences in Glasgow. Minutes later I brought on the opening act (a newer comedian). First sentence out of his mouth? “Anyone here from Glasgow?”
- The audience looked at him with a mixture of confusion (“We all know that couple sitting in the front are from Glasgow. That’s been established. Why are you asking again?”) and boredom (“We all know that couple sitting in the front are from Glasgow. That’s been established. Why are you asking again?”).
- If you’re running around doing several spots and missed the MC’s warm-up, ask the MC or the other comics, who’s in the room? Is there anything here I need to know? Which audience members have already been spoken to?
- Even better: ask yourself, do you really need to ask a question to get into your joke? Eliminate rhetorical questions.
- The further in advance you book your train tickets, the cheaper they are.
- Before you leave a hotel room, check the electric plugs. Have you left your phone-charger plugged in? (I’ve spent a small fortune on phone-chargers!)
- Avoid ‘Family run hotels’ like the plague. Why? Think of your own family. Now picture them running a hotel. Enough said.
- Dip. Don’t dazzle.
- Part-time comedians will ALWAYS talk the loudest and dominate the conversation in the dressing room. Even though no-one is actually listening to them.
- Use your head and show a bit of respect to the other performers. No-one wants to say “Shut the fuck up”. The comedians I know are too polite to do that, but they honestly don’t give a toss about the gig you did in some Mickey Mouse club to 15 people last week. Think about it…the reason the ‘full-time’ comedians have got their heads down and are studying their notes is because they’re preparing to go onstage and do the thing YOU CAN’T DO.
- Leave the other comedians alone. Let them get into their own ‘head space’.
- The only comedians I know who like serious, intense conversations minutes before they go onstage are Dave Johns, Mike Gunn and Ian Stone. They thrive upon it. If you’re working with Dave, Mike or Ian this weekend, make sure you bombard them with your opinions about comedy as their name is being announced. They will LOVE you for it.
- There has never been a better time to be alone on the road. We have Facebook and Twitter to fight off loneliness and keep us from getting bored. Twenty years ago we didn’t have any of that. All we had was the BBC Shipping Forecast and cocaine.
- The best time to read a comedians Twitter page is just after midnight, when they’re coming home from gigs or sitting in hotel rooms. You can almost touch their tears.
- It’s always interesting to gig with a comic and then see how their gig has been transformed on their Twitter feed. As a rule, good comics rarely boast on Twitter that they “Smashed it!”.
- You don’t have to do what the other comedians are doing.
- Is rape funny? Of course not. Are there any funny jokes that mention the word ‘rape’? Yes. I've heard several. And told three.
- No topics are off limit. Everything & everyone under the sun is open to ridicule. Just make sure you get your target and your intention right.
- Develop a moral compass.
- A touch of red light mixed into the white spotlight makes you look more healthy.
- Tell the lighting and sound engineers exactly what you want. If you leave it up to them, you will find yourself competing with a light-show worthy of Pink Floyd.
- If the lighting and sound people at a theatre say “Yeah, we’ve got it” - they haven’t. Ask them to rehearse the opening.
- The audience WANTS you to do well. The more you put in, the more the audience will give.
- It doesn't have to be attack, attack, attack - show some humility and be the butt of your own jokes.
- When you’re having fun onstage you never know what will come out of your mouth. Let yourself go and be surprised by what comes out.
- If you get a chance to play Alnwick Playhouse, Birmingham MAC, Aberdeen Bluelamp or Banchory Woodend Barn - DO IT! Fantastic venues, with great audiences.
- Don't wear jewellery that rattles. The microphone will pick it up. (That's mostly aimed at me.)
- The hotel mini-bar is your enemy.
- There’s a reason Corporate Gigs pay a lot more than comedy club gigs. They’re not about you, they’re about the audience. They are only interested in you if you are talking about them. That’s the deal. Don’t like it? Don’t take the money.
- It turns out Bill Cosby is not a good person. He was someone I used to listen to a lot when I was starting out. Learning how to build routines. I will never listen to him again. That whole back catalogue of work, none of it is funny now.
- I like Bill Burr and Louis CK as much as the next comic, as long as the ‘next comic’ doesn’t keep reciting their routines in the dressing-room. Knowing several Doug Stanhope routines by heart doesn’t make you Doug Stanhope.
- Don’t imitate your favourite comedian. Unless your an impressionist.
- Whenever I meet a new Australian comic for the first time, I like to tell them that they should be “a bit more outgoing”. You should definitely try that.
- Don’t let the TV studio makeup woman do whatever she wants. She wants to ‘do’ as much as she can to you. I learnt this after I ended up looking like Bette Davis in ‘Whatever Happened to Baby Jane’.
- Personally I think you shouldn’t let vanity get in the way of comedy. You should still look like yourself on television. Not a ‘Hollywood’ version of yourself.
- If you are a female comic and an audience member says, “I don’t normally find women funny but I liked you”, please don’t tell me. I can’t have this conversation AGAIN!! All you’re doing is boasting one audience member thought you were funny!
- You were not outraged or insulted on behalf of 'The Sisterhood'. I see right through that humble-brag every time.
- If an audience member genuinely tells you they “don’t normally find women funny” it just means they have had limited exposure to the world of comedy. They’ve obviously never seen Jo Brand, or Joan Rivers, or Sarah Silverman, or Sarah Millican, or Lucy Porter, or Wanda Sykes, or Zoe Lyons, or Jo Enright, or Kerry Godliman, or Amy Schumer, or Katherine Ryan etc etc etc….or ME. Basically they’ve never seen ME. That’s it. End of story. They’ve never seen ME. And they’re missing out.
- Feminism is in danger of being treated as a fad. And fads go out of fashion. It’s not something that can be packaged and sold like a book, or a T-shirt, or a Hula Hoop, or a podcast, or a Tamagotchi. Well actually, it turns out, it is. Be careful and do not bandy the ‘F’ word around too cheaply.
- There are definitely two schools of thought on how to MC. One prepares people to listen and moulds them into an audience. The other involves a lot of activities designed to prepare the audience for a night of Karaoke. Try very hard to be the former. Comics will respect you more.
- We learn the same lessons over and over again. It always comes back to the same things: attitude, material, being in the moment. Have I relaxed so much that what was once a perfectly worded routine is now a rambling mess? Oh yes, I have.
PART 39 - ANDREW LEARMONTH and GARY LITTLE
Yes - it's EDINBURGH FESTIVAL time so let's Jock-it-up a bit. I've got to recommend 2 shows: GARY LITTLE's "THE THING IS..." (5.30pm at The Stand Comedy Club) and ANDREW LEARMONTH's "THE EXPLORERS CLUB" (8.10pm, The Beehive). I've worked with them both recently and they're both well worth their ticket price. Especially Andrew.... because his show is FREE.
Type "Gary Little dancing" into YouTube and you'll see exactly why I rate GARY LITTLE so highly. ANDREW LEARMONTH has got the whole 'man-having-a-nervous-breakdown-on-stage' persona down to a tee...
Things GARY LITTLE has learned as a Stand-Up comedian...
- It’s one of the few jobs that having a dodgy background doesn’t discriminate against.
- Best get rid of the petrol car and buy a diesel. Better mpg and someone always know someone selling red diesel (illegal but cheap).
- If yer Scottish and living in Scotland, then be prepared to drive thousands of miles each year.
- Other acts will immediately talk about you when you leave the car/green room.
- Dying on yer arse stories are a great way to spend an hour.
- An act who says he doesn’t like punters telling them they were good, is a liar and a dick.
- An act who blokes the exit, looking for punters to say something good, is a dick.
- At weekend runs, when another act says they were writing during the day, it means they were masturbating, or watching Flog It.
- It’s mostly men who ask to have their photos taken with you, unless yer on the telly.
- Find a decent hobby for all the free time you will have (Table Tennis and Hill walking are good).
- Hope enough shit stuff happens to you, that you can then weld bits on, and make it funny.
- Most comics are really surprised a reviewer hasn’t had a right good kicking.
- At gigs in England it turns out I didn’t have to slow down that much.
Things ANDREW LEARMONTH has learned as a Stand-Up comedian...
- The Scottish Comedy Circuit is tiny. Everyone knows everyone. Mind what you say when you’re in a car with other comics.
- If you’re based in Scotland and just starting out then get as many gigs in England as you can. After eight years I’ve done less than ten gigs south of Carlisle. I no longer have that beginners ambition or passion or work ethic that means I can sit on a megabus for hours to do a five minute open spot or a gong show. I will never be a full time comic.
- The Stand is pretty amazing and the staff are brilliant. Don't be a dick to them. Enjoy Red Raw. The audience have paid £2 and they're one of the nicest audiences anywhere.
- Kilmarnock's not worth the train fare.
- As a Scottish comic you have the luxury of being able to do the Fringe without having to take it seriously. So you should. Do a three hander in the Free Fringe. Split the cost of some flyers, don’t worry about the programme cost and have fun and run your material every night and see other stuff.
- If you are going to take the Fringe seriously then you need to take it seriously and do the work. Get in the programme. Talk to the Fringe Society. Get the list of journalists coming from the Fringe Media Office. Get the list of promoters and agents and producers from the Arts Industry Office. Search through to see who you want to come to your show and invite them. Don’t expect people to come and see you just because. And obviously make sure you show is good. Don't take a bad show to the Fringe.
- Also it’s the Edinburgh Festival Fringe and not the Edinburgh Fringe Festival.
- If you are doing the Fringe don’t make up quotes for your poster or flyers. If your poster has a quote from 'My Mum' or 'His Teacher' then you don’t deserve an audience.
- If you’re backstage and another, slightly older comic says, ‘Do you remember when Mac Star…’. Listen. This will likely be a great story.
- Some promoters just won't get back to you.
- There are loads of comics in Scotland right now. Some are really, really good. They might end up being more successful than you and getting gigs and radio pilots and spots on panel shows and other opportunities that pass you by. Be happy for them.
- Remember that a lot of people who are successful have had a lot of failures. But keep in mind that people who are failures have also had a lot of failures.
- If you are a failure then embrace it. Accept that you will never be successful and start to enjoy what you do more. I feel like I’ve finally found my voice, and even though it’s a whiny, self indulgent, and often unfunny voice, it’s definitely mine.
I can't find Gary or Andrew's websites - maybe they ain't into that kind of stuff coz they is keepin' it real and keepin' it street...or maybe they just won't spring for the hosting fee because they'd rather spend their cash on booze? Who knows? But you can contact them both via Twitter: if you're from Kilmarnock, you can send abuse to ANDREW LEARMONTH at @andrewlearmonth .... and if you want to buy some illegal 'red diesel' you can get hold of GARY LITTLE at @biggarylittle . Unless you're a Policeman, in which case, I've never heard of Gary Little and I don't know what you're talking about.
PART 38 - PAUL SINHA
Stand-Up comedian PAUL SINHA recently picked up Chortle's "Best Club Comic 2014" award. I don't mean 'he just picked it up, then handed it back to it's rightful owner'. No. Paul won it. He won it because he deserved it. That's how good he is. Countless sell-out runs at the Edinburgh Festival, a successful Radio 4 series, indemand at all the major comedy clubs, respected by his peers - yes, PAUL is very quickly becoming a mini-version of me. But without the luxurious hair. Or the strong sense of modesty.
I've worked with Paul a lot over the years, we actually did a Radio 5 Live show together last week (his knowledge of football trivia is second-to-none!). He's one of those comedians, like Adam Bloom and Ben Norris (two people Paul mentions), that other comics will come out of the dressing-room to watch. That's a good thing.
Things PAUL SINHA has learned as a Stand-Up comedian...
- Nobody has forced me at gunpoint to do this. In one of my more contrary moods, I left a very cushy job to pursue a very odd dream. I have no-one to blame but myself.
- This is is my path and my path alone. There is literally no point in staring at somebody else’s career with a sideways look of bitterness and regret. He came up with “What’s Happening White People?”. I didn’t.
- I never think “I should be more famous than I am”. I look at Ben Norris or Adam Bloom and realise that there are others who merit saying that far more than me.
- If you continue to gig for comedy clubs who clearly have no intention of ever paying you, you are partly the architect of your own financial downfall.
- There are some people who have no idea how long it takes in reality to get to places. Like the agent who rang me at 3pm on a Friday afternoon wanting to know if I fancied doing Halifax that night. Leave early enough to be able to compensate for transport disaster.
- Joke theft continues to be a cancer eating away at the industry , and the sheer unashamed front of some comedians leaves me astonished at times. I am never brave enough to call people out on it. Kudos to those who are.
- If you are struggling on stage, mentioning your Chortle award is unlikely to help. Showing it is catastrophic.
- The era of stand up audiences having a cosy left-liberal consensus disappeared years ago. If you are going to be politically preachy, make sure you have some bloody good jokes to back it up.
- If you have a driver, he/she is worth way more than just petrol. Be generous. They are the reason you managed to have a nap on the way back home.
- If someone comes up to you and tell you that your joke is offensive, have something better in reply than “It’s just a joke”.
- Comedy is only partly a meritocracy. You need to know this and embrace it. Not everyone in this business is going to like what you do, and the reality is they probably won’t change their mind. There is no point obsessing over this.
- Punch up for fucks sake. There are enough politicians and journalists constantly kicking down. Don’t join them.
- If you get paid to perform comedy abroad, you are amongst the luckiest people alive. Don’t return moaning about how the wifi in Hong Kong was slow, or that the audience in Cape Town didn’t get whimsy.
- Don’t give unsolicited advice, and it is best to ignore other people’s unsolicited advice. That said, Rhona Cameron once told me “Stop singing, you have a terrible voice”. And she was right.
- I am nowhere near being the finished article. Very few comedians are.
- Don’t bring your own music to someone else’s car. I don’t give a shit that you like Metallica. This is my car and we are listening to Pet Shop Boys’ debut album Please. And when it is finished, we are listening to it again.
- I really fail to see the point of retweeting praise. In general the people that follow you enjoy what you do. They are not going to change their opinion one iota because JaneyM has tweeted “amazing gig in Maidenhead last night!”
- I’ve never had a 1 year plan, let alone a 5 year plan. A career in comedy has way too many variables to expect it to conform to your hopes and expectations. There will always be younger, leaner,more telegenic and supremely talented comedians around. Just try and be the best comedian that only you can be. I’m writing this in the Premier Inn Brighton. Yep it’s a Premier Inn, but I can see the sea from my window, and I’ve just been on at the Komedia, one of the greatest comedy clubs on the planet. There is not one microscopic part of me that regrets the career change.
PAUL SINHA is a busy boy. His new tour starts in September. You'll find all the dates are on his website: www.paulsinha.com Or follow PAUL on Twitter @paulsinha ... He's recording another Radio 4 series later in the Autumn, and apparently there's some little TV quiz programme...? "Is-Your-10-Year-Old-Smarter-Than-A-Millionaire-Open-The-Box-You-Are-The-Weakest-Mastermind"? Something like that. To be honest, if the top prize isn't a speedboat, I don't really watch quizzes. Same with Sudoko. I don’t like Sudoko. I don’t like Crossword Puzzles. I don’t like any kind of word games. I once spent 4 hours doing a word search – you know where you have a jumble of letters and you have to try and find words and phrases that make sense? – then I realised it wasn’t a word search – it was an article written by Will Self. Anyway, PAUL is also a qualified GP - so why not email him some of your medical problems and get some free advice?
PART 37 - BRUCE DESSAU
BRUCE DESSAU is a journalist/comedy critic who writes for The Times and the Guardian ("Ooooh, get him!"). He's written books about Billy Connolly, Victoria Wood and Reeves & Mortimer, among others. His latest book, "Beyond A Joke: Inside The Dark World of Stand-Up Comedy" is currently available from Amazon ... but I'm not mentioned in it, so who cares? .... BRUCE also runs the 'Beyond The Joke' website. He describes it as a site "Partly to collect old comedy pieces I've written over the last decade in one place, but mainly because there is so much fantastic contemporary comedy to write about" ... but I'm not mentioned on it, so who cares?
Anyway, these are some of the things BRUCE DESSAU has learned being a comedy critic and/or reviewing comedy shows...
- Don't forget your notebook.
- But more importantly don't lose your notebook. Nothing could be worse than it falling into the wrong hands. I dropped mine in the Pleasance Courtyard in Edinburgh a few years ago. I gave up hope of finding it, but on the off-chance asked at the bar a few days later and there it was, sitting by the till in a brown envelope. The person who handed it in had clearly read a bit of my scribbling because they had written on the envelope "some kind of journalist." If i ever write my autobiography that will be the title.
- Arrive on time, but not too early. I like to slip in just before the lights go down. I don't really want to talk to anyone before the gig. Or during the gig. Or after the gig for that matter actually. I like to form my own opinions.
- Sit at the back. I've written about this a lot on my website recently but there is currently a big vogue for immersive/interactive comedy. Not just the 'where you from?/what do you do?' Dara O'Briain/Ross Noble variety, but the I'm gonna strip down to my pants and roll on the floor with you variety or the I'm gonna ask you to feed me liquid by dribbling it from your mouth variety as perpetrated by Nick Helm and Adam Riches respectively. See also Dr Brown and Brian Gittins. If a performer wants a good, unbiased review keep me out of it.
- Don't be too long. In America even the biggest stars rarely do more than an hour, in the UK major comedians usually think they need to do nearly two hours. Less is more, particularly if I have to get home and file an overnight review.
- Acts shouldn't pander to critics, they should entertain paying punters. but at the same time critics cannot resist showing how many gigs they go to by marking you down for familiar hack subjects – airport security, self-service checkouts, dressage.
- Critics are jaded. We need surprises. There's nothing wrong with straightforward observational stand-up but anything that shakes it up a little will help. Well, maybe not everything. No ukeleles please. Though Jon Richardson did subvert this very well in his last show.
- Stand-up comedians are very good golfers. I'm not just talking Bruce Forsyth and Ronnie Corbett. i'm talking Carl Donnelly, Chris Martin, Alistair Barrie & John Robins and others who play in the annual industry v comedians tournament in Edinburgh every summer. Must be something to do with timing. Or having a lot of time to waste during the day.
- Just write what you think in reviews, but don't be a smartarse. Make it an entertaining read but don't pretend you know how the stand-up should do their act better than the stand-up. Just write about your response to it.
- Go to the toilet when you feel you need to go. Don't try and hold it in. At best it will distract you, at worst it will give you a kidney infection. i've only once stopped to urinate by the side of the road on the way home and that was after an Armstrong & Miller gig at the Swan Theatre in High Wycombe. I don't think the act had anything to do with it, but maybe I just wanted to get our of High Wycombe as quickly as possible. I suppose I should have written in my review "Armstrong & Miller nearly made me wet myself." True, but not in the way they'd have liked.
- Don't forget your pen.
- And a spare pen.
You can follow BRUCE DESSAU on Twitter @brucedes ... and you really should check out his "Beyond The Joke" website ... I think BRUCE is writing a piece about me to coincide with my show at The Balham Comedy Festival on Wednesday 10th July. Yes, that's right, The Balham Comedy Festival. It's held at The Bedford in Balham. What? Me? Yeah - I'm there on Wednesday 10th July at 7.30pm. I don't like to boast but Bruce Dessau would probably make it his 'Pick of the Festival', if he knew I was on.
PART 36 - ALLAN DONALDSON
ALLAN DONAALDSON (Dubbed "Mr Jojo" by Jane Mackay a long time ago) is married to JOJO SUTHERLAND. He has witnessed the Scottish comedy scene for over a decade and remains the funniest fucker in his shower! ALLAN also runs a promotions company "Gag Traders", organising and running comedy nights throughout Scotland and the North of England in conjunction with his wife.
Things ALLAN DONALDSON has learned being married to a comedian ... and running comedy gigs...
- Always answer the question from your darling wife as she comes off stage, “How was I then?” with the following, “I love you... and you know that skewed desire that all comics have of seeking the adoration of strangers, go ask them!”
- The family functions well in Jojo's absence. Most of our kids are late teens or older now so they cope well. The youngest misses her the most and is quite vocal in telling us so!
- Our social life is always fresh as we have enough mates within and outwith the circuit to keep us occupied. Travel is unavoidable if you want to get ahead in comedy. I can never work out why so many acts cannot drive and then moan about not gigging enough. Scottish acts especially have to hawk their arses down south to better themselves. It is just the way it is.
- I cherish the fact that I am with someone who genuinely loves doing what they do. The adrenalin rush of having a great show illuminates her in a radiance that can be spectacular. I doubt your average Nine to Fiver's other half ever witnesses that!
- Of course it is not all highs but one thing is for sure, all comics must learn from the times they stink a room out, she strives to digest all aspects of performance to make her a stronger commodity.
And as a Promoter:
- Always be prepared to drive to all corners of the realm to witness both good and downright awful gigs.
- Never forget that comedy is a form of entertainment, and therefore just as much, if not more for the audience as the performer. Too many broken butterfly buffoons on the circuit are more interested in their own fragile ego than delivering value for money.
- As an act, never bounce on stage and then ask the same questions to the audience as the compere just has. It makes you look like an amateur and deserves the response of, “Ask the MC, you bellend.”
- If performing for the first time at any venue, scan the surroundings, there could be some free material to be gained from any source within the premises. Get a feel for the place rather than scurrying backstage, the audience cannot see the green room!
- Never, ever before the gig engage in conversation with me that turns out to be material that you deliver from the stage. I fucking hate that.
- Always remember that if you bomb on stage, you will have at least gloriously entertained the other acts on the bill as they all love a spectacular death.
- Work hard at your craft, as inevitably the cream will rise, avoid festering in the galaxy of mediocrity. Be as good as you possibly can.
- Even if my wife adores you, it doesn't mean I do.
- I always enjoyed the time I have spent with Gavin Webster as we rarely talk comedy, I get a perspective of him as an intelligent and insightful individual...which makes a pleasant change.
- Don't be overly concerned that some venue/promoter does not book you. It is a saturated market and there are only a finite amount of gigs. Keep trying to impress at the ones you have booked.
- Do not piss off the venue staff. They are busy enough with the punters to be running around after you.
- Enjoy the ride to whatever destination this crazy voyage takes you!
- Stealing jokes will send you to whatever purgatory that will have you. Of course two people can come up with the same idea but the industry is very well self policed on this front. You will be found out so leave well alone.
- Develop a thick skin as the shark infested waters you skate will keep on biting.
- Steve Day once told me that he tries to write 10 jokes a day, sounds daunting but as he explained, you might end up with only 1 or 2 that end up launched on stage but do the arithmetic. One new joke a week equals 52 per year which is the way to keep building your sets
- Have a laugh, it is the funny business after all.
Why not contact JOJO SUTHERLAND via Twitter and tell her what an old softy her husband is? @jojosutherland
And don't forget to badger ALLAN about booking you for his "Gag Traders" shows. He told me he likes persistent comedians - so feel free to send him 6 or 7 emails. Actually why not make it 8? As ALLAN says, "Persistence always pays off"
PART 35 - EDDIE ROBSON
EDDIE ROBSON is a sketch and sitcom writer. His latest sitcom, "Welcome To Our Village, Please Invade Carefully", started on BBC Radio 2 on 7th March. His other credits include That Mitchell And Webb Sound, Newsjack, The Headset Set, Look Away Now and Recorded For Training Purposes amongst others. He also wrote six episodes of Radio 4 Extra's Doctor Who series.
Things EDDIE ROBSON has learned as a Sketch Writer....
- The great thing about trying to break into comedy writing as opposed to drama writing is that comedy has sketch shows. If you’re breaking into drama you have to convince someone to buy at least half an hour of material from you, an untried writer. That’s a risk on any show. Whereas if you send someone a sketch, you’re asking them to give you a few minutes at the most – and sketch shows always record more than they need anyway, especially on radio because radio’s quick and cheap to make, so if your sketch doesn’t work they can cut it.
- Also, there are open-door sketch shows which exist to find new writers. I can vouch for the fact that open-door shows use the material that comes in, because when I was starting out (which was only five years ago), three different open-door sketch shows picked up my stuff without knowing who I was. Anyway, I’ve written for the first seven series of Newsjack, the BBC’s main open-door sketch show, and I’m on the script editing team for series eight, and this is what I have learned.
- Set up your sketch as quickly as you can. Slow build-ups are tricky with radio sketches, especially in front of an audience. You can do them on TV – you’ve got the visual element, there’s more to take in and think about. Whereas radio is completely stripped-back, it’s just about the words. You want to hold people’s attention and in a comedy show you generally do that by making them laugh as early as possible. One of the first sketches of mine I ever saw recorded had a first page that was all set-up, and when I was watching that being played out in front of an audience, I realised what a risk that is – if you don’t get a big laugh for the pay-off, the build-up feels like a waste of time.
- So try for a quick set-up. On Newsjack, if the news story we’re referencing isn’t self-evident, we tend to put an intro from the host at the top, outlining the story, topped off with a joke – that saves time and exposition when the sketch begins. You don’t want to over-explain things because that’s boring, but also you want to make sure everything is clear because a confused audience won’t laugh. This is why you still hear sketches that begin with stuff like a shop bell ringing and a shopkeeper saying ‘Can I help you, sir?’ It’s cheesy, it’s hackneyed but it works, we instantly know where we are and we can get on with the jokes. The earlier you can make people laugh, the sooner they relax into the sketch.
- When you get on with the sketch, keep it tight. A lot of people are tempted to write longer sketches because you do get paid by the minute in this business – but bear in mind that not only is a shorter sketch probably better for being filtered down to the best bits, the producer is more likely to find room for it in the final edit if it’s thirty seconds long than if it’s three minutes long. In fact Newsjack has a rule that sketches should be no more than three pages (about two minutes, if you’ve formatted it properly), and yet one week, someone sent in a sketch that was seventeen pages long. It wasn’t even topical, it was the opening scene of a sitcom set in a branch of Clintons.
- It’s also incredible how many people think that if they break the guidelines, then they’ll get respect for being a free-thinking maverick, or maybe they just don’t read the guidelines, or understand the guidelines. And if you’re pitching to a topical show, make sure you know what the hell’s going on in the world. In 2009, someone pitched a sketch for Newsjack where Tony Blair was still Prime Minister. Don’t be that guy.
- It’s often good practice to focus a sketch around one central idea. You can find great examples of weird, rambling sketches – there are loads in Monty Python – but when you’re starting out, show that you can be disciplined first. If you’re pitching in to a topical show this is doubly true – topical sketches will be riffing off something in the news, rather than being about a character or a concept, so don’t get sidetracked from that. Sometimes you can do a good sketch that brings two topical things together, but usually it’s best to work out what you want to say, say it via your sketch, and then get off the stage.
- When working out what you want to say, the target of the humour is important. I’m not a great believer in the notion that all good comedy has to offend someone, but then maybe I’m less easily offended than most people. Be clear about who the target is and whether you’re comfortable taking aim at that target. Always be sure of the point you’re making, especially when the subject matter is sensitive or controversial. Some people send in sketches that they think are satirising certain offensive opinions, when in fact they’re just reiterating those opinions. If you want to make a joke about a serious subject, make sure you’re not trivialising it or laughing at the victims – that’s generally when it gets offensive.
- Just as beginnings are more important on radio, so are endings. You can have ambiguous endings on TV sketches, but on radio you want to end on a big laugh because that punctuates the sketch and clears the way for the next one. Some people find punchlines old-fashioned, but believe me, when you’re sitting in an audience whilst your sketch is being recorded, and the last line raises no more than a light chuckle, you’ll be wishing you’d written a proper punchline. They are one of the hardest parts to get right, but it’s worth the effort – a sketch that builds to a good punchline feels like a much more professional piece of work.
- The best thing about writing for Newsjack is that the show is put together from scratch every week, which gives you a fresh chance to pitch every week. With other sketch shows, you send your stuff in, the whole series is assembled and recorded, and only then do you find out if you made the cut. Then a couple of months later you hear the show, and you may realise your stuff wasn’t the kind of thing they were looking for – but another opportunity to pitch for that show won’t come round for ages, if at all. With Newsjack, if you get something on the show, you hear it on Thursday night and you can listen and learn and apply that to the sketches you write for next week. If you don’t get something on, you can listen to the show, try to work out what the producers want and tailor your writing accordingly. It’s a more intensive learning curve and all the better for it.
- Don’t take rejection too badly – just try to learn from it. Obviously you can’t submit topical material elsewhere because it won’t be topical any more, but if you’ve got non-topical material that’s been rejected there’s nothing wrong with pitching it to other shows. Humour is subjective, and also, sketches get rejected for all kinds of reasons – it might be too similar to another sketch, it might be that the only cast member who could perform it has already got the lion’s share of the material that week. One of my sketches was recorded for a show called Play And Record and everyone liked it but the recording didn’t come out well, and this didn’t become apparent until afterwards, and there was no time to go back and re-record.
- It’s hard to do your best work on a topical show. You don’t get as much time to rewrite and polish, and you’re trying to come up with a fresh take on news stories that everyone is talking about so it can be difficult to be surprising and original. But topical shows are a great training ground, not just for other sketch shows but for comedy generally. If you’re good, producers will remember you and you can start trying to get into other shows. I’ve seen it work for other writers. My first credit was on the topical sports show Look Away Now, which I got on because I’d sent material to Mitchell & Webb’s producer and he gave them my name. Eventually, after racking up enough experience, I started working with a producer on sitcom pitches and managed to get a sitcom commissioned. But all that has taken a few years. Perseverance and a willingness to improve are at least as important as having the talent in the first place.
I asked Eddie, "What was your favourite radio show?" and quick-as-a-flash he said, "Jo Caulfield Won't Shut Up" - which you can listen to here: http://www.jocaulfield.com/radio-show?start=8 OK, maybe I made that bit up, but he'd be a fool to himself if he didn't think that.
You can follow EDDIE ROBSON on Twitter: @EddieRobson or check out his wordpress page: eddierobson.wordpress.com
Or if you're in the Lancaster area, feel free to drop in unannounced and he'll make you some coffee. Nice guy Eddie.
PART 34 - TEDDY
TEDDY (Ross Craig) is a Scottish comedian, a well-respected Comedy Writer and host of the Scottish Comedy FC Podcast. If you go over to TEDDY's website www.comedyteddy.com you'll see a list of all the TV and Radio shows he's written for, & awards he's picked up. All sounds good, yeah? Well ... 'sometimes you fall out of love with comedy, and sometimes comedy falls out of love with you" ... TEDDY is brutally honest in his list of things he's learned as a StandUp Comedian...
- There are different reasons for doing stand-up comedy. I find the worst ones to be seeking money, fame, or a launchpad for doing another job.
- Despite this, I now rely on the money I generate from comedy and have probably become less funny as a direct result.
- When I started out in comedy, it felt like it was for the fat or uncool kids at school who had to generate a quick line either to defuse a situation…or to take some perverse satisfaction out of making a situation worse but getting to feel slightly less like a victim.
- Increasingly comedy feels like being back at school. Surrounded by cooler, better looking people with funky hair who are socially confident and popular with the opposite sex. This isn’t because those uncool kids have become more cool, it’s because they’ve been driven out of comedy and are now reduced to staying at home blogging.
- Image sadly counts. Whenever I’ve tried to get a writing agent I’ve sent samples of topical jokes, abstract jokes and a list of the TV/Radio shows I’ve written for. I’ve always received the reply “When can we come and see you gigging in London?” Because apparently how my hair looks in a London comedy club will affect whether they think the jokes they’re reading are funny or not.
- Some people have a very limited view of what comedy is and what it can be. I remember being told “comedy is supposed to be happy” by an audience member. Perhaps the reason my comedy that evening wasn’t “happy” was because I was having to speak to somebody so f***ing stupid as to say that. Comedy can be happy. It can be sad. It can be angry. It can be important. It can be throwaway. All that matters is whether it’s done well or not – which is something people do have the right to criticise.
- Emotional contentment damages my ability to generate comedy. If I think of my moods and moments over the years as a jagged graph and I drew a straight horizontal line across the middle-point between my highs and my lows, comedy comes from above it and below it. Not from anywhere on the line itself.
- You need momentum in comedy. You always have to be writing, you always have to be gigging. It takes a lot of activity just to stay still these days. Go a few weeks without gigging and your performance gets rusty. Go a few weeks without writing and you’ll find yourself staring blankly at a screen, trying to remember how you ever wrote anything in the first place.
- The only times when you should take a break are when you’re on the wrong path. If you don’t feel connected to the words coming out of your mouth night after night…you need time to change them. Comedy should be the outlet for anything that’s wrong in your life. Your composter of emotional waste that allows you to turn it into something useful. Once comedy becomes the thing that’s dragging you down, then you need to step back and change the way in which you engage with it.
- People expect me to be confident because I’m a comedian. In fact, being a comedian reflects my inability to speak to people in a normal way. If you need a microphone, a stage, and a compere to introduce you…you’re probably not going be much use chatting in the kitchen at a party.
- Laughter isn’t love. You can go onstage lonely and storm a gig in front of 200 people. You’ll think the world has changed. Then you’ll go home on your own and cry.
- If Mother Teresa had gone on before you and died on her arse, even she would have been praying that you’d do the same so she could blame the room and not herself.
- There is always comedy for you. Whenever you feel like you’re no longer engaged or inspired, have a trawl of the internet and find something that speaks to you. Ideally, check out a circuit separate from your own. That way you haven’t met them backstage and realised they’re a prick or they haven’t f***ed your ex.
- When a peer you like, respect and admire makes it big – the best you can hope for is a feeling of neutrality. When somebody you think is a c**t does it – stock up on boxed sets. You won’t be watching TV for a few years.
- Everybody in a comedy room thinks they are the most important person there. The promoter – because they’ve gone to the bother of organizing it and they’re paying you. You – because you’re a narcissist. The audience – because American customer service culture has destroyed any notion of paying for the right to like or dislike something. Now customers believe that they pay to like it.
- Comedy really is like therapy, in that it doesn’t work. You channel all your emotional imbalance into something and there are two options. 1) The material dies – so you feel worse. 2) The material storms – so you have to keep doing it and dredging it up those memories and feelings every night, because now it’s your best ‘bit’.
- Comedy’s also like dogging. You’re trying to generate your satisfaction and validation from a bunch of strangers but all of you know that if this was attempted in daylight the self-consciousness and embarrassment would be excruciating.
- The contentment I mentioned at the start can hinder you, but you just need to provide your own mental stimulus. Read, view, live…do whatever it takes to provide input for your mind and let it start doing the work that the heart and the fear used to.
- Do make use of the contentment where you can. When you’re standing onstage in front of a dead audience and you look like a dick…remember that you’re going home to your wife and your cat. And that dying on your arse when you have them is a million times better than when you used to storm gigs then go home on your own and cry.
Fuuuuuuuck! All I said was, "Alright Teddy, how you doing?"
I totally agree about Mother Teresa, by the way. Actually I agree with most of this, apart from the bit about 'dogging' obviously.
If you want to see 'Cheeky Happy-Go-Lucky' TEDDY live, he's at The Stand Comedy Club, Edinburgh, next week (Tuesday 19th February) taking part in The Good, The Bad & The Ugly podcast ... or you can follow him on Twitter @ComedyTeddy ... and his Scottish Comedy FC podcast IS very funny, if you like football (who doesn't?), especially Scottish football (it's like English football but with higher cholesterol).
PART 33 - TONY COWARDS
TONY COWARDS is the 46th most influencial comedian on Twitter (if you don't count every other comedian in the world). He's a quickfire joke teller and was described by The List magazine as a "Pun-osaurus" - no, seriously, a journalist was PAID to write that. Anyway - TONY has probably forgotten more about service station toilets than most comedians ever knew.
There's a lot of good stuff here for new joke writers. You should follow TONY on Twitter: @TonyCowards - He sends out new jokes every day. Why not copy them but drop TONY's name and pass them off as your own? TONY loves that. Maybe forward them to Keith Chegwin?
Things TONY COWARDS has learned as a Stand-Up comedian...
- Always try to be punctual and give yourself plenty of time to get to the gig. Plan in advance where you're going to park or how you will get from the station to the venue. Having plenty of time allows you and the promoter to be less stressed. Stand up is already a white knuckle ride, unless you are an adrenaline junkie don't add to this be arriving with seconds to spare.
- I know that some comic might disagree with this but whenever you go on stage try to get a laugh within the first 10-20 seconds, try not to look needy and desperate for a laugh but get a quick laugh and the audience will relax and trust you to be funny.
- A funny 5 is better than a so-so 10. You should always leave the audience wanting more, not looking at their watch waiting desperately for the next comic. If you are booked for a 5 min spot do a great 5, don't be tempted to stretch it to 7 or 8.
- If you ask the audience a question, either as an act or a compere, make sure you have several plans for different answers, be prepared for someone to lie or clam up, try to cover as many eventualities as you can. Whenever you get an answer that throws you make sure that after the gig you prepare yourself for that answer in future.
- Parking in most towns and cities across the UK is a nightmare. Make sure you study any parking restrictions thoroughly as they are often worded in the style of one of Gollum's riddles. Keep some parking change in your car at all times. If in doubt, assume that by parking there you will unleash the forces of Hell who will come and ticket your car, or even clamp it. If you ask the barstaff at a venue "Is it alright to park outside?" and they answer "Yeah, probably", take it with a pinch of salt.
- When stopping at a service station late at night it's worth remember that, in most cases, the toilets are closer to the coach parking than the car parking. This little fact has often saved me from an embarrassing "accident" after drinking too many cokes to keep me awake for the long drive home.
- Speaking of services everyone knows they are a complete rip off for both fuel and food, be organised, take food and drink with you and make sure you've filled up at a normal petrol station. I often find out where the nearest supermarket with a petrol station is to the gig, that way if you arrive early you can get everything sorted so you don't have to stop on the way home. A Ginster's sausage roll that's about £1 at a supermarket will be about £2.75 in a motorway services.
- I know several other comics have already said this but it can't be stressed enough, be nice to work with. Be nice to everyone at the venue, the customers, the bar staff, the bouncers, the promoter, be courteous even if you are in a foul mood. Comedy is a "people business", you have to put on your best face and be nice to people even when they are being a dick (this doesn't extend to when you are on stage, if someone's being a dick whilst you are on stage then verbally eviscerate them).
- Military gigs will be lovely if they are in the mess or at their barracks, however if they are at a local hotel, off base, they will be hard work, don't expect to do much material, crowd control techniques will be tested to the max. Be brave, do your time, give as good as you get and you'll be rewarded with respect after the gig even though you may not get much during it.
- In a noisy room the temptation is to get louder, this can spark an arms race between you and the noisy audience which will make the situation worse. Often the best technique is to wait slightly longer before speaking and then to speak QUIETER, this may sound counterintuitive but silence from the stage can sometimes grab people's attention more than any amount of shouting.
- Try not to pre-judge audiences. I've walked into rooms where I've looked at the audience and expected a bearpit and they've turned out to be lovely, conversely I've walked into what looks like a room filled with beautiful, intelligent and generous people only to find out that they're a right bunch of Piers Morgans.
- Write every day. It doesn't necessarily have to be jokes or material but writing is a skill, put the hours in every day and within a few weeks or months you will see the quality of your writing improve.
- Never throw anything away, you may think what you've written is the worst joke ever but when you look at it with fresh eyes in a week, a month or even a year's time you may find a fresh angle that turns it into the best thing you've ever written.
- Keep a notebook or phone handy to jot down ideas at any moment. You may think you'll remember that brilliant turn of phrase or bon mot but believe me, 15 minutes later it'll have disappeared into the ether.
- When you write try to keep the distractions to a minimum, turn off the telly, the radio and if possible, the internet. Writing is hard and provides no instant feedback or peer approval, which, let's face it is why most people become stand up comics. You need to be fully focussed, but paradoxically, you need input to write, never stare at a blank screen or sheet of paper, spend a moment to go through notebooks or scan the news stories and make a note of anything you might be able to use, any ideas that immediately spring into your head. If I'm writing topical jokes I'll take the subject and, initially, I'll just write down any thoughts I have on the story, anything it reminds me of, any funny names, anything that might potentially be a starting point. This is your raw material, the more of it you have, the more jokes you can produce.
- Don't be afraid to write rubbish. Everyone writes rubbish, Dickens, Shakespeare, Milton Jones, Woody Allen, whoever you most respect as a writer they wrote a lot of absolute garbage. Writing is, ultimately, a numbers game, if you write a lot of jokes somewhere along the way you will write some very funny jokes. There is no point being a perfectionist, spending hours trying to hone each individual line, just write as much as you can and then sort the wheat from the chaff.
- Writing is re-writing. Not sure who first said this but it is true. The temptation once you've written a joke or bit of material is to put your feet up and consider that a job well done, however that is only the start of it. That joke needs to be edited, performed, rejigged, performed some more and gradually honed until it's the best it can possibly be. Sometimes this will be more to do with the performance than the writing, perhaps the punchline could be enhanced with a cheeky smile or a threatening stare, perhaps you need to pause just before the punchline or maybe it should be "thrown away" almost as if it's not a joke at all.
- If possible, record your gigs and listen or watch them back a couple of times, try to notice what worked even better than usual or what worked below what you expected, try to see if there was any reason for this, did you mumble the crucial word? Did someone shout something out at the most inopportune moment? Did your body language or delivery give the joke a bit of extra emphasis? Next time you do the same material try to repeat what worked brilliantly and eliminate anything which subtracted from the performance.
- If you have a joke which is almost identical to another, more famous, comedian, drop it. Even though you both came up with it independently you, as the less famous comedian, will never get away from the accusation that you stole it from them.
- Dropping material and replacing it with fresh stuff is never a bad idea but don't do it all in one go unless you are trying out a whole new set at a new material night or you have balls of steel.
- In 99% of cases brevity is the sole of wit, if there's a word in your set up or punchline which isn't adding anything then it is subtracting from the joke. Cut out any extraneous words. However, this is not an unbreakable rule, sometimes for the sake of rhythm or to give the audience a split second to catch on it's important to add a "bridge" (i.e. a few extra words), this is generally fairly rare though.
- If you write one-liners you'll generally write them backwards (although not literally, in a Leonardo Da Vinci mirror writing way). It's much, much easier to start with a potential punchline and then write a set up, or series of set ups.
- Become a language magpie. Punchlines, especially for one-liners, are often common phrases, mottos and idioms. Listen out for odd catchphrases that people use in everyday speech, often the more familiar the phrase that you use for the punchline, the funnier the joke will be.
- Twitter is great for practising writing concise, pithy jokes but remember, a joke which works written down may not work at all when spoken in a live environment and vice versa, that joke which got nothing on twitter might work brilliantly at a gig when delivered in your particular style.
- Know where you expect to get laughs. When you write some material or a routine you should have a good idea where you are expecting a laugh or a chuckle, or at least a wry smile. I've listened to a lot of comedians ramble on and just end up wondering what on Earth they expected the audience to laugh at. Even storytelling comics have "laugh points" dotted about during their set, they may not be an obvious joke but there will be a funny statement, an amusing turn of phrase, a funny mannerism, something, anything to keep the audience going until the next laugh.
- A tip I give to newer acts who ask me is, write out your set in long hand, then get a highlighter pen and mark on the page where you think the laughs will come, if there are huge areas of white with no highlighter then these are where you need to put in more laughs.
- Consume as much comedy as you can, especially when you are starting out. Watching pro headline acts working a Saturday night crowd in a big club will teach you much more than 10 open spots at the Dog and Duck. Also, watch newer acts and work out why they aren't going down as well as the pros, learn from their mistakes.
- Try not to be paranoid about promoters. You may think Johnny Big Potatoes is not booking you because he doesn't like your act but in reality it's probably because he has 100 acts applying for every spot.
- Everyone on the circuit loves gossip but try not to be too loose tongued, remember everything you say about someone WILL get back to them at some point. Don't slag anyone off unless you are happy to say it to their face. Having said this though, comedy gossip is what makes the long journeys much more bearable.
- Try to learn from every gig you do, the bad ones doubly so. Usually when you die on your hole there will be a very good reason for it and usually it'll be something that you did, or didn't do.
- When dealing with heckles try to weight your response according to how severe the heckle was AND how much support you think you have from the audience. If someone heckles you and you've been dying on your hole, don't expect the audience to back you up. Also, don't see every heckle as a challenge, if someone shouts something genuinely funny, laugh at it, show a bit of humility and move on, you don't have to slam every heckler into the ground.
- Realise that people have very little attention span nowadays and people who start chatting may not realise how disruptive they are being, so, at first, be reasonably polite when getting them to shut up, don't escalate to the nuclear option too soon. I've seen a lot of acts create an odd atmosphere by going ballistic at the first sign of chatting, fear is not the same thing as respect.
- If you can, try to watch the entire show, things which happen at the beginning can be referenced into your material making it even funnier. Your great joke about a plumber becomes truly awesome if you make it about Mark the Plumber who the MC chatted to in the first section. Any jokes or material which can be personalised to the audience in front of you will work that little bit more.
Want more? Go to Tony's website: http://www.tonycowards.co.uk/ Want less? Don't go to Tony's website.
PART 32 - MY HUSBAND
Things MY HUSBAND has learned being married to Stand-Up comedian...
- Comedians are annoying bastards who sleep between 2pm and 4pm every afternoon.
- The best time to be married to a comedian is between 2pm and 4pm every afternoon.
- If a comedian says, "Tell me if you find this funny....", put on your 'I'm-listen-carefully' face but feel free to think about football or snooker. At the end of their inane ramblings say something like, "Yeah, that's pure comedy gold" and go back to thinking about football or snooker.
PART 31 - JOHN DeBELLIS
JOHN DeBELLIS is a Stand-Up comedian, a director and a writer. He’s written for Rodney Dangerfield, Johnny Carson, David Letterman, Billy Crystal, Saturday Night Live, The Tonight Show, Politically Incorrect and sitcoms so bad that a prison record would look better on his resume.
I met JOHN years ago when he was over here playing the London clubs. We did a lot of shows together. And now JOHN’s written a book I think a lot of you will find interesting, ‘STAND-UP GUYS: A Generation of Laughs’.
It’s described as “A comic's memoir that puts the reader on and off stage with a unique group of young comedians: Larry David, Richard Lewis, Richard Belzer, Bill Maher, Gilbert Gottfried, Elayne Boosler, Rita Rudner, Larry Miller, Joe Piscopo, Robert Wuhl, Paul Reiser, Jerry Seinfeld and several of the most neurotic, lovable characters who survived and thrived due to talent, passion, and, most importantly, camaraderie. It's a memoir rich in humor, pathos, and insight”.
Things JOHN DeBELLIS has learned as a Stand-Up comedian...
- I was taught early on by the man who discovered Woody Allen to never judge your performance solely on the audiences reaction. There are times the audience is silent, for numerous reasons, they're tired, they're appreciating, or they're a bad audience. Some of the quietest audience gave me the best compliments afterward. I had one audience that didn't understand English. When I watch comics I never judge them by the audience reaction. They really don't know. Larry David is a prime example. He almost alway bombed, but the comics all knew he was hysterical. The audience had to catch up to his style.
- I don't believe in lowering yourself to the audience level. You can change your material (to different stuff of your own), the order of your material, you're delivery, your pace, but don't pander. Win or lose on your own terms.
- I also learned that when dealing with hecklers, not to do standard savor lines and if possible keep your response clean. If you close up those doors, other doors will open and result in better original retorts.
- When I'm writing, I try to write everything down and keep it. Because you may go over it a week later even years later and suddenly a joke will hit you. Or you'll figure out how to connect it to parts of other jokes to connect it.
- Bill Cosby told a friend that a lot of young comic's are too in hurry to get a laugh. He uses silences as setups and just faces the audience and lets the anticipation build before launching into a joke or a piece. And then he'll wait for the laugh to finish before jumping into another line or start another piece.
- Rodney Dangerfield told me that if I really believed in a joke, to keep working it. Maybe it just needs to be shortened, sometimes by one letter, other times lengthened in order for the audience to catch up, or to be in sync with the rhythm of the joke. I always felt that shorter for the most part was always better, but some times a gag needs space between the setup and punch line to breathe. And sometimes the punchline will be great and it's a matter of just getting the setup right.
- Not all audiences respond to the same pace. I found in New York City I have to work faster than I do in LA. In the UK even faster. Once you get them hooked you can adjust your delivery a bit.
- With real small audiences, depending on the type of material you do, it might be better to sit on a stool, or not even use the microphone. It draws them in.
- Certain comics because of their energy are explosive and some are implosive. I like to draw them in the beginning by being implosive and end with a more energized explosive approach. On TV if I'm doing a short set, then I try to be implosive. I also play more to the camera than to the audience.
- If you're a low key act and you have to follow a high energy act, get the emcee to bring you up as fast as he can. And launch into your first few jokes quickly. Grab them early, then you can slow down. Or you can talk to the audience and rewarm them up, sell them on liking you before going into your material. I've also gone up at stayed completely silent for a minute or more until I got their attention by just ignoring them. That's tougher to do and takes confidence and not really caring what they think.
- Open shows as much as you can in your early years as a standup comic. That's will teach you how to capture a cold inattentive audience, which will help when your working other spots and get stuck with a bad audience that you have to learn to pull in.
- There are different styles of comedy and really no right or wrong. It's more of finding what natural for you. That takes time and sometimes a decade or more. But by being persistent and experimenting, not just by the laughs, but how you feel getting the laughs will often lead you to your ultimate character on stage. I was with Richard Lewis the week I saw the transition into his super neurotic character. He was performing at the Improv in LA and during this one week period I saw him begin to slouch more and almost lean on the back wall as he delivered his material. It was that slight alteration that solidified his character.
- I always found the watching your peers work, not just for the pleasure, but to help them, actually helps you just as much. As you begin to see their acts on more critical terms you can see the flaws in your own act. It's also great because they may return the favor and you both grow faster.
- There's schools of thought that say never get dirty, or use profanity, or don't touch certain subject matter, and there are schools of thought that say, everything is fair game. I always felt the the cleverness of what you did over-ruled the subject matter and the language. Richard Prior's language and even subject matter was a result of his horrible childhood, it was never used to get a cheap laugh. There's no hard fast rule but by being true to yourself has a better chance of being remembered.
- It's funny, I disagree with Steve Gibbons on one point and it's not major. Just a different way of looking at things. I like Twitter for the reason that if forces me to write good joke in a 140 characters or less. That discipline will help you learn to take out words that aren't needed, or to rearrange a joke to get fit it into the 140 characters. I look at it as practice.
- Whether a joke is right wing, left wing or in the center, what really matters is that it's a really good joke. Heck, I'm more of a left wing progressive, but if I hear a great joke that's from the far right I'll laugh just as hard. Plus both sides all have angles that we can find humor in.
- For me, I try to bring as many jokes as I can back to me, or about me. It's a great way for the audience to remember a comic. They can take home your character and remember you without even remembering a joke. But again, we all don't work that way. An original approach without talking about yourself will work just as well.
- Comedy to me is what I do. It's no great panacea. Always respect a job well done, no matter the profession. That will keep you humble and it can be something your audience instinctively picks up.
- Never hog the stage, when it's your time to get off, get off. Respect your fellow comedian, eventually you'll get the reputation and they will respect you for that.
- If I was emceeing a show, I always felt my job was to set up the acts on the show and sacrifice myself for the good of the show. I'm not saying not to be funny, but to keep it short and whatever you do, do not make it harder on the act that you have to bring up. Also give them the best intro you can. The better the show is the better you look.
- Don't try to be edgy just for the sake of being edgy, just do what comes natural and if it ends up being edgy that's fine. But if it just end up being hysterical or plan funny without an edge that just as good. Be true to who you are and you can't go wrong. After all comedy is telling the truth with a twist, sometimes with an insane surreal twist, sometimes an in your face twist, and sometimes just a twist that is flat out funny. Hey, one of the funniest acts I've ever seen live was Andy Kaufman and to this day I can't tell you why I was on the floor laughing.
Want to read JOHN’s book ‘STAND-UP GUYS: A Generation of Laughs’? Get it from Amazon.co.uk - try this link:
Check out JOHN's website for more info: www.920spot.com - and you can follow him/contact him/send him pictures of kittens wearing hats (he LOVES that!) via Twitter: @misterpitiful
PART 30 - ROB HEENEY
A million years ago I used to run a small comedy club in North London. I met ROB HEENEY at the Neptune Theatre in Liverpool. I said, "Come down and do my club." Rob came down. Rob did my club. Rob never went home. ROB became our regular MC. Since then Rob's gigged all over the world, appeared on TV and radio, won an award for writing ... Look, basically, all I'm saying is - I gave ROB HEENEY his career and I can take it away!
Anyway because we're such good friends I asked Rob if he'd contribute a list and he said "Yes, of course, I'll do it straight away" ... and a meer NINE MONTHS LATER he sent me this.
Things ROB HEENEY has learned as a Stand-Up comedian...
- This should seem really obvious, but create a spreadsheet of gigs you’ve invoiced, and who's paid you, etc. It’s very easy to lose track.
- Be as nice as possible to the show manager and all the show staff (why wouldn’t you be?). I know you'll think you're being fake but they‘ll really appreciate it.
- Plan your route before you leave the house. Again should be obvious, but it’s so easy to underestimate finding your gig. I worked with an act in Holsworthy once who’d got the train to Exeter (a £70 taxi ride away) and rang asking when the train was. The last one had left in 1966.
- Also plan your eating arrangements for the day well in advance. I know it sounds stupid, but it’s very easy to forget to eat once the adrenalin kicks in and end up eating crap.
- Jo’s husband gave me this advice really early on. Don’t call yourself a comedian when asked what you do until the bulk of your earnings come from comedy, rather than when you’ve only got 8 minutes of raw sewage.
- Don’t make up hilarious things that you claim people “genuinely” said. Even if they did say it, which they didn’t, THEY said it, not you. You’ve become a reporter rather than a comedian. BTW This not the same as using something somebody said as a launch-pad into a whole bit a la Stewart Lee. That’s fine as you’ve added something to it. These lines normally begin with “... there was silence, apart from one lone voice from the back of the room who said
” (Er ... I did used to have one story that used that phrase, but I never did it as stand up so I’m not a hypocrite.)
- Never give an act advice on rewriting any of their jokes unless they’re a really good friend or have asked you. They will not appreciate it.
- NEVER say "Do you want petrol money?" ... ALWAYS say "How much do I owe you for petrol?"
- Drive and buy yourself a car. It’ll get you lots more work .... Don't drive you’ll be taken advantage of and forever used as “the driver”.
- Compere, it’ll get you lots more work and is a great skill to have .... Don't compere, you’ll be seen as only a compere and be taken advantage of.
- If you’re compering and all the acts die and the audience tell you how amazing you were, the chances are you were a bad compere and fucked it up for them. Naughty compere!
- If somebody has been good enough to give you a lift to your gig, don't make long phone calls of small talk as you’re effectively turning me ... sorry, the driver, into a taxi driver in their own car. (If you are the driver, don’t let on that it’s annoyed you or you’ll get a reputation as being ‘difficult’)
- If you’re heading back from the North West on a Sunday, don’t stay on the M6, turn off onto the A500 at Stoke and head over the A50 to pick up the M1. Thanks to James Dowdeswell for that one ... saved me a LOT of hours in traffic jams.
- Every day embrace the fact that you are effectively getting paid to be unemployed and have an amazing life. Never forget what you did before and how much you hated it. Who gives a shit that you’re not on Mock The Week ... you’re not in your old weekly progress meetings either!
- Never tell a promoter to change the layout of the room ... Especially when the club's been going 20 years.
- You may think it’s a really good idea to do double your time and steal the show, but don’t rely on circuit audiences making you famous. In the end it will leave you with a fair few bridges on the circuit to rebuild.
- Don’t ask the audience members questions unless their answer is relevant. For example “I was in Reading the other day. Anyone been to Reading?” “Yes” “It’s shit, isn’t it. Anyway .... “. I.e. Don’t waste words. Edit, edit, edit!
- Don't be bitter about the success of others. This is true in any job. Concentrate only on what you’re doing and how much you’re making and whether you are happy. I remember the first time I was booked at Downstairs At The King’s Head. I was over the moon until I saw in their programme that another new comic I didn’t rate had been booked too. I was gutted. I was an ungrateful twat.
- If you ever find yourself saying something along the lines of “I don’t REALLY want to be an arena comedian. I’d settle for the Hammersmith Apollo, it’s much more intimate” you are in this business for all the wrong reasons.
- And if you’re telling a newer act a story about you and your mates gigging in your early days and they accuse you of name-dropping, you are allowed to start crying at the state of your career.
- This is the best advice I can give, though. Every now and then there’s a Groupon offer for an online web design course for £100. Aside from doing your online stuff, you get full NUS accreditation. i.e. a Young Person’s Railcard. If you take one thing away from this list, let this be it, and embrace affordable first class seats.
- Hmmm... Thanks Jo... I am now aware that pretty much all my advice is based on the multitude of mistakes I've made over the years.
- One final thing, and most of all, never lose the joy. This job is amazing. Truly, truly, special. Enjoy every second of it, and have fun with all the fantastic people you meet.... and the cunts.
Rob can often be found talking rubbish on Twitter: @robheeney - and he's just started a new podcast, "People With Stories", get in on iTunes - try this link: http://t.co/KNJDg2z9 http://t.co/CG5Veudu http://t.co/xQhY1qpz
PART 29 - STEVE GRIBBIN
Another brilliant comedian. Intelligent, political... And prolific! Every time I see STEVE GRIBBIN he has another new chunk of material. STEVE's been a regular member of The Cutting Edge Show at The Comedy Store every Tuesday for the last 900 years. I'm joking - it's 700. He's got a new album, "No Mark", out next year, and posts a weekly topical song on YouTube.
Follow him on Twitter and he'll give you all the details: @mrstevegribbin
Things STEVE GRIBBIN has learned as a Stand-Up comedian...
- When I first started performing comedy, there was uncritical and fawning Royal Family worship, Dallas, Mass Unemployment, severe economic depression and a vindictive and heartless Government hell-bent on demonising the poor and lionising the wealthy. So much has changed.
- There are loads and loads of things in life that are far more important than comedy. To paraphrase C.L.R. James (who himself parodied Kipling): “What do they know of comedy that only comedy know?” It’s good to have a hinterland full of friends, relationships and love. (Failing that we can do a lot of bonding with cab drivers and late-night food vendors)
- Comedians are much more a reflection of the society they live in than they are “shamens” or “holy fools” (though of course there is an important element of licensed jester-dom in live comedy)…that is why you get so much condescending stuff about “chavs” and “pikeys” from comfortable middle-class comedians.
- Jo Brand once said that the default setting for most 1980s comics was left-wing. That default setting would now seem to be libertarian, with all the pros and cons that entails.
- I am fully aware of the irony that what started out as an fairly left-wing and anti-Establishment movement (Alternative Comedy) should be performed by what are essentially self-employed business people, the ultimate Thatcherite model, but as Groucho Marx said, capitalism is full of contradictions.
- I never thought that I would say this, but I’m quite grateful that I was born and brought up as a Roman Catholic. I don’t believe any more (except after a particularly frightening ghost film), but growing up in a religious household gave me a moral framework that has never really left me, for good or ill. Plus of course it gave me something to rebel against. And Catholic services are themselves a form of showbiz.
- Ironically, there is life after death. And any comedian who tells you they have never died is either delusional or a liar.
- A bad journey home can ruin what was a tremendous gig, so that by the time you make it back all the adrenalin has seeped away, to be replaced by a creeping sense of the futility of life and a desire for biscuits. Now you know how mountaineers must feel.
- Video killed the Radio star, VHS killed Betamax, DVD killed the video, and Twitter may very well kill the topical joke.
- The live comedy experience remains one of the few places left where comedians can talk freely, unmediated by producers, directors, advertisers, and compliance lawyers.
- Bill Hicks is one of my heroes, but he is still inadvertently responsible for a lot of comics taking themselves way too seriously. Comedy can indeed be “dangerous” (just ask the jailed Burmese comedian Zarganar) but to describe yourself as “dangerous” or “edgy” smacks of self-indulgence and hubris.
- There’s no such thing as “true” comedy as decided by the self-elected arbiters of taste. There’s room for surrealism, satire, storytelling, daftness, anger and silliness. Comedy is a broad church (or it should be).
- It’s easy to forget why you got into this business we call show in the first place, but I still love comedy. There are times when you are watching someone onstage talking about their lives with such passion and wit, that you know it comes from the heart and it can move you to tears.
- Just like Punks could finally admit that they liked pre-1977 music like Neil Young etc…I realise that those precursors of Alt.com like Les Dawson and Tommy Cooper and even Charlie Drake have influenced me and still live on my heart.
- Taking the piss out of the powerful is hardwired into human DNA. Taking the piss out of the vulnerable is not only vindictive but also ugly as well.
- There have been two failed attempts at forming a comedian’s union, but to all those who scoff at such a notion, it is salutary to realise that the club owners and agents had contingency plans to blacklist the so-called “ringleaders” and break any strike. So much for politics not being relevant to the comedy circuit.
- Comedy may not change the world, but it can be part of the climate that leads to change.
Read STEVE's list again, then read "CHAVS: The Demonization Of The Working Class" by Owen Jones. Then ask yourself if your new joke is edgy or just a shite nasty line at the expense of the vulnerable.
STEVE GRIBBIN is the Joe Strummer of Comedy. By-the-same token: Ian Moore is the Steve Marriott of Comedy, and Alistair Barrie is the Mick McCarthy of The Coalition. (Transfering to London soon! See @coalitionplay for details!!)
PART 28 - JIM PARK
JIM PARK is a Scottish stand-up who's act is best described as "the random, idiotic musings of a bewilderd man". Jim has been a stand-up on the circuit for 7 years.
Things JIM PARK has learned as a Stand-Up comedian...
- Watching the Berlin Wall come down live on television in 1989, signalling the end of the Cold War, I assumed that this cataclysmic event would herald an unprecedented era of World Peace and harmony. Years later, after a storming 5 minute set at The Stand’s “Red Raw” night, I assumed that I was now on an unstoppable rise to comedy stardom. I’ve now learnt not to assume things so much.
- As a new act, don’t fall into the trap of obsessively browsing online comedy listings and then constructing league tables on an Excel spreadsheet documenting the relative progression and current standing of your comedy peers. That’s mental. As has been oft said here, just concentrate on your own career.
- Everyone dies occasionally, but try to avoid dying in Aberdeen and then having to drive back to Edinburgh with a car full of other comedians who have all knocked it out the park.
- If you must do puns, then be aware that a not insignificant percentage of comedy audiences will ALWAYS groan at any suggestion of wordplay in a gag. (In my experience this phenomenon is particularly prevalent during the Fringe.) Also, even if puns only make up a fairly small percentage of your act, you will still become known as a punner and be scoffed at regularly by the anecdote comedians.
- Alternatively, if you identify an Australian in the audience and tell them to “go and work behind the bar!”, you will get a big laugh and a round of applause. Am I bitter? No, of course not… (Obviously, I haven’t totally discounted the explanation that it’s just that my puns are shit)
- I find playing poker useful for stand-up. The ability to outwardly look quietly confident, whilst in reality being angst ridden and depressed by the shit cards you’re being dealt, is a useful skill to acquire. The illusion of confidence is a valuable tool in your comedy armoury.
- You should generally resist the temptation to punch audience members in the face who say “You are very brave!” after they’ve seen your act.
- Don’t use your standing with one big club/promoter as the sole benchmark for your career progress. It’s all subjective, so broaden your horizons…and if you’re based in Scotland, gig down South any opportunity you get. You run the risk of your act becoming too parochial if you don’t.
- Swearing can be a thing of beauty, but too much of it starts to deflect attention from the material. It’s like watching “Antiques Roadshow” and becoming distracted by the people lurking in the background staring at the camera, (I imagine).
- There may come a point after a few years doing stand-up, when you realise it’s unlikely you will ever be commissioned for your own Channel 4 series. I found this to be a cathartic experience, and actually started enjoying it a lot more after this astounding moment of revelation. I’m still ambitious, but more appreciative of just enjoying the ride.
- Yes, don’t look at your feet of course.
- The ability to convincingly feign the symptons of a stroke is very useful if you’re at a friend’s birthday party and you hear the dj say, “So I hear we have a stand-up comedian at the party tonight!”.
- I was traumatised by reading of the fate of the hard-working Boxer in “Animal Farm”, and from that moment resolved to be a lazy bastard. This is the wrong approach. To get anywhere in this business, you have to have iron self-discipline and work incredibly hard.
- Over-familiarity can lead to you delivering your material like an auctioneer at a Farmers Market. Slow down, and remember that the audience are hearing it for the first time. (I’ve had this criticism a few times).
- God doesn't exist. We're all alone in the Universe. All that awaits us is death and cold, black nothingness.
- If another act gives you a lift to a gig, don’t bore them for 2 hours with ridiculous 9/11 conspiracy theories, then decline to offer any petrol contribution when you’re dropped off at your residence.
- Comedy courses are controversial, but if they act as a necessary cattle prod to enable you to step on stage for the first time, then the pros probably outweigh the cons.
- The stand-up industry is fiercely competitive and overcrowded. If you’re anything other than charming and polite to everyone you encounter in the business, then you will undoubtedly struggle to make any headway.
Want to know more about JIM PARK? Go to his website www.toecurler.com , or follow him on Twitter: @jimpark99 , or hang around the Edinburgh bus depot after midnight and you'll eventually bump into him.
PART 27 - SARAH MILLICAN
SARAH MILLICAN. SARAH MILLICAN. S-A-R-A-H M-I-L-L-I-C-A-N!!! This is BRILLIANT! Read it and learn. Read it twice and learn twice as much. Sarah gave me this weeks ago but I've held on to it until the Edinburgh Fringe was over, because I didn't want it overshadowed. There's a lot, and I mean A LOT, of solid advice here. The first line speaks volumes: "Being funny is not enough. You have to work hard." Want proof of that? Go to www.sarahmillican.co.uk and take a look at Sarah's tour dates. That's a long tour. That's a lot of work. And all done for the love of Stand-Up comedy, not for the money. Money's wasted on Sarah - all she want's is a new M&S cardie and a cup of tea.
What has Sarah Millican learned as a Stand-Up comedian...
- Being funny is not enough. You have to work hard.
- Train journeys can be used for napping, writing, plucking rogue hairs (lighting is great) and crying if tired.
- Travelodges are better than B&Bs.
- Some budget hotels have takeaway menus at the front desk.
- Being nice to people: other comics, promoters etc is the only way.
- Bitterness and resentment is unhealthy and can slow down or stop your progress. Stop looking where your peers are and concentrate on your own career.
- Ask advice from other comics, especially those you respect, but take it all with a pinch of salt.
- Forums (aside from finding out about gigs) are a waste of your time. Write some jokes instead.
- You get really good at figuring out people's showers. From sleeping on a lot of sofas.
- Fizzy sweets do a good job at keeping you awake on long drives.
- Confidence goes a long way at hard gigs. Even if it's faked.
- A new joke that works can lift the rest of your set. Some people say its better than sex. It's not. But both at the same time would be awesome and awkward.
- Learning to drive means you get to go home more and can do last minute gigs. Train ticket prices make the latter almost impossible if you can't drive.
- If people give you a lift back to London, you'll get dropped off at Trafalgar Square.
- If people give you a lift back to Manchester, you get dropped off at your door and some will even wait to see you go inside. Manchester is smaller, I know but still.
- A notepad is your friend. Your memory is not.
- Harness every funny thought you have. Makes writing so much easier if you have a starting point.
- Recording early gigs or those where you're trying new material is invaluable. Your memory will just give you a blanket "It was great" like a dismissive ex. A recording will enable you to say that spontaneous adlib again and again.
- It's not a good idea to churn your set early on. Get a bullet proof ten and then extend.
- A smart man told me to write every day and gig every night. It's good advice.
- Audience banter skills can be learned.
- There's no rush to do the Edinburgh Fringe. Do it when you're ready and do as many previews as you can get you're hands on. No such thing as too ready for Edinburgh.
- I'm always impressed by people who keep 'parking money' in a compartment of their car.
- Never ever use someone else's material. If you're told your joke about X is similar to someone else's joke about X, get in touch with the someone else. Often it's dissimilar enough to keep using. If its the same, you will probably have to drop it. But that's fine, you can write more jokes. Integrity is important.
- Write your own put downs. If a heckler gets the better of you, go home and write a suitable put down so if it happens again, you're bloody ready.
- Don't drink before going on stage. You need to stay sharp. (This may seem a little harsh but I am a little harsh).
- When writing, put the funny bit at the end of the sentence.
- Put new material nights in your diary regularly to give you something to write towards. When you're on a bill with your peers, aim to be the best. When you're doing an open spot at a big club, aim to be the best.
- Always look in a hotel kettle before using it.
- Keep emergency biscuits and water in your car.
- Keep small UHT milks (stolen from hotels) in your cupboard at home for cups of tea after long stints away.
- Watch from the start of the show if you can. You need to get the feel of the room and find out where any problems are.
- I love an inspirational motto. I used to have "What have I done today to make me a better comedian?" and "Just work harder". Might sound a bit wanky but worked for me. I don't believe in coasting it with a good 20 minutes. You should always be getting better, writing more and learning new things.
- Turn up the volume in the audience so if something that normally gets a round of applause gets a big laugh, turn up the audience. So a small laugh is a bigger laugh in your head and a bigger laugh is a round of applause.
- Never comment on a quiet audience or low numbers. Don't piss off the people who came. They don't know they're laughing less at that joke than people did last night unless you tell them. Don't bloody tell them.
- Ignore chat if you can in a rowdy room but deal with hecklers.
- Don't shy away from hard gigs and tough rooms. What you learn doing those gigs stays with you and makes you more bulletproof.
- If you live and mostly work London, get out and travel the country.
- Try to see your friends and family.
- And finally, The 11 O Clock Rule (Millican's Law) is great for getting over hard gigs. The rule is as follows:
If you have a hard gig, quiet, a death, a struggle, whatever, you can only be mad and frustrated and gutted until 11am the next day. Then you must draw a line under it and forget about it. As going into the next gig thinking you are shit will mean you will die.
Equally, if you nail it, slam it, destroy it, whatever, you can only be smug about it until 11am the next day (in the past, I have set an alarm so I could get up and gloat for an extra half hour) as if you go into the next gig thinking you are God's gift to comedy, you will die. That is Millican's Law and it totally works. It means you move on quickly. It has stood me in good stead.
And Sarah loves a good natter - follow her on Twitter : @SarahMillican75 where she shamelessly flirts with entire audiences. And Sarah's incredibly generous with her time - she wrote this when she was on holiday. Did you read that John Moloney? Sarah was on holiday and she was kind enough to write this... hint f**king hint John Moloney!
PART 26 - MIKE TAYLOR
MIKE TAYLOR sent me this email: "Someone I know through Facebook who runs some gigs, posted a link to your Blog, or whatever you modern world types call it. I myself run some small but perfectly-formed (theatre and pub) gigs in the North West of England. Some people class that as being a promoter, however I class myself as someone who loves comedy, and gets a buzz out of putting on a good night.
Here are some thoughts of mine if you want to put them online...
- Don't steal jokes, I see lot of comics both at my gigs and others I go to because I enjoy comedy and like to see acts before I book them. If I see you doing nicked material, as I did with an act at Manchester's Comedy Balloon recently, I will not book you, I'll also tell the act you've stolen the material from.
- Don't pull gigs at short notice with a crap excuse and then post what you're really doing on Facebook.
- If you're thinking of pulling out of a gig at short notice beause you've been offered a few quid more on the same night - just think of how you'd feel if a promoter cancelled you because someone else had said they'd do the gig for a few quid less. If someone has rung and told me the reason they need to pull is for some career altering work or TV, I've never had a problem, but 20 or 30 quid?
- Look good when performing, don't just turn up. That came from Jo Jo Sutherland at a new act competition. (This has been drastically edited! - JO)
- Please do remember that Google or Sat Nav times don't include car crashes, roadworks and simply the fact it's Friday.
- Turn up early, that way you see if the other comics mention something that you might mention too.
- Don't ever do Pay-to-Play etc, the 'stage time' you will get is nothing compared to the damage you're doing the circuit.
- Don't set up a gig to get 'stage time', do it to run one successfully with good acts, otherwise you cock up the circuit. Plus if you put on a bad night you'll put people off going to a comedy night again.
- Be careful with when and where you try new gags, when doing a gig when the audience have paid to get in you can't use them as a sounding board. It's one thing slipping in the odd one-liner between stuff you know that works, but not a long piece please. Save new stuff for the many open-nights, punters have paid for funny. (OK, I've got to say I don't agree with this. It's NOT the promoters job to tell the comedian what material they can or cannot do. But it IS the comedians job to CONTINUALLY work on new material. Come on Mike, you would equally complain if the comics came and did the same stuff year after year after year.)
- Learn to drive and buy a car.
- With reference to language, anyone who knows me will tell you I swear like a trooper. However as far as I know no punter as ever gone up to a promoter after a gig and said, 'It was alright but the comedian didn't swear enoungh'. Sometimes a F / C word works wonderfully to emphsise a point in a gag. Recently I've been holding some Edinburgh previews. At the first one we had two acts on. We also had two groups of people who hadn't been to the venue before, eight in total. The first act used the 'F' word at least once a sentence and the 'C' word on a regular basis. Maybe he was trying to get away from his TV persona, I don't know. However eight people left at the interval, they didn't see the second preview, they have also never been back and have missed several brilliant previews.
Mike's gigs include First Friday Frolics at the ACE Centre, Nelson, Lancashire, a lovely arts centre / theatre gig. The others are all pub gigs, Barrel Ov Laughs, Browns No 1 Bar, Heywood, Rochdale, Chuckles At Cheers, Cheers Bar, Prestwich Manchester and Laughs @ The Oddies, The Oddfellows Arms, Eccles, Salford. Why not go along and demand the headline act tries out some new material?
PART 25 - PAUL TONKINSON
PAUL TONKINSON has his own style. In my opinion PAUL is the Master of 'The Act Out' - he tells the joke and then acts it out so he gets a second MASSIVE laugh. I always love how he 'people's the stage' with his family and friends, doing their walk or their voice. He looks like he's just fucking about but there's REAL skill and thought gone into that 'fucking about'.
And he's got a great instinct for reading an audience; he can take off & mimic someone in the crowd, and it'll be spot on and hilarious - but it's always done with affection, never cruelty. He's also good to be in a dressing room with because he's normal. Always on my list of people to travel with. Things PAUL TONKINSON has learned as a StandUp comedian...
- If you are trying to get to the M4 from North London on a Friday afternoon, some times its better to go M1 - M25 than North Circular.
- The better you get at it, the easier it looks, the easier it looks the less people respect it.
- Even appalling comics have a fair to middling chance of trapping off with someone in Nottingham.
- A lot of the youngsters in skinny jeans with floppy hair are funnier than the guys in suits with no hair.
- Quality is a subtle thing, it accumulates through the set.
- The minute you’ve lost your temper the gig is over - you are no longer an act, you’re just an angry person.
- If you’re on last do what you want. If you’re on in the middle don’t overrun. If you do, have the balls to front it out. Don’t claim you lost track of the time.
- There is a subset of comics who seem to turn up at gigs for the drinks vouchers. Don’t be a voucher comic.
- The paradox is that in order to give the best, most creative, funniest version of yourself in the most high pressured situations you have to be a cold eyed ruthless motherfucker.
- Most comics love Pierre Hollins.
- If you want meaningful advice ask someone who’s cracked it. The circuit is peppered with toxic gatekeepers who will leap on open spots with gnarly advice full of rules that have no relation to reality. Most acts who break through tend to ignore them.
- A lot of comics who say how lucky they are and how they could be working in a factory probably should be working in a factory.
- I’ve worked with the best acts in the country, they work harder than anyone else and have massively higher standards.
- The rush of cash in an envelope never leaves you. When I was younger I’d spread it on the table and look at it. Now I hide it before the kids see it.
- If you’re compering and the act who’s on first or in the middle gets an encore, give it.
- If you’re driving an open spot back to London and you’ve closed - why not let him/her off the petrol ?
- When I see acts factor in the illusion of improvisation as opposed to improvisation itself I feel a bit sad.
- Most “dangerous” acts are just confirming prejudice.
- Avoid bitterness by remembering that we live and work in the best comedy scene in the world.
- Do you find your set funny ? Are you keen to say it ? Does it stretch you as a performer ? Could you show it to your best friend with pride ? Is it the best of you ?
- Great gigs are the best feeling you’ll get, a feeling of omniscience and connection post gig.
- Try and use this time to write as opposed to trap off with someone or do drugs.
- Don’t take it too seriously, the fact that we’ve got stand up shows that as a society we’re doing ok. As far as I know theres not too many clubs in Africa. I like to think of it as one of the most important non important things. It’s a luxury item. Some people save lives, some people truly educate. Its our job to make these people laugh. We are their therapy. They are not ours.
- Some people don’t work hard enough. They confuse the term vocation with vacation.
- Use everything you’ve got out there. If you can play the piano. Do it. Tap dance. Do it. Don’t be ashamed. Look at Steve Martin, he’s playing the banjo, dancing, juggling. He threw everything at it. He stretched himself in every direction.
- It’s a journey. Literally - you’ll be driving all the time.
- Acts who publicly slag off other acts are a disgrace to themselves and the profession.
- I’ve had some of the best gigs in my life during times of personal disaster. Its like a place you find within yourself.
- On a technical point. You’re primary thought into a subject informs everything else you say about it. Refine the primary thought !
- Phil Kay on form is one of the funniest things I’ve ever seen.
- Over the years I’ve had time when I haven’t been gigging, I’ve presented TV, radio and at the time it seemed different, exciting. I look back now and see it as time wasted, what was I thinking? I could have been getting better at stand up.
- Mussolini said “ the crowd is like a woman ”. Charm is important.
- The sound of helpless laughter and being the cause of that is an incredible feeling.
I think a lot of people will be bookmarking this and re-reading it. Lot of great advice there. I know PAUL has a sitcom indevelopment and he's going out on a UK tour soon so check out his website www.paultonkinson.com for all the details. And he's on Twitter @PaulTonkinson .
I actually interviewed Paul for a new Radio Scotland show last week - this might be the link:
Or search the BBC iPlayer for Laughing In All The Right Places.
And YES Paul's right, everyone DOES love Pierre Hollins. x
PART 24 - BERNARD O'LEARY
BERNARD O’LEARY is a Journalist, a Comedy Reviewer (Stop booing! Come on, give the man a chance!!)... Anyway, as I was saying, Bernard O’Leary is a Journalist, a Comedy Reviewer (I said STOP booing!!!) and Comedy Editor at The Skinny. It goes without saying he’s a MASSIVE comedy fan.
With The Edinburgh Festival coming like a jail on wheels (Name the song?) I asked Bernard to give some tips about getting reviews and dealing with Comedy Reviewers in general. Over to Bernard...
"Please censor me if I'm making a dick of myself. I don't wait to start alienating comedians until at least the second week of the Fringe.
Some tips for comedians on living with reviewers:
- Reviewers exhibit many of the same traits found in human beings. Like real people, they respond to bribery, flattery and threats to their personal safety.
- Another human-like characteristic of reviewers is extreme laziness. Encourage them to attend your show by making it as easy as possible for them. Drive them to the venue, make them a packed lunch, gently whisper your material in their ear while they nap; anything that takes some of the burden off them.
- Failing that, try sending a brief, informative press release with contact details, show details and hi-res images. If you're not massively famous, do also include links to some YouTube videos showing what your act is like.
- Once you've got a reviewer in, ignore them. If you're more aware of the reviewer than the paying punters, you're doing comedy wrong. Reviewers are essentially punters with notebooks anyway.
- But don't assume that the audience reaction guarantees the type of review you'll get. Sometimes, we disagree with the audience. Yes, you can get a bad review from a good gig but you can also get a good review from a bad gig.
- IF YOU GET A GOOD REVIEW: Reviews are worth their weight in diamond and prove you're a genius.
- IF YOU GET A BAD REVIEW: Reviews are the worthless opinions of bitter, joyless hacks. They prove nothing.
- Never, ever refer to your bad reviews in your act. While you're ranting about Copstick giving you two stars, the audience may start thinking, "really? That many?"
- Extracting positive quotes from a bad review is not a crime, it is an art. Personally, I love seeing quotes on posters like "The biggest pile of...comedy I have ever seen". You're fooling no-one, but doing it with flair shows you have a sense of humour.
- NOTE TO REVIEWERS: Don't make it easy for them. If your 1-star review includes lines like "So bad he's hilarious. The best comedian in the world...not!", you're basically asking for it.
- Also, if your review is online, you may be tempted to ask all your friends and fans to post comments defending your honour. Nice work, Einstein. You're pushing the review to the top of the site's Most Popular Articles list, as well as increasing the Google ranking of that page. Let the bad ones sink without a trace; get your friends to post 200 comments on the good ones.
- By the way, do Google yourself frequently. It's not vanity, it's immensely practical. Most journalists start their research on Google. If you don't believe this, try adding a random fact to your Wikipedia page, like how Peter Shilton is your uncle. Every review afterwards will begin with the phrase "Nephew/Niece of the legendary Peter Shilton..."
- If you meet someone who has given you a bad review, slap on a fake smile and take a second to say, "thanks for seeing the show". No degree of sincerity is required for this. The reviewer will think you're insincere but at least they won't think you're a pain in the arse.
- If you can't stand reviewers in principle, don't let them in. Please don't publicly complain about reviewers while quietly begging people to review your show, because that's really annoying.
- If it "reads like a five", that's probably because the editor cut something out.
Lot of helpful stuff there. Particularily points 3 and 4. You can read Bernard's reviews and inteviews at www.theskinny.co.uk/comedy and the Skinny is on twitter: @SkinnyComedy BTW if you meet Bernard during the Festival DON'T mention the bet he put on Ireland to beat Spain in Euro 2012, but do keep that in mind when you read his reviews.... and STOP Booing!!!
PART 23 - OPHIRA EISENBERG
I've worked with OPHIRA EISENBERG in New York, London, Edinburgh, and we toured Ireland together. She makes me laugh and she gets me drunk. Ophira is easily my favourite American (Ok, Canadian!) StandUp Comedian. She's a hard-worker: She presents NPR's Ask Me Another radio show, hosts The Moth’s storytelling shows, has a new CD out on iTunes and will be back at the Edinburgh Festival this August. Hooray! We shall get drunk!!
Some of the things Ophira has learnt as a StandUp comedian....
- Don’t be an Orchid, be a Weed. I think this is best bit of advice any one ever gave me. They said don’t be one of those comics who can only do well when they are in a specific kind of club with a specific kind of crowd. You have to be like a weed and thrive and grow in any shitty situation. It’s also very humbling. That being said, in the beginning you should find a place where you feel comfortable to try out everything.
- If you call in sick for a gig, you’re an amateur.
- Be nice. I read this all the time as advice to new comics and I think it’s great, but don’t think it’s necessary. It’s a relief when comics are nice, and I’m happy to say I know a lot of really cool nice people working in comedy, but I also know a ton of assholes. Their bad behavior doesn’t really seem to get in the way of their success. So be nice, but don’t expect it back.
- Life’s unfair and a hack will always kill. Accept it and move on.
- It’s a marathon. Some people say it takes 10 years before a comic is worth listening to, Malcolm Gladwell made the statement that it takes 10,000 hours of application before anyone is good at anything. There’s probably a guy who just put in his 10,001 hour and is wondering why he still sucks. The point is it takes a long time, some longer than others, but you need to put your head down and survive through it. If you feel like dropping out for a while, or taking a break, just know that much like in a marathon, everyone around you will run ahead.
- Never underestimate the power of alcohol on you or your audience.
- Don’t take anyone’s advice on how you should adjust your stage persona. They are wrong. 99% of comments you’ll receive on your act are totally useless, and the 1% who do have something valid to add, know to not clutter someone’s growth by giving criticism.
- You know the saying – if you can’t be funny be interesting? It doesn’t work in comedy. Just be funny. And if you can’t be funny, be professional and get off when you see the light.
- It doesn’t matter that it’s 2012, there is still nothing more terrifying than a woman on stage. What’s up with that?
- There is no such thing as a lucky stage shirt.
Check out Ophira's website www.ophiraeisenberg.com - where you can listen to her NPR show, and follow her on twitter: @OphiraE . You should also make a point of seeing Ophira at this years Edinburgh Festival...then follow her to a bar (probably Lord Bodo's) where she will continue to make people laugh. That's my plan.
PART 22 - ANDRE VINCENT
Yes - its HER! Its Vinny! She's sharpened her claws and thrown her toys out of the pram. Oooh, got to love Vinny. You might have seen ANDRE VINCENT in pantomime at The Norwich Theatre Royal, or seen him juggling or riding a unicycle (prop comic), or maybe you've spent time on his MySpace page? What?? No - some people DO still use it.
Anyway, these are some of the things Vinny has learnt as a StandUp comedian....
- All comedy is subjective. Just because you find it funny and your mates find it funny, doesn't mean I find it funny. But that doesn't mean it's not funny.
- Every comedian who drives thinks they're being exploited. I've never had a comic ring me up and say "We're working together, wanna lift?"
- Never trust a Russell, they are only in it for the fuck.
- If a moment presents itself on stage and the only thing that comes into your head to deal with the situation is one of my lines, use it. The gig is more important than my ego.
- Make sure what you're saying is factually correct. Funny yes, but also correct.
- Not liking the 'new bright thing' doesn't make me bitter. I'm happy at my place.
- Knowing you're good is why you're up there.
- If you think you have an edge, you have an edge.
- When a comic says to another comic "If you had kids, you'd know why that's not funny", I think, "When you gave life, something inside you died".
- Two minutes on The Comedy Roadshow does not entitle you to a tour.
- If you really look like someone, point it out. Otherwise people in the audience will sit there thinking, "Who do they look like?"
- The punter has paid to hear you perform. They don't own you for the night. Why would I want to hear their jokes? No one goes up to a plumber after they’ve put in a bathroom, undoes the showerhead and puts on a new one just to prove they can do it.
- Don't vicar the audience. By that I mean, don’t stand at the exit fishing for compliments.
- TV producers will tell you to think out of the box and then present you with a ball.
- An agent/manager works for you. You don't work for them.
- Gag hags, groupies and funny fanny: on a rainy night in Rhyl with an audience of thirty, your guard will drop. If it does, remember - don't bite, spank or insert anything until there is clearance from the tower.
- Fame makes you a target for other peoples’ dissent. But it also allows you to put your ethics into play.
- Always but always, listen to Ivor Dembina.
- If you think you're funny, don't give up. If stand-up is not for you, there are always options. Some of the most mediocre comics have become some of the best TV writers, west end playwrights and crime novelists.
- Talk about what you know. And if you trained as a vet, fuck 'em. Cats and dogs it is.
- Three of my favourite gigs: at one of them I was pissed, another E'd off my head, the other coked up. Me AND the audience had a really good time. I'd probably never do it again - too old - but never let anyone tell you what "professional" is.
- Practice & Standards do not have a funny bone in their body. Just smile and move on.
- There is nothing funnier then swearing puppets.
- If you call someone a cunt, stand by it. Many years ago I called a runner a cunt and they now are a TV channel controller. He got there by being true to himself.
- They may be your best friend in comedy, but be prepared to lose them when TV comes a-calling.
- If you run a gig and you send out a mass email asking comics for availability for the weekend, it doesn't take a minute to send a mass email saying "Thanks, filled the slot".
- The real comedy geniuses are some of the most arrogant people alive. And I can forgive them that because of their body of work.
- If you're MC-ing, take a moment to look at the bill. Don't do ten minutes of whacky improvised schtick on a punter’s gay B&Q shirt and then bring on someone who’s a one-liner. It's not fair on the act or the crowd.
- All brothers steal each other’s jokes, and I mean you - Walkers, Maiers, Manfords...and black acts.
- No subject is off limits. None. Comedy is the last bastion of freedom of speech. Comics will tell you to stay away from some topics because they have no appropriate funny lines. If they had a killer joke about Rosa Parks, cot death and skull-fucking a puppy they would be closing on it.
- Never try out jokes on your other half. The cold blank far-off stare really hurts.
- I created the expression "fingered by a skip". Fact. And "face like a plasterer’s radio". If you create something that can be remembered expect it to be repeated.
- You can't beat a funny Indian. Well, you could when we had an Empire.
- Never bring a copy of The Stage into a dressing room.
- Postcode comedy is fine at a benefit or a corporate. Don't do fifteen minutes about the roadworks at Amperton Avenue in Cheetham Hill, rip the room with your local northern knowledge and then bring on someone from Brighton. Unless that person did it to you when you were playing their gig in Brighton.
- The majority of deaths are self-inflicted.
- If you’re on stage re-enacting porn-watching, don't tilt your head to the side.
- Enjoy working the trenches. These have been and still are the happiest memories of my life. Youngsters that are being fast-tracked to telly will never go around the world for free, never wonder if they should do the Free Fringe and never play Rhys on a rainy night to thirty people.
- Discrimination based on age, gender, sexual orientation, physical ability, appearance, intelligence and penis size can be funny. I am oaf enough to laugh at any of the above as long as the punch line is right.
- Take everything written on this site with a pinch of salt. Especially Ian Stone.
OK - now read it again and guess which comedians Andre is talking about. "Two minutes on The Comedy Roadshow does not entitle you to a tour" - love that! Wonder who that is? What?! Me??!! Fuck off!!!
If you want to ask Andre any questions about pantomime or props - you can get him on twitter: @Vinny64
PART 21 - BILL DARE
Oooh - this is a good one. If you're a writer (doesn't matter which genre) you're going to get a lot out of this list because its PACKED with great advice.
BILL DARE has created TV shows such as The Mary Whitehouse Experience, Dead Ringers, The Late Edition, and I’ve Never Seen Star Wars. He's created radio shows including The Now Show, The Motion Show, Life, Death & Sex with Mike and Sue, Brian Gulliver’s Travels and Les Kelly’s Britain. He produced Spitting Image (8 series), Loose Talk, the sitcom Mr Charity for BBC2 and the comedy/drama Twisted Tales for BBC3. He wrote the film You’re Breaking Up, wrote two plays performed at the Edinburgh Festival, a novel, Natural Selection, and co-wrote Nina Conti's five star show, Talk To The Hand. Bill says, "This advice is for beginners. It’s very basic and more about submitting scripts, than the script itself..."
- DO: Get let a good literary agent to help you develop and sell your work.
- DON’T: Let not having one put you off, it’s not vital.
- DO: Send an introductory email asking a producer if they will read your script/treatment. This is the first bit of your writing he or she will see. It’s important. Too long or arrogant, too humble or dull, too earnest or too jokey, too matey or too formal… all indications that you’re not much of a writer. Keep your email to a page. Describe the project in a sentence, and also describe your own career, equally briefly.
- State why you are contacting THEM and not a million other producers. (I recently got an email from someone saying ‘I am working my way down a list of producers to send this to.’ I didn’t reply.)
- DON’T Assume that it’s part of anyone’s job to read YOUR script. It’s not. Briefly acknowledge the fact that they are busy and have a lot of other stuff to read. This isn’t groveling, it’s being realistic.
- DO Decide (and state clearly) whether your series is ‘audience’ (which also means multi-camera and studio-based) or ‘non-audience’ (which usually means single camera, and based on location). The script layout of these two styles is different – get it right. (Be very wary of execs who try to make you change your non-audience show into an audience show, or visa versa.)
- DON’T send something that ‘may need work.’ If it needs work, then DO THE WORK. Get friends and colleagues to give you all the feedback you can get BEFORE submitting it.
- DO write a sentence about why you came up with the idea. Make it personal. ‘I was in the Home Guard for several years,’ is better than ‘it’s never been done, and very zeitgeisty’.
- DON’T say ‘I sent this to Producer A, and he/she really loved it. It’s amazing how many writers reveal that you are not their first choice. (Er, or maybe that’s just me.) In any case, if another producer really loved it, she’d be trying to produce it. Generally, don’t brag about how some-one-or-other loves your script.
- DO write a follow-up email after a week or so. If, after a couple of weeks, you don’t hear back, then unless you are dead set on this producer, move on. If they agree to read your script then they are honour-bound to do so, and I reckon they should do so within four weeks.
- DON’T explain to the producer why your script or idea is good, or will be popular. If you think the producer won’t be able to see this for him or herself, then either there’s something wrong with your script, or you think they’re an idiot. It’s amazing how many writers ‘explain’. (Perhaps they think I’m an idiot.)
- DO consider writing a treatment first. Treatments (in my opinion) are a bit of a waste of time from a creative point-of-view. BUT, some producers will commission a script on the back of a treatment and once they have put money on the table they are INVOLVED. They have backed a horse and will want it to win. They are often less likely to fork out on a script that’s already written – and so will be less involved. But… If they commission a script you have to expect (and welcome) their input.
- DO write typical episode. NOT the ‘set-up’ episode. Write episode three or four. Include what happens in future eps. A short paragraph on each episode is enough.
- DON’T write a big part for a guest character. Better still, don’t have a guest character.
- DON’T include long character descriptions anywhere. A sentence for each is enough. (Think how long it would take to describe Basil Fawlty. One sentence should do it – we don’t need to know why he bought a hotel or why married Cybil. As the writer, you may need to know, of course.)
- DON’T write a good, solid, competent script that people will like.
- DO: Write a script, however flawed, impractical, unconventional niche or crazy, that people will LOVE.
- DO: thank the producer for reading your script, even if they’re rejecting it.
- DO: realise that when producers say they ‘liked’ or ‘enjoyed’ your script, they are probably just being polite.
- DON’T use words like ‘demographic’ or ‘target audience’ EVER. You are a passionate artist, not a marketing executive.
- DO have a source of income other than writing comedy series. I know people who have written several successful sitcoms and they still don’t make a living from it. Sure, it can pay the rent for a few years, but the sitcom writers who live well on it, decade after decade, could easily fit in my kitchen.
- DO be famous actor or comedian. Sadly, the write/performer is king these days. Think about the most successful comedy shows at the moment… DON’T be a non-entity. Or if you are, work with someone who isn’t.
A helpful list, isn't it? And inspiring. It makes writing a script almost sound easy. (And it ISN'T!! I know that because I spent 2 years writing a sitcom script only to be told "the main character is far too unlikeable." I still don't understand that because it was all about me. Hey, wait a minute.... *penny drops*) Anyway why not check Bill out on twitter: @Bill_Dare ... you know you want to.
PART 20 - TREVOR LAMBERT
OK - something a bit different here. TREVOR LAMBERT is a corporate suit in marketing who enjoys comedy in all its forms. Describing himself as ‘firmly and proudly an audience member rather than a performer’, he is lucky enough to live near several great venues including South Street in Reading and South Hill Park in Bracknell. Trevor's list comes from more than 20 years’ experience of visiting comedy clubs and watching comedians...
- TREVOR LAMBERT'S FEEDBACK FOR COMEDIANS:
- I start off wanting to like you. What happens next is up to you.
- Sometimes, no matter where I am sitting, when you pick on me I really don’t want to play. I will make this as clear as I can. Take the hint.
- If I don’t laugh at your favourite line don’t do that thing where you wave your hand over your head and make a whooshing sound. It’s not that I didn’t understand; it just wasn’t funny. (see also “I can wait...”).
- If I don’t laugh at the rest of your set I haven’t had a sense of humour bypass, I’m not foreign and I’m not deaf. You weren’t funny enough. Or the mic wasn’t working.
- When you are dying don’t try to shock me with increasingly outrageous material. You’ll lose my goodwill. If you are irreversibly falling flat have the good grace to get off as quickly as possible. I want to be supportive but my patience is finite.
- Nothing should be taboo in comedy as long as it makes me laugh. But you have to be extremely funny to get away with paedophilia jokes.
- When you tell me a story is “genuinely true” I know it’s going to be (a) not true, (b) not funny or (c) both.
- I know all I need to know about the difference between cats and dogs.
- I also know men and women are different, but for some reason it’s still funny.
- Congratulations on the birth of your baby. I’m sure it’s lovely. Now shut up about it and tell me something funny.
- There is nothing – repeat nothing – more boring than hearing about your use of recreational drugs.
- This may be just me, but I get uncomfortable with character-based stand up unless it is done brilliantly. If the character doesn’t work the whole section falls flat and it gets embarrassing.
- Lay off the easy targets (James Blunt, Slough, the ring road). Bankers are still fair game as long as you remember they are not the people who work on the counter at Nat West.
- The C word has lost the power to shock but not to offend. I guess it depends which you are trying to achieve.
- Political jokes are great. Political speeches are not. If you want to be a politician, stand for election. The UK has a good track record of voting for comedians.
- I know that sustained ‘errrrr’ after a gag is inviting me to clap. Why not go the whole hog and get a high hat?
- Don’t play exclusively to one part of the audience. This is more common than it should be.
- If I buy you a drink at the bar, have the courtesy to chat to me for a couple of minutes and – God help you – hear the great joke I’ve got for you. Of course you won’t use it but would it kill you to listen?
- When you get famous and play large venues, don’t think you can get away with a half-hearted performance relying on your reputation and laidback Irish charisma. You’ll be in my black books forever.
- I once heard an MC say to an audience: “The more you drink the funnier we get.” This advice follows the law of diminishing returns.
- TIP FOR LATECOMERS: If you arrive late and have no choice but to sit at the front there will come a point when you are asked what you do for a living. Say you are a Commissioning Editor for BBC Online and you’ll be fine.
- TREVOR LAMBERT'S FEEDBACK FOR VENUES:
- White wine should be served cold. Red wine should not. Two types of lager is not a “wide range of beers” and if you are based in the middle of nowhere, have a decent selection of low and no alcohol drinks available.
- Don’t get me in an hour before the first act in the hope I will drink more. You’ll only fool me once with that one.
- Let me just get this right. If I buy tickets online or by phone you charge me a booking fee, plus a credit card charge. If I come to the box office and pay by cash you still make the same charges. How does that work?
- Address audience behaviour which is getting out of order quickly. They probably irritate the rest of us more than they do the acts. Not funny, but true.
If you're a famous comedian with laidback Irish charm you can contact Trevor via Twitter: @TrevorMLambert If anyone else wants to add to this list, send an email and I'll add your thoughts. But cats and dogs ARE different, right?? I mean, what's with all the chasing mice and barking at postmen? Killer. Pure comedy gold, baby, pure comedy gold.
PART 19 - DAVE FULTON
What can I say about DAVE FULTON? He likes guns, motorbikes and dangerous sports - basically, we all know if it wasn't for StandUp he'd be hold-up in Oregon with a bunch of survivalists, plotting the downfall of The White House.
Anyway, he's a brilliant comedian and this is his... "Things I kinda learned and would tell others regarding Stand-Up comedy"...
- When starting out know ten good street jokes. If you try and be all arty right out of the bag you’ll starve to death. When I started the goal was to start making a living at it as soon as possible and to get booked in the clubs and one-nighters. Sometimes you’ll have to play gigs that suck but it’s either do it or have your heat turned off. It’s called Comedy-At-Gun-Point and unfortunately not enough of the new guys know what that’s like.
- If you’ve never bombed on stage you’re doing something wrong.
- If the reason you got into comedy was to use it as a springboard into being an actor or TV presenter, stop. At the very least admit that’s why you got into comedy in the first place and you don’t intend to stay long.
- If you got into comedy to be a millionaire, stop. You’ll just be whored out, disappointed, bitter and filled with envy towards comedians who sold their mortal soul for shiny things that won’t give a shit about them when they fail.
- I know this has been said repeatedly but try and be nice and fair to everyone on the way up because you’ll have to work with them on the way down.
- Bootleg clips of you doing sets on YouTube will not hurt your career. Also if you think such things will cut into your DVD sales and hurt your profits kill yourself.
- If you really really want to be famous don’t be afraid to fuck your friends over, just remember to make it up to them when you are famous. Give them a writing job or something, don’t keep fucking them over. They might beat the shit out of you and then that will make them famous as well.
- Never let anyone from the audience on stage as some sort of impro gag you think might work. This makes the crowd think they’re in on the joke, which they never are. If someone does try and get on stage because they have an issue with something you’ve said or done, kick the living shit out of them. Remember, if they come at you there’s no such thing as a fair fight.
- The majority of the people who make the decisions and write the checks that will have a major impact on your career have no sense of humor. They’ll probably be over educated and have never had to do anything attributed to number one on this list. If you know this coming into any meeting with them you won’t try and be ‘funny’ or ‘clever’ and instead do your best to be a professional.
- Taking a comedy class can be the best way to find out how shit you really are.
- If the main reason you got into comedy was to make people happy you’re a liar.
- If you’ve done a gig that truly sucked do yourself a favor and buy a toy with some of the money you made. NOTE: toys are not drugs, booze or whores.
- If you’re a woman and doing a club gig sometimes you’re going to have to close the show. Suck it up. You’ll be a better comic for it.
- If it was really fair it wouldn’t be as much fun. There is no 3 or 5 or ? year plan to success. Sometimes it takes ten years to be an overnight success and sometimes it also takes the same amount of time to be an overnight failure.
- Write a few jokes that you know the audience will hate. Just because you made them boo you a little doesn’t mean you still don’t control them.
- Common sense has nothing to do with stand-up comedy and there are no real rules.
- If it’s 4 in the morning and you’re in a hotel room with Addison Creswell throw yourself out the window. It’ll hurt less.
More about Dave at www.davidfulton.com Or you can follow him on twitter: @fulton_dave and Dave's just had his first short film Pay First accepted into the Kerry Film Festival. And if you're in London on May 25th and 26th he's filming his new DVD at the Soho Theatre. Why not go along and cough during his punchlines?
PART 18 - BENNETT ARRON and NICK REVELL
Yay! After Jen Lavery's helpful stuff, normal service is resumed and we're back to the bitterness and broken dreams. Let's pretend we're American and let's do this thing...
BENNETT ARRON is an award-winning writer, actor and stand-up comedian. He's the only Jewish/Welsh comedian on the Comedy Circuit, which led to The Guardian calling him "the Welsh Seinfeld" (Oh, for f*cks sake.) Bennett's written a whole stack of TV and Radio shows but his proudest moment was coming 3rd in an International Disco Dancing Championship in Tenerife. Don't believe me? Check his website www.bennettarron.co.uk
Things Bennett Arron has learned as a comedian...
- Comedians are not really your friends.
- Don’t tell audiences about other gigs you’ve played; they don’t care that you were ‘closing the Store’ last week.
- Don’t call the Comedy Store ‘The Store’.
- If you are watching a comedian die on stage and you want to text someone so they can share the joy, don’t accidentally text the comedian on stage instead.
- Don’t crowbar hack put downs into your set.
- Don’t use hack put downs.
- If your set includes the question; “Is anyone in from overseas?” try writing some material.
- If the compere has asked members of the audience their names and what they do for a living – don’t do the same thing to the same people. That’s stupid.
- If you’re over 40 and looking for an agent, be prepared to cry a lot.
- Don’t name-drop famous people with whom you’ve worked, it makes you look pathetic (Ricky Gervais gave me that advice).
- If your biggest laughs are on swear words, try writing material. (Fuckin' A! - Jo)
- Don’t pretend you’re Jewish/Black/Scottish etc when you’re obviously not.
- If you are MCing a gig, it doesn’t mean it’s your show - the other comedians are not your support acts.
- Don’t trust a comedian.
- Don’t lose your temper with venue staff if you can’t swap your ‘drinks vouchers’ for a bottle of wine.
- If you are in a minority, this does not give you carte blanche to make fun of ALL minorities.
- If you have a disability, this does not give you carte blanche to make fun of ALL disabilities.
- Don’t get annoyed if other acts’ careers are going better than yours, just remember that they’re probably not happy.
- Don’t over use the phrase, “You know what I mean”. If you’re not sure they know what you mean, rephrase it.
- Don’t constantly refer to the town in which you are playing eg “Are you with me Cambridge?”
- Comedians are generally two-faced.
- Holding a bottle of beer on stage does not make you a hard-hitting topical comedian.
- Telling the audience you have just come back from entertaining the troops - purely to get a round of applause - is cheap.
- Don’t make up stories to try and impress acts in the dressing room.
- If you hear a nasty rumour about a comedian, don’t just immediately pass it on. Add your own bits and then pass it on.
- Don’t ask the audience if they want some ‘dark stuff’ unless you are offering to buy them a Guinness.
- Don’t patronise a young open spot, or he won’t book you on his new BBC3 show the following week.
- Don’t accept anyone as a friend on Facebook and then bombard them with invites to your shows.
- Retweeting any compliment/reviews/nice comments on Twitter will result in you being talked about by other comedians – and not in a good way.
- Choose a different career.
- Finally, if you’re asked to write an article about things you’ve learned as a comedian, be careful you don’t get carried away…..
Solid advice. All makes sense to me. Why not follow Bennett on twitter: @bennettarron - then take a look at his website: www.bennettarron.co.uk - and now you've got more than enough information to steal his identity. Its fun, give it a shot.
NICK REVELL is another award-winning comedian and comedy writer. He's won the Perrier Award and written on shows like Drop The Dead Donkey, Not The Nine O'clock News and the classic radio series Old Harry's Game. Nick lives in North London, which led to The Guardian calling him "the North London Seinfeld" (Oh, for f*cks sake.) But I think we'd all agree his finest moment was playing my husband in Jo Caulfield Won't Shut Up
Things Nick Revell has learned as a comedian...
- I don’t wear my specs on stage because when I come off and put them and a hat on, I’m less likely to be recognised. Useful if you’ve done badly; and in my opinion, far more useful if you’ve killed.
- Me? Fourth-rate, maybe third-rate. Self-deprecating? Some would say over-inflated. If I continue to work hard, I might be second-rate before I die. Well, I have quite rigorous standards. Which include many categories below fourth-rate.
- Good stand-up depends on connection, charisma, timing, technique and presence. I have none of these things. Which is why I have to rely on trying to write good material. It’s a poor substitute.
- The first ten years are the hardest. Apart from the ten years after you stop for ten years and start again. That was one of the stupidest decisions I’ve made, in a long list of contenders. In fact there’s two there - both stopping, and starting again. (MainIy because I missed the dressing-room banter, since you ask.)
- Can we get one thing out of the way? All comedians do jokes. So, to those prone to mount a high horse over this, let me get on mine:
- A joke is the moment where the comic’s words or gestures make the audience laugh. Whether the structure is obvious or obscure, it’s still a joke.
- One-liners or narrative, machine-gun or drawn-out, confessional or observational, surreal or prosaic, visual or verbal, polemical or whimsical, satirical or scatological, hack or genius, conventional or ostensibly deconstructed, post-modern or antithetical, it doesn’t matter:
- Comedian stops, audience laughs, joke.
- Comedian stops, audience doesn’t laugh, not joke.
- Good. No need to have that conversation again. Ever.
- If you just want to please any audience all the time you’ll never get anywhere.
- If you just want to please yourself all the time you’ll never get anywhere.
- If you can find the right balance between those two positions, chances are you’ll still never get anywhere.
- There is a difference between mainstream and lowest common denominator. Somewhere.
- Of the people who work offstage in comedy, more than you would think have no sense of humour.
- I pity comics who get eaten up by unsatiated ambition and growing bitterness. But I guess, like raw talent, you either have those inclinations or you don’t. Maybe they’re equally essential for making it big. Since I have neither the desire nor the courage to be famous, what do I know?
- But I’d simply suggest: Try to enjoy the journey.(I’m loving it) And if you can’t, don’t spoil it for everyone else by telling them so. Only one thing worse than moaning. The pricks who tell you they’re loving it.
Nick has 43 friends on MySpace (42 if you don't count Tom) Go see him live, he's excellent! See his wesite for dates: www.nickrevell.com - and follow him on twitter: @nickula .
PART 17 - JEN LAVERY
I think this post is genuinely helpful for new comics. There’s a lot of solid advice here about punctuality and why you should stick to your allotted time and how to behave around promoters/bookers.
Jen Lavery originally wrote this a couple of years ago for another blog but its still relevant and she kindly let me post it here.
Who is Jennifer Lavery? Good question.
Jen Lavery is not a comedian, but Jen did spend ten years working with them at The Stand Comedy Club. During that time she did PR for most of the top acts on the circuit (including me! Yeah, I’m a top act, baby), handled bookings and could be found taking notes on the new comics at the Red Raw Show every week.
Jen’s also a journalist. She writes comedy reviews (Stop booing! She needs the money) and very good TV, film and theatre reviews for various papers and websites. Bring it on...
DO try and find your own voice. People who book comedy clubs watch a lot of open-spots and it can get a bit repetitive. The more original you are, the more likely you are to be remembered.
Please DON’T repeatedly hassle the people who book the show.
If you’ve been told you’re on the waiting list, getting back in touch every two days will not move you up any quicker. It will however, mean that the people in the office have you marked down as a grade A pain in the arse before you have even walked on stage.
DO be punctual.
Every show runs on a strict schedule. If you fail to arrive when you are asked to, the promoter will be forced to re-jig the running order. It’s a real pain to do it once, so don’t be surprised if they’re not willing to do it again when you turn up two minutes before you were supposed to perform with a rubbish excuse, or no excuse at all.
If you are running late, please phone ahead and explain. These things happen and as long as you let someone know it’s not the end of the world. But persistent lateness with no good reason will result in you not being booked again.
BTW it’s not only the staff you’ll piss off, but also the other acts on the bill. Most acts like to get into the correct headspace before performing and having the time of their slot changed around because you can’t read a bus timetable is not going to endear you to them one bit.
DO be polite. To EVERYONE.
Acts who are only nice to the people they think are important, while talking down to everyone else, are only fooling themselves if they think no one has noticed.
Please treat the person serving you drinks or taking money on the door with respect. If you don’t, I can pretty much guarantee that YOU will be a topic of conversation when THEY sit down for a drink with the promoter at the end of the night...
DON’T get drunk/wasted before going on stage.
Doing whatever you need to do to relax is obviously a good thing, but take it too far and chances are the only person you’ll be amusing is yourself.
DO stick to your time.
On any given show, the only people who are ever able to justify going over their time are the MC and the headliner. Even then, the MC should only ever do so if the audience are extremely slow to warm up, or if the previous act has unfortunately brought the energy of the room down.
Headliners can go over their time because 1), they are likely to be the strongest act of the night, and 2), no one is waiting to go on after them. And if the MC asks them to keep it tight, for whatever reason, that is what they do.
This being said, over-running is only really acceptable even for headliners if they are having a truly, truly exceptional gig, or if for some reason their set has run out of steam, and they don’t want to end that way. But again, this is a judgement call – sometimes, it’s just not going end on a high note, and grown-ups have to accept that.
Finishing early is best avoided too – the MC, the technician and the bar staff will be expecting you to come off at a certain time, and doing so too soon can catch them off guard. It also throws off the timing for the rest of the show. However, if you are having a terrible gig and just want to get out of there, no one will blame you for doing it every once in a while.
DON’T ever, EVER use someone else’s jokes. EVER.
This is the cardinal sin of the comedy circuit and once you have been labelled a joke-thief, it’s a hard one to shake. Comedians are extremely protective of their set, and quite rightly too. They have worked hard on it, it is their intellectual property, yet it cannot be copyrighted.
If you do try to use someone else’s jokes, don’t expect to get away with it. The circuit is pretty good at policing itself – even if a comedian is not present when someone else uses their material, chances are at least one person in the room will recognise it, and let them know.
Even the worst acts on the circuit get more respect than jokes thieves, because at least they are willing to live and die by their own material.
And don’t think you can pass ‘public domain’ jokes you’ve heard down the pub off as your own. If you’ve heard them, the people you want to book you have definitely heard them.
Don’t, I repeat, DON’T steal jokes.
DON’T try to be offensive just for the sake of it, or because you’ve seen other comedians doing it.
I’m not advising against risky or edgy material, but think about what you're planning to say before you say it.
If you’re unsure about a joke, imagine how you would defend it against criticism. If you can’t think of a good defence, you shouldn’t do it.
If you’re bringing friends along to see you, DO make sure they understand that you are not the only act appearing that night, and it is by no means acceptable for them to talk during the rest of the show.
Don’t be under any illusions that it will not reflect badly on you if they do. Your mates, your fault. Don’t let it happen, and if it does, do your best to shut it down as quickly as possible. If your mates do act like dicks, but you are seen to be trying to stop them, that’s an entirely different story.
Also, if you do bring a lot of people down, it is considered bad form for you all to leave immediately after you have done your spot.
Whether the venue is jammed to the rafters, totally dead, or somewhere in between, you and your friends should have the courtesy to stick around.
If you’re offered a lift to a gig by another comedian DO offer to chip in for petrol. Again, sounds obvious, but one major complaint I hear from comedians about their peers is people who seem to think other people’s money grows on trees. It does not.
If you’re skint, explain that - everyone’s been there. But if you can chip in, at least offer. Sometimes you’ll be told not to be so daft, and that the person driving was going anyway. Other times they will gratefully accept. But with both results, it will often lead to the driver telling you about other acts on the circuit who never pay their way. Nothing like a good bitching session to pass a long journey and bond a budding friendship. You’re welcome.
But that being said – DON’T bitch.
Or do bitch, everyone loves bitching, but know your audience. The comedy circuit is small enough that while everyone may not know absolutely everyone, they will certainly know someone who knows them. Say the wrong thing in front of the wrong person and you can find that little throwaway comment that seemed like a great thing to say at the time come back to haunt you.
IF you ask for feedback, be prepared to hear it.
If you don’t agree with what someone says about your act, DON’T then spend ages arguing with them, or trying to make them admit they were wrong. ("Totally agree. I’d take it further and say NEVER ask for feedback. Tape your set and listen to the audience's reactions, that’s your feedback right there." - Jo.)
DO be as honest as you can with yourself about your set.
It can be hard to admit that a joke isn’t working, especially if it’s one you’re pretty invested in, but if you’ve done it several times and didn’t get any laughs, maybe it’s time to let it go.
It can also be a good idea to get your set filmed once you’ve got a few gigs under your belt. By that time you should also have seen a reasonable amount of other acts, both professional and beginners like yourself, and notice what you can learn from them to improve your stage presence and delivery.
DO always remember – this is a job like any other and if you’re serious about being a comedian you will treat it as such.
If you started a new job and went out for drinks with your new boss and colleagues, would you spend the entire night going on and on at them about your career, where you see yourself in five years, what you think is wrong with the place you work and/or your co-workers? (If the answer to this question is ‘yes’, I’m amazed you have made it so far down this list as you obviously already have all the answers.) No. So don’t do it to people who work in the comedy circuit. Having a discussion about comedy is fine, going on about yourself until someone actually has to tell you to stop, is not.
And on the same note – DON’T be constantly performing.
Some people are surprised, even disappointed, to discover that the act who’s a total livewire on stage, doesn’t spend every other moment of their life acting the same way. And how awful it would be if they did! There’s nothing worse than being stuck in a room with someone who is constantly trying to prove that they are funny and be the centre of attention. Relax.
And finally - DON’T expect instant fame.
In fact, don’t expect any fame. There are plenty of fantastic comedians on the circuit, who while well known amongst their peers, are not famous in a conventional sense. If you don’t think that would be enough for you, then listen up – you would be lucky to be one of them, and would be in honoured company.
Jimmy Carr, Michael McIntyre, Kevin Bridges, John Bishop, etc all spent years climbing up the running order and paying their dues before becoming an ‘overnight sensation’. Be prepared to work.
It takes years to build a real reputation on the stand-up circuit – and maybe if you practice 1 or 2 of these suggestions, your reputation will be for being “a good person and a good comic” - and not for being a complete dick.
Jen would like you all to follow her on Twitter: @JenniferLavery - because she is a complete publicity 'ho. You should also take a look at Jen's blog Reactionary Polemicist and read her excellent articles about comedy and all her comedy/theatre/film/TV reviews. Then, if you run a newspaper, you should ask her to write for you. If you don't run a newspaper, ignore that last line....and this one.
PART 16 - JOJO SMITH
19 years and counting, that's how long JoJo Smith has been getting away with speaking her mind for money. It began as a night out, and it still is. Just happens to be a comedy bender of epic and global proportions. When I was running a comedy club in Hampstead JoJo was always a regular booking. Wow, those posh people loved her! More about JoJo at www.jojosmith.com or if you're on Twitter send all your complains straight to @MissJoJoSmith
- If you’re a woman doing stand-up don’t moan about how hard it is to be a woman doing stand-up. It’s hard for everyone at the beginning, and if you’ve been going for a few years and it’s still hard, chances are you’re a bit shit. Maybe think about another career?
- I know that it’s difficult to get open spots in the established clubs, but be careful you don’t get caught up in the open spot circuit. My best education came from treating my open spots as a night out. Get there early and watch every act. You will learn more from that than you will on any course.
- When you do get an open spot at an established club, don’t bound into the dressing room giving it Johnny Big Bollocks. Someone who’s done 5 minutes at Uncle Fucker’s Chuckle Hut and starts blethering on about it as soon as he walks in, will be instantly branded a twat. This reputation will last.
- When you first start out going on first can be a thankless and scary task, but try and enjoy it. As the years progress you will look back on your opening act days with a golden glow. Time was I could open Jongleurs Watford and be back in my house by 10pm, that’s technically a night off.
- Don’t arrive late on purpose so that someone else has to open, you’ll be considered an asshole forever more.
- Don’t turn up at a gig telling folks ‘Oh I’m closing everywhere now’. Go wherever the promoter has put you in the line up unless you’ve got a really brilliant excuse like you’re dying (for real, not comedy dying). Most of the time, closing means you’re on the stopping train with a bunch of drunks and probably miss the last tube home. It doesn’t necessarily mean you’re the best act on.
- Don’t fake your reviews or add extra stars, there are plenty of people on the circuit who scrutinise that kind of stuff and you will be found out and humiliated. A lot.
- Nobody is interested in a gig you stormed, we all wanna hear about the nightmare gig, the one where you melted down and called the promoter a cunt before storming out.
- If at all possible, don’t have a melt down and call the promoter a cunt. People in this business have a loooooooong memory and you might now be 15 years clean and sober but people will still remember you as the ‘fucked-up’ one.
- No matter how established you are and how many of your mates are on the bill, don’t turn up at The Comedy Store and spend all night in the dressing room if you’re not actually booked to appear. It’s pretty tense in there and the last thing the acts need is some slightly pissed and/or coked up wanker on a night off distracting them from the job in hand.
- Ben Norris’s comments about mic techniques are essential. Until you really feel at home onstage, leave the mic in the stand. That will stop you from shoe-gazing, it will also stop you from shuffling about onstage. It grounds you.
- Don’t stand at the back of a gig when another comedian is on and talk, or play with your phone or do anything you’d hate to see if it was you onstage.
- If you’re a female comedian, don’t ghettoise yourself by doing loads of women only gigs, unless it’s for a special charity event or something. Seriously. You want to be a great comedian, not a great female comedian.
- Likewise don’t demand special treatment because you are a woman. Turn up on time, be cool in the dressing room, be dressed up but not slutty (unless you are an actual slut or it’s a character), don’t whinge about how tough it is for a woman (I know I’m repeating myself, but this bollocks comes up every couple of years), do the best gig you can do, take your money and go home and think about the next gig.
- Don’t flirt with the promoter in the hope of more work, be good and you will have more work than you can handle.
- On the subject of clothing. Make an effort. Even if it is the back room of a pub, to the people who are paying a tenner to see you, it’s showbiz. Wash your hair, wear clean clothes, look like someone who gives a shit.
- Remember that Twitter, Facebook and your blog posts are not private conversations. Don’t slag off another comedian, or promoter on any social media. They will hear about it even if they’re not on it themselves. Likewise don’t be forever on there rabbiting on about how you’re writing your next novel/movie script/Edinburgh show. If you were writing any of these you wouldn’t be fucking about on Facebook. Also, nobody really gives a toss about works in progress. When the book/movie/show appears in the marketplace, then we’ll care.
- Don’t lose your temper onstage - ever. I learned this the hard way and there’s footage out there somewhere to prove it. Once you’re angry you're not funny.
- If you are dying onstage, know when to cut your losses. Sometimes you can turn a gig around, but if they’re chucking stuff get the hell off before you ruin the entire night for everyone else.
- If you have to tell an audience ‘this shit is funny’ it’s not funny.
- If you tell them ‘this is a true story’ its not a true story.
- Audiences are comedy savvy these days. They know when you’re bullshitting, so don’t.
- Finally two pieces of advice given to me by Keith Allen when I first started out (both of which are true):
- You will die more than once in your career. No matter how long you've been going, you can have a death at any time
- The audience can smell fear. Seeing an act onstage who's obviously nervous is really off-putting. Fake it till you make it.
- Once you accept those, get on with it and have a good time. This is the best fun you can have, and you get money for doing it!
JoJo Smith has BIG BALLS.
I particularly love JoJo’s first point:
“If you’re a woman doing stand-up don’t moan about how hard it is to be a woman doing stand-up. It’s hard for everyone at the beginning, and if you’ve been going for a few years and it’s still hard, chances are you’re a bit shit.”
That is SO TRUE.
My own personal Groundhog Day is sitting backstage listening to new comics complaining about the sexist promotor who won’t book them at his club because “he doesn’t think women are funny” - and I’m sitting there thinking “Well, I’ve been playing that club on a regular basis for years ... and to be honest, having seen your set, if it was my club I WOULDN’T book you yet. Now f*ck off and write some decent jokes.”
Every GOOD female standup I know is working. Their diaries are booked solid. Working. Working. Working. If you’re not, its because you’re not good enough. YET. See that word? Y-E-T. Its got nothing to do with sexism. Don't run before you can walk. Spend less time on conspiracy theories and more time writing jokes. End of.
P.S All you bitches can suck my dick.
PART 15 - LIAM MULLONE
Liam Mullone should have a MUCH higher profile. He’s been called “an intellectual bruiser of a comedian” and a "grumpy, selfish rationalist" ... what's not to love about that? The "Man-I'm-Currently-Married-To" saw Liam's Edinburgh Festival show last year and wouldn't shut up about how good he thought it was. That pissed me right off.
If you're in London you can judge for yourself next week - Liam's at the Leicester Square Theatre on 18th April (7pm) with the very last performance of that show, "Down to The Bone". Tickets: http://leicestersquaretheatre.ticketsolve.com/shows/126522375/events
And I like that Liam added this note to his list:
"Here’s my words of ‘wisdom’... I kind of feel like I have little right to lecture as I’m hardly stunningly successful. Also some of my advice is the exact opposite of other people’s... which may be why! But here it is anyway. I took out some of the ones that make me sound like a TOTAL knob."
- Decide if your primary urge is to make a decent living, or a messianic urge to show people something new. Either is fine, but these two things make rather different demands of you. I’ve found that the happiest comics seem to be resolutely ploughing one of these two furrows.
- Remember the 10,000 hours rule. Nobody is good at anything until they’ve done it this long. You may of course be famous before then, but you still won’t be very good.
- Despite the above, a gig should offer at least one of three things: profit, fun or favour. If it offers none of these, don’t do it. This is the ‘gig triad’. Paul Zenon told me about it. Well actually he was talking to Steve Gribbin, but I overheard him so it counts. It sounds obvious but, unless you stop yourself, you’ll do dozens of meaningless gigs early on in the name of ‘stage time’. Talking to three Scandinavians for free isn’t stage time.
- Any joke that’s a ‘banker’ should be regarded in the same light we have come to see bankers. Employ bankers under a suitable miasma of self-loathing.
- If you ever get a round of applause / cheering because people agree, politically, with something you just said, then you should kill yourself. Or at least feel a bit ashamed. You’re not on the bloody hustings.
- Try not to deconstruct bits that aren’t going well on stage, unless you are some sort of unhinged situationist or, like me, you enjoy the sound of your own pain.
- Similarly, try not to point out, for the sake of a laugh, that the gig isn’t going as well as you’d hoped. Every time you do this it steepens the gradient of the uphill gig. A surprising number of people don’t know when a gig is struggling, because nothing ever happens in their village/lives/minds.
- There may be some protozoa on the dark side of Venus that haven’t yet heard the popular opinion that A) Americans are stupid warmongers; B) Having a religious belief is risible; C) The BNP are ignorant; D) The Tories are self-serving and venal... but none of these startling revelations help expand the empire of comedy. If you want to call someone a cunt, try picking someone who isn’t already in the liberal pillory.
- Never bend your material to fit the crowd you’re faced with. Talk about what you came to talk about. Seriously, fuck ‘em.
- The greatest miracle you can perform onstage is to make an audience laugh in spite of itself, or to turn around a bad first impression, or to keep your nerve /timing / intonation when the crowd dislikes you. Recognise when you do these things and give yourself due credit; they are far more important to you than 20 minutes of barnstorming.
- Try not to look needy. The audience doesn’t need to like you to find you funny.
- What Ben Norris said about showing off. Yes. Do try. This does not come naturally to well-adjusted people who were not cosseted and fawned upon by their parents. But DO try.
- Don’t ask the audience who they are or what their job is unless you’re the MC. Even when the MC does it, it’s fucking boring half the time. Most normal people aren’t very interesting. If you don’t believe me then listen to Steve Lamacq talking to them interminably on BBC6 Music, but first put some medieval gauntlets on so you don’t chew your own fingers off in a dissociative fugue.
- If you care about comedy , there will be some comics whose stuff infuriates you; makes you angry and unhappy and resentful every time you hear it. This is healthy. But differentiate between the (usually decent) person and the (bad) material. Especially during conversations in the backs of cars.
- NEVER Google your own name.
- NEVER post on Chortle forums.
- Men: Don’t do comedy in the belief that it will get you laid. The only people who get sex from doing comedy are the people who were getting quite a lot of sex anyway. Their doing comedy is like that giant Ricky Gervais poster telling everyone in Edinburgh he’s already sold out.
- If your life slips into a nocturnal pattern, don’t let the audience be the first people you’ve spoken to since waking up that day. Lubricate your jaw. Talk to people. Sing if possible.
- Learn to drive and get a car. 40% of gig travel misery suddenly disappears and since you can deduct 40p a mile for getting to gigs it makes sense for tax reasons.
- Don’t do a Fringe show that is ‘funny in a subtle way’ or ‘funny but with sad and contemplative bits’ or ‘funny in a storytelling way’. Do a Fringe show that is funny in a very funny way, for 55 funny, funny minutes of funny fun.
- Don’t be a dick. But just as important, try to forgive people who have been a dick to you. Comedy is hard, and we don’t always give ourselves enough credit or each other enough empathy. Which makes all of us occasionally dicklike.
- Forget what other people say about not blaming the audience. Always blame the audience. Some of the most successful comedians have kept their self-esteem, and their sanity, by relentlessly dismissing the audience at a bad gig as thick / drunk / unworthy. And after 20 years of educational haemorrhage there are now whole audiences who don’t get any of the references about anything in the world that has ever happened ever. Try it. It’s liberating.
- Bear in mind that I have never followed any of this advice and I don’t know anyone who has.
- If any of this advice conflicts with that of a better or more successful comedian, default immediately to the better or more successful comedian.
Liam Mullone is at The Stand Comedy Club this August. See his website for details www.mullone.com And take a look at his blog http://www.mullone.com/blog/ and search him out on Twitter: "Just to be clear, if anyone who has offended me wants to give me £1,000 as a gesture of goodwill I won't knock you back." Love that.
PART 14 - JUSTIN MOORHOUSE
Another brilliant list from another brilliant comedian. You'll recognise Justin from Pheonix Nights, and Looking For Eric, and Michael McIntyre's Comedy Roadshow. He's on radio in Manchester every Sunday morning and he run's a pretty amazing website. Take a look at www.justinmoorhouse.com That's a proper website. Also, its a little known fact that if you go along to one of Justin's shows and you bring him a pie, he'll run you home in his Mercedes. What advice does Justin Moorhouse have for new comedians?
- Avoiding name dropping and using other people's anecdotes.
- Don't just bang on about what happens at other gigs on stage.
- You can't be a stand up comedian unless you have to be one. (Mick Ferry told me Lee Evans told him that at the Glee in Birmingham)
- Avoid the word ‘genius’ on your Edinburgh poster.
- Write jokes every day. Write better jokes than you did the day before. Rewrite the jokes you have leaving a space after each punchline to put another punchline in. Seriously, you can’t improve your performance skills off-stage, you can improve your writing though.
- Do every gig you are offered and can do. Nothing beats stage time. Try and see as many of the acts on the show as you can, you’ll learn lots quickly.
- Try and get open spots at the best clubs - make this your focus when booking gigs. I know it’s harder than it used to be, but it’s the only way you’ll progress to paid work.
- Don’t talk about ‘progression’ - no one ever uses this word who goes on to be a comedian.
- No one in any audience will be thinking that you may be the ‘bastard love-child’ of any strange pairing of famous people.
- Keep your fucking hands off the mic stand when you wrap up until you have actually finished if I’m MC’ing.
- For every £100 you earn, keep a third for tax, a third for expenses, spend the rest at the bar.
- Learn from your deaths. It’s always your fault in some way, even if the gig is badly organised, sparsely attended, badly lit, over-heckled, full of Japanese only speakers, beery, in a strip-joint, south of the river, on a bank holiday - whatever. If the other comics didn’t die as badly as you - then you did something wrong.
- Record all your gigs and listen to them twice and twice only (on the way home and on the way to the next gig if possible) make notes. Refer to those notes next time you gig, and repeat.
- Chances are if somebody is doing the same gag as you they didn’t nick it, it was just an obvious joke. Write another one to replace, don’t waste time and energy bemoaning it.
- Try and talk about something else other than comedy with other comedians. You’ll be surprised how interesting it might be.
- There are no hard and fast rules to clothes. Though as I’ve got older I’ve realised the looser and shabbier your clothes are the tighter your stuff has to be on stage. Conversely if you look sharp and like you mean business you can get away with waffling for a bit.
- Topical stuff works well when it’s topical. In fact you can get away with easier/obvious/hack material if it’s clear you’ve wrote it that day. The audience will give you leeway with it. Couple of days after and you need to make sure you have ‘the’ joke to do stuff about a big news story.
- I’ve never understood the point of “give us a cheer if you......”. Seriously, what is the point? Please will someone let me know?
- Try and fill your car up with fuel before you get on the motorway. Have a big wee and a pooh too, take a snack and some water. Anything to avoid service stations in Britain - they are the work of the Devil.
- The first time you headline it should be a thrill. Savour it and strive to always be the top of the bill. There will come a time when you will gladly go on first at any gig so you can get home at a decent hour (providing the money is the same of course).
- If you do compere then every act on the bill should have the same introducing line, something like.....please welcome our next act....John Smith. Not “our next is a woman” or “our next act is quite new”...or “I worked with this act last week, he had a bad one then but I reckon he’s got something about him...”
- Enjoy it. It’s not just a job - it’s the best job in the world.
Love that bit about shabby clothes/tight material and sharp clothes/waffling. Totally agree with that. And the line 'Try and talk about something else other than comedy with other comedians. You'll be surprise how interesting it might be" - absolutely! Can we all please do that?
My personal favourite is the "bastard love-child of any strange pairing of famous people" ... whenever I hear a young comic start that line I always think, "You look like the bastard love-child of a complete bastard and a complete c*nt, now fuck off"
PART 13 - BEN NORRIS
Comedian, rapper, TV warm-up, rapper, comedy writer, rapper. Corporate events, award ceromonies, rap battles and freestyling. Ben Norris has been a Stand-Up comedian for 19 years. 19? That's interesting because in World War II the the average age of the combat soldier was 26. In Vietnam it was 19. 19. Ni-ni-ni 19. (Visit Ben's website for more O.G. tunes) I asked Ben, what does he SERIOUSLY know now that he wishes he'd known when he started...
- The first bit is the worst bit.
- When you’re new at stand-up, everything’s rather stacked up against you. You don’t have much material, the material you do have is mostly rubbish, your stagecraft is poor and your confidence starts off low and can then get even lower.
- However, you might be one of those new acts who have that certain special something that carries you through all of this relatively unscathed.
- You just have to believe in yourself, even when you have little right to do so.
- Stage time is the only thing that will make you a better comic, oh, and writing funny stuff.
- As tempting as they are to use, don’t use stock lines…ever. Surprisingly, it turns out no one has actually ever “learnt to whisper”…not in a helicopter nor anywhere else (well, there was one whispering workshop but no one heard about it).
- However, I think we can all agree that it is really annoying when you go out for a conversation and somebody builds an appalling open-mike night around you.
- Microphone technique:
Hold the microphone just below your chin, not just below your nipples, it will definitely work better that way.
- Don’t look at your feet:
Try and look at your audience, it’s amazing how many new acts spend more time shoe gazing than engaging their audience. Try not to focus on any of the faces but make it look like you are, you will always be disturbed by anyone who doesn’t crack a smile during your act… these people are psychotic and only go to comedy to freak performers out.
- It’s ok to show off a bit:
It takes ages for most people to accept that it’s ok to show off a little bit in the world of stand-up. The audience want more than anything for the comedian to be good. In order to persuade them that you are good you need to do an impression of someone who is 50% more confident than you actually are, though there is a fine balance to be struck here and if you are in real life a bit of a bell-end you will never understand this.
- Display some human frailty:
In amongst all this bravado and confidence, you will also benefit from demonstrating some measured self-deprecation. I think the audience want to see that you’re confident but at the same time that you have your feet on the ground (difficult if you plan to deliver your act sat on a stool).
- Material theft:
It’s really not a good idea to use anybody else’s material but if you are going to steal don’t use your own terrible stuff as well, it’ll stand out like a sore thumb.
Why not just do it like a tribute act?
More about Ben at www.bennorris.co.uk When you're there make sure you buy Ben's CD and watch the video for The Beige Rap. Or don't. Its up to you. I'm not your mother.
PART 12 - IAN STONE
Ranked amongst the top ten Stand-Ups in Britain by The Independent, Ian Stone is easily one of the most talented topical acts and comperes in the country. Me and Ian started around the same time, did a lot of our open-spots together and were practically neighbours for the best part of 15 years. Totally love this list...
- If you’re doing an act, don’t overrun unless the compere has actually died. And even then, call an interval. If you go more than two minutes over your allotted time, you’re either a) stupid, b) thoughtless or c) both.
- Don’t overrun as the compere. No-one wants to still be there at 11-30 on a weeknight.
- If, when you’re introduced, you ask for a round of applause for the MC, you’re either a) from North America and you haven’t been here very long or b) shit.
- There is literally no situation in which other comics want to hear about your great gigs.
- There is literally no situation in which other comics don’t want to hear about your terrible gigs.
- If you have new material, do not under any circumstances try it out on established acts unless they specifically say you can. And even then, don’t.
- If you’re giving another act a lift back to town from an out of town gig and they live more than ten miles out of your way, do not let them guilt trip you into giving them a lift home unless you like them.
- Do not do a joke that ends with ‘and then I had to get off the bus’ unless you used to be a bus driver.
- If you’re a female comedian starting out, don’t sleep with established male comedians. No matter how attractive you might find them.
- If your first line on stage is to say you look like someone else who is vaguely famous, you may get booked at clubs for a few years but you will never be a proper comedian.
- If you’re black and you do a “funny black accent”, stop it.
- If you won’t go on first because you think you’re better than that, you need to take a long hard look at yourself in the mirror.
- If you know you’re going on first but you purposely arrive late so you don’t have to, you’re a tool.
- If you affect an accent that isn’t yours and then get upset when people suggest you’re a character act, you need to take a long hard look at yourself in the mirror.
- If you’re a male comic and you say that you’re sexually attracted to a female member of the audience and you’re even slightly serious, you’re a tool.
- For male comedians – Women who speak to you after the gig aren’t talking to you because of your looks.
- Please don’t do a joke where you say that clitoris is a Greek Island. It’s not.
- Please don’t do a joke where you say ‘you know that in plane crashes, the only thing that survives is the black box so why don’t they make the planes out of that?’ Because a) everyone’s thought of it before you and b) if planes were made of that material, they’d never get off the ground.
- Don’t do jokes about rape or genocide or peadophilia. You’re not ready.
- Don’t do regional accents unless you can actually do them.
- If you’re a gay male comic, try and keep the misogyny to a minimum.
- There are almost no circumstances in which the words a) fingering (except when applied to guitar playing and b) bumming (particularly of tramps) will not elicit a laugh. If these are done “in or near a skip” all the better.
- Don’t go to Edinburgh just because your agent/manager wants you to.
- If you do go to Edinburgh, the less expectations you have, the more you’ll enjoy it.
- If you get a very nice review, it’s OK to put it on your publicity but don’t bring it up in conversation.
- Don’t drink before a gig. It never makes you funnier.
- Never do a joke that requires you to read from a newspaper.
- Don’t engineer an encore by shamelessly grandstanding at the end of your gigs.
- Don’t come on to music at a regular club gig. You’ll look like a tit.
- Don’t tell anyone about anything you’re up to unless they specifically ask you. Even then, downplay it.
- Don’t shout unless the joke is about shouting.
- Don’t do an impression of someone with learning difficulties unless the person you’re talking about actually has learning difficulties. And then definitely don’t.
- Try to keep in mind that just because you do comedy, it doesn’t make you special.
- At the end of the gig, try to return to a reasonable level of humanity as quickly as possible.
- Be nice to the doormen and women and all the other staff. A) the gig couldn’t happen without them and b) you might need them at some point.
- Try and make some sort of effort. If you go on stage and just look bored, do something else.
- Don’t tell the audience that something funny happened on the way to the gig unless it did.
- If you’re from North America, don’t change American references to British ones. It sounds false and anyway, we know a lot more about you than you do about us.
- Also for North Americans – don’t ask us to list your comedy “achievements” before you go on. We don’t like to do it and audiences don’t like to hear about them.
- If you’re doing the gong show at The Comedy Store and I’m MCing, please don’t take offence at anything I say about your act. I’m only doing it because that’s what the show requires. And also because I mean it and it gives me a tremendous sense of power being rude to new acts in a controlled environment.
- At the end of the evening, go home.
For more about Ian go to www.ianstonecomedian.co.uk BTW if you're in London you can see Ian at the Southbank Festival. He's at the E4 Udderbelly on 31st May. See www.underbelly.co.uk for full details. Ian's also a MASSIVE football fan. He supports Spurs, Chelsea, West Ham, Charlton, Barnet, Orient, QPR, Crystal Palace, Millwall, Brentford, AFC Wimbledon and Fulham.
PART 11 - ROB HITCHMOUGH
Big thanks to Rob Hitchmough for sending this to me. Rob's a comedian and writer, who also teachs Stand-Up Comedy at The City Lit & Actors Centre. These are some of the notes he gives to his students...
- Do it because you like doing it, not because you want to be on the telly. Mark Steel was once asked what his ambition was, he replied, “To be a better stand-up.”
- Don’t do it for the money.
- So we’ve established you’re doing it for the right reasons, put the work in! Just attending a comedy course and clocking up lots of stage time is not enough.
- If you go down the character route, don’t pretend to be someone who is rubbish, then come off stage after you’ve died complaining that the audience ‘didn’t get it’.
- If someone is picking you up in a car DON’T BE LATE and be absolutely sure where you are being picked up from, especially if a train station has more them one exit.
- Remember the car pecking order. If you’re the driver please remember your place, you probably only got the gig because you can drive. The elder statesmen of the circuit sits in the front, regardless of ability; the junior paid acts sit in the back, with the open spot in the middle.
- It’s OK to be influenced by other comics but don’t copy them, find your own voice. Think how do I make my friends laugh? Then go from there.
- Script your set, then go through it and decide how much you can lose. We don’t need to know why you were in the supermarket and there’s no need for too much pre-amble before you encountered the automated telephone answering machine. Unless of course the preamble is funny.
- Don’t do material about supermarkets or automated telephone answering machines.
- Be realistic about what to expect from a comedy course.
- If it’s any good, these are the things you can expect to learn: 1) A little stage craft. 2) Microphone technique. 3) How to deal with nerves. 4) Some writing and editing techniques. 5) The mechanics of the circuit.
- A comedy course will not automatically make you a professional stand up; you have to do that yourself. What it will do, if it’s any good, is speed up the learning process.
- Check the pedigree of anyone who is running a course. The best stand-ups don’t always make the best teachers but if they haven’t made a living from it they may not be up to it.
- If they’ve written stand-up professionally for other people but are not a performer themselves then yes, they’re probably worth signing up with.
- Only sleep with a promoter if you fancy them and they give their consent.
Check out Rob at: www.robhitchmough.com Ask him about his Stand-Up course. (PS Never sleep with your teacher)
PART 10 - GARETH WAUGH
Gareth is a newer young Scottish comic. I rate him very highly. He does bits and pieces with us at The Edinburgh Comedy Collective shows. (Don't know how but I deleted this last week, well now its back)...
- Don’t make yourself a Facebook fan page – Unless you are a full time comic there is no reason for you to have this. Especially if you have only done 30 gigs other comedians will think you are a dick because you don’t have fans yet, in fact you are lucky to have friends. Also if a promoter is considering booking you and google’s your name and a Facebook fan page comes up that has 27 likes from your mates from school it won’t look great on you.
- Make sure you have a punchline – I’ve seen a lot of new acts that tell a set up and then have a go at the audience for not laughing! Why would they you haven’t cracked a joke yet!
- Don’t tell an audience to laugh – They have paid money (most of the time) and have decided to take in a show, they want to laugh (most of the time) if they are not that isn’t their fault its yours (most of the time)
- Record your gigs – And actually watch/listen to them back several times. Don’t just record it and have it just clog up your iTunes, learn from it, what little changes did you make? Did you do a funny line you don’t normally do? What bits didn’t work? Analyse it until you hate your own set and then do it all again at the next gig.
- Never stop writing – It can be exciting when you get your first really tight 5 minutes and you want to keep doing it because it is safe and you know it will get laughs but take the risks and keep new stuff coming.
- Move the stand out the way if you are taking the mic out of it. First thing I ever got told as a stand up and it is second nature now. If you don’t move the mic stand it draws attention away from you. But don’t make a Posh Spice joke when you do it.
- Start smoking – A lot of comedians smoke and it’s a good chance to chat to other comics individually. Who cares about the health risks? There’s nothing funny about a healthy person.
- Don’t be hack.
- Don’t get all preachy when you haven’t even been going two years….
PART 9 - MIKE GUNN
Mike Gunn is a brilliant Stand-up comedian. I've known him forever. We started comedy around the same time, did our first Edinburgh Festival together, and it was me that suggested he should go bald. This is some of the things Mike Gun has learned as a comedian...
- Stand-up comics can often become bitter.
- It is impossible to find the clitoris.
- Black men are well hung and have a great sense of rhythm.
- Most male openspot comics do not have a girlfriend.
- If at any point in your act you say, “Strap in” - you are shit.
- If any of your jokes finish with, “...so I stabbed him” - you are shit.
- If you post on the Chortle forums more than twice a week - you are shit.
- You can be as sexist as you like as long as you are not a man.
- You can be as racist as you like as long as you are not white.
- If you are white just the word ‘black’ mentioned in any context will elicit a gasp from the audience, and at least one person will accuse you of being racist.
- Some routines are continually recycled / stolen and get laughs despite being total nonsense. E.g. Male comic struts about the stage bragging about not giving oral sex, often described as, “Not going down town, because it’s nasty”.
- They do not seem to realise that what they are actually saying is “I’m a male chauvinist pig. I’m sexually repressed. I’m boring in bed. I’m so unaware I actually think it is cool to brag about this”.
- Comics feel strongly about other acts stealing their material but no one else could care less.
- If you are good at accents or face pulling you can get away with appallingly bad material.
- If you are famous you can get away with appallingly bad material.
- If you are young and good looking and have an attitude you can get away with no material.
- Shouting can make week material seem better.
- Stand-up comics can often become bitter.
- If a Stand-up is on stage and all the other acts come out of the dressing room to watch - they are dying.
- For most audiences no joke is ever going to be funnier than seeing a fat man dancing.
- Stand-up comics can often become bitter.
- Most men secretly think they could do stand-up comedy.
- If you are in a car or dressing room with other more experienced comics do not continually talk about blowing the roof off or storming gigs. No one will care, no one will believe you but everyone will hate you.
- If however you talk about a time when you died, we will be very interested; we will believe you and we will warm to you.
- If you really want to make friends, talk in great detail about a headline act who you recently saw die.
- When you die the audience decide that they hate you before you even open your mouth.
- If you are horrible to a nervous new act, who is doing a try-out spot, they will remember it forever. I know this for a fact.
- Routines that work very well in clubs can look terrible on TV.
- Ever year ticket sales rise at the Edinburgh festival but no one makes any money, apparently.
- Technical staff will make you feel like you are patronising them for explaining in detail when to play your simple walk on / sound cue, but will then screw it up completely.
- Technical staff will be dressed in black, have a ponytail and be eating something from a plastic box.
- It is impossible to drive any where in the UK without getting stuck at road works.
- It takes much longer than usual to drive anywhere on a Friday.
- Train fares are ridiculously expensive and morons have devised the fair structures. It is often less expensive to travel 1st class than standard class.
- Train coaches will either be extremely hot or freezing.
- Stand up comics can often become bitter.
Mike's currently out on a National tour with Sean Collins, check out www.MikeGunn.co.uk for all the dates. Two comics for the price of one - how can you refuse? Or follow Mike on Twitter : @Mikegunn1 - he's always happy for a late-night online discussion about photocopiers. This is TRUE. Try him.
PART 8 - MICK FERRY
Here we go again kiddies - this time its the very funny Mick Ferry (he's one of my favourites). You'll want to read this one twice. Read it and learn, read it and learn...
- Standing at a jaunty angle can get you onto the telly.
- Some amazing things can happen on trains or buses, usually they are wonderful moments that need to be explained with a very clever metaphor. Remember these happenings on public transport and regale an audience with them. I have been performing for nearly fourteen years and unfortunately I have yet to witness an amazing moment on public transport. Fingers crossed it could yet still happen for me.
- Talking about things that happened at other gigs is very important, if you can do twenty minutes of material that just recalls heckles you had or heckles that your comedy friends had, then you don't have to write any proper material. You have saved yourself a lot of time and effort.
- Open with a Peodophile joke and close with a rape joke. It's exactly what promoters are looking for. If you can throw in a couple of aids references then you have nailed it.
- Always Iron your clothes!
- Shoes are important, you can tell a lot about a person from the footwear they have.
- Be your own harshest critic, never say you have “Smashed it” or “Stormed it” when you quite clearly haven't.
- Always pay towards petrol.
- If you have an i-phone then use it all the time in the dressing room. Thankfully dressing room banter and conversation is dying out because of the i-phone.
- If a fellow comic ever says to you, “You should open with that.” Never take their advice.
Want to know more about Mick Ferry? Want Mick Ferry to contribute towards your petrol? Send him an email and he'll send you a cheque straight away www.mickferry.co.uk Go see him live. You'll thank me.
PART 7 - JO CAULFIELD
This was one of my early posts but I've moved it up because I still stand by everything I wrote ...
- If you're given the choice between a brand new radio mic or an old fashioned mic with a lead - take the old mic with the lead every time.
- Just because something gets a laugh doesn’t mean it’s funny.
- NEW MATERIAL BUT NO GIGS? Try your new material out in conversation - unless you’re talking to me. I HATE it when people do that. It’s so obvious and so rude and I so hope it dies when you finally say it on stage.
- 2 GOLDEN RULES: 1) Don’t over run. 2) Don’t annoy the barstaff.
- PROMOTERS: The comedian goes on first THEN the band. Never the other way around. A comedian can’t follow two guitars, bass, drums, pyrotechnics and stage-diving ... no matter how sharp his/her observations about cats and dogs are.
- If your topical material needs the prefix “do you remember when...” - that means it’s no longer topical material. (Goodbye George W. Bush, goodbye charity wristbands, goodbye Shannon Matthews, goodbye, so long, fare well.)
- A lot of comedy comes from negative emotions - try and do some pieces that come from love and joy and happiness and silliness ... but disguise them as hate.
- ON TOUR - buy sandwiches before the show! Nothing kills the ‘good gig buzz’ more than a hotel that doesn’t serve food after 11pm.
- Congratulations! - You've had a new Baby. My condolences! - To your set. Seriously, shut the fuck up about it. You're baby isn't as funny as you think it is. Did it pee over its head? Did it? Is that what it did? Did it pee over its head? Oh fuck off.
- NEW COMICS: Don’t spend too much time worrying about or preparing for hecklers. It very rarely happens nowadays and if it does, the club usually throws them out. Boom! Sorted.
- If you get paid for doing what you want to do - you’re a success.
- Comics who say they are ‘dangerous’ and ‘on the edge’ and ‘tell it like it is’ are always full of shit. They are never dangerous, they are nowhere near the edge and they don’t tell it like it is - they tell it EXACTLY like every other bland hack Bill Hicks wannabe.
- Never throw ideas away. Jot them down and stick them in a box. You’ll use them eventually.
- NEW COMICS: Start your own club. And don’t book established comics who told you not to start your own club.
- Be economical with your words. Don’t go on and on and on and on and on and on and on and on. And on. And on.
While you're thinking about that why not head over to iTunes and download my podcast? "The Good, The Bad and The Ugly" - if you don't like it, I'll give you your money back.
PART 6 - ZOE LYONS
Some things Zoe Lyons learned as a comedian...
- You will die at some point on stage, it will happen sure as eggs is eggs you will die on stage. But you have to remember no one actually died instead you will get to relive the horror of that stage death again and again in a stream of Vietnam like flash backs that will creep into the corners of your mind when you least expect it. You may be buying red peppers in Asda, contemplating that evenings meal ... Spaghetti? Ratatouille ? .... Boom...... Memory of the death the week before...Shudder,drop peppers run screaming from Asda. This is perfectly normal behaviour, do not overly concern yourself.
- If you live in Brighton and you do a gig in Plymouth for £100 pounds after petrol and a light snack you will be £11.48 in profit. If however you get flashed by a speed camera that you feel was unfairly positioned at the point where a dual carriage way goes down to one lane and you unsuccessfully contest the fine you will be £48.52 poorer than when you left Brighton .
- Try and be yourself. All the great comics are very firmly in their own shoes. You can be a very convincing you or a crappy rip off of someone else.
- Be confident but know when to cap it. Other comics may smile at your face as you are loudly telling them how you rescued a gig from the brink of disaster with your super human wit and stormed it so hard you ripped it a new one and then tore the tits off and blew the roof skyward but they are imagining punching you in the neck. Be modest, it is so much better than being the person who other people want to punch in the neck.
- Don't agree to do comedy at someone's wedding. I did it once and just about got away with it but I was acutely aware that it is very easy to ruins someone's special day.
- Do lots of gigs when you are starting. You will learn more the more difficult they are.
- Don't say you can do a 20 minute spot if you actually only have 10 mins of material. You will come unstuck, the booker won't be pleased and you will only make things harder for yourself in the long run. I have however managed to squeeze a nine year career out of a flabby 5.
- A joke may take some time to fully develop. If you try something and it doesn't work first time but you feel it is funny it might just need tweaking. Don't bin it too soon.
- Comedy for kids has the potential to destroy you as a person.
- As a female comic you will be asked on a weekly basis why there are so few females on panels shows and is it harder being a woman in comedy. Get cards printed with your stock answer, it will save loads of time.
- Tebay motorway services are the best services in Britain. It has a farm shop and sells home made sausage rolls as big as your head. If all motorway services were this good my life generally would be 5.67% happier overall.
Zoe's one of my favourite comics. She runs a great show down in Brighton, she's continually touring, she takes a new show to the Edinburgh Festival every year - she works HARD. That's what makes her good.
For more about Zoe, check out her website www.zoelyons.co.uk
She be bitchin'.
PART 5 - LEWIS SCHAFFER
Some things Lewis Schaffer learned as a comedian...
- Don't do it. Stand-Up is the only job where you can be miserable before, during, and after doing it. The happiest man I ever met was my color-rectal surgeon in Greenwich Village, Dr. Bruce Gingold.
- Take a comedy course. I took one at the Comic Strip in New York in 1993. You will learn that you cannot learn to be a comic from a comedy course. Then, when you're a failure, you'll know for sure it wasn't because you didn't take a comedy course. (All comics think they are failures compared to at least one other comic.) PS. I recommend Ivor Dembina's course at The Hampstead.)
- Be nice to other comics. Tell them how funny they are; write jokes for them; give them your jokes; laugh at their jokes; appear to stand up for them against the club owners; get a car and give them rides; shut up in the car; help the blonde comic by sending her something about comedy; recommend your friend's comedy course. If they like you they'll recommend you to Eugene at the Chuckle Club.
- Some non-friends of Lewis Schaffer, remembered:
- Louis CK and his disdain for me. How, after looking at the running order at the Boston Comedy Club where I was MCing, he dropped my clipboard onto the sidewalk of West 3rd Street. Maybe he hated me or hated working the Boston Comedy Club or hated Barry Katz, the club owner and his old manager. I doubt I'll have the chance to ask him.
- A shocked and furious Dave Chappelle. How, after I red-lighted him at the Boston Comedy Club, Chappelle called his manager and my boss, Barry Katz, and asked that I be fired. He was right. Chappelle was a star and blazingly funny and you don't red light someone like that, even if there is a line around the block waiting to get into the next show. Sorry.
- America's answer to Stewart Lee: Marc Maron. How, having not seeing me for in over 12 years, told his huge podcast audience I was "a very bitter and weird man." (WTF podcast 5 January 2012, #243 minute 52). I think he's right.
- Don't name drop. No one cares who you knew in New York or who knew you, even if you are appearing to be self-deprecating. And don't be self-deprecating. Be authentically self-critical. [Insert joke here. Remember to be funny all the time. You're a comic, damn it.]
- Don't make club people cry. No matter how many times you tell Estee, the manager at the Comedy Cellar in New York, that you are genuinely sorry, and no, you never wanted her job booking comics at the Comedy Cellar, you will never work there again.
- Follow the rules of the club. If Jongleurs asks you not to tell your 911 joke again, don't tell it again. December, 2001 may really be too soon. You need the money and without money you'll get thrown out of your house and you kids will grow up calling another man "Dad".
- Be nice to club staff. The most important people in any club are the tech people and bar staff. If they don't want to see you, you won't be coming back, no matter how funny you are and how much money you make the club. Okay, if you make the club masses of money, they will put up with anybody.
- Similarly, if the owner of the club wants to be treated like he is a somebody, treat him like a somebody. We all want to be somebodies. And treat his club like it is a something. It is to him.
- Don't move. Don't move to another country or city unless you're the King of Comedy in your home town or country. Not even if you have no plan "B" in your home country, and meet a girl and it all seems like a lark. Stay put. (Similarly, don't fire your manager or agent, ever.)
- Be nice. BE NICE.
- Comedy is hard work. You will be the sole proprietor of a small business. You will have to create, market and produce a product - laughs generated from you. Then you will have to file your taxes for the years 2006/7, 2007/8, 2008/9, 2009/10, and 2010/11. Comedy is not for the lazy. If you were a loser, at say, selling advertising space at the Pennsylvania Wine and Liquor Quarterly or renting apartments for Feathered Nest in New York, you'll probably struggle to make it as a comic, anywhere.
- Read your reviews. All opinions are valid and valuable, even the ones from 19 year-olds writing for WeOnlyReviewfor3weeksAyearInEdinburgh.com. I learned something about my act from the one who called my show "an harrowing mid-life crisis" and the one who said it was "mildly racist - One Star". And don't write a song about your bad reviews unless the reviewer isn't the regular comedy reviewer for the Guardian.
- Never make lists about what you learned as comic. It will call into question whether you are a "real" comic or not.
Lewis Schaffer performs "Lewis Schaffer is Free until Famous" every Tuesday and Wednesday at The Source Below, 11 Lower John Street, Soho, W1F 9TY. The longest running solo comedy show in London - over 250 performances.
For more about Lewis, check out his website www.lewisschaffer.co.uk
For less about Lewis, don't.
PART 4 - ALISTAIR BARRIE
Want more advice? I asked another well respected comedian...
- Always listen to Ian Moore. The advice will be worse but the lists will be funnier.
- Don't do it. There’s safety in numbers. Added to which, I can’t do anything else and it’s already crowed.
- Please do it because you want to be a comedian and not because you want to be a TV presenter. I know that won’t stop you, but could I just take the opportunity to tell you to fuck off now? It’ll save time later.
- The best advice I received when I started was from Donna McPhail. She said, “You don’t do comedy, comedy does you.” Donna is now a cabinet maker in Huddersfield.
- Gig. A lot. And then gig some more. Stage time is invaluable, especially early on, as you will find yourself in many ‘challenging’ situations. You will learn a lot more from these godawful shite gigs than you will from a storming twenty at The Comedy Store ten years down the line.
- The biggest leap in StandUp is from being a good ten to a good twenty minute act. Don’t rush it. The audience will have more patience when you’re doing ten because a) you’re new, b) someone else will be along in a minute and c) it’s a lot easier to sit through a patchy ten than a patchy twenty, during which time you’re likely to start dying on your arse quite badly. Probably around the ten minute mark.
- Watch other comics. Good and bad at first, and then try to stick to the good ones. I find it really hard to watch bad stand up, although everyone loves watching a good one do badly.
- Work hard. Everyone who has broken really big in the post-Alternative era, from Izzard to Carr, McIntyre to Millican, have all had a really strong work ethic to grind out the material and constantly improve. It does work. If you’ve got the actual talent, how can it not?
- Have the actual talent. This is often missed, and to be fair, is not always a massive hindrance, especially if what you really want is to be a TV presenter.
Don’t be a dick. Do your time, don’t do anyone else’s jokes, offer to pay for petrol and don’t turn up pissed. Be a decent human being where possible, and apologise when you’re not. There are a couple of very famous exceptions to this rule, but a lot more unfamous ones. As far as I’m concerned, if you can’t manage Point 10, see Point 3.
Finally, read ‘Adventures in the Screen Trade’ by William Goldman. There is a very well known piece of advice in it about writing. If you don’t think you’ve heard it already, you have, you just weren’t paying attention. It also applies to life itself, which, as we all know, is merely a poor attempt at StandUp comedy.
Alistair Barrie is a good example of working hard. Check out his website here , he reviews restaurants in his blog 'Food Ponce' , he's a key member of the fantastic No Pressure To Be Funny podcast (although, it's not that great because I've never been on it) and he represented Britain in last years European Disco Dancing championship. (He came 3rd)
I asked a couple of well respected comedians I know if they had any words of advice...
IAN MOORE :
- If you think compering is just about picking on the front row, you're wrong. The second row are the smug ones.
- 'Nostalgia' material is not what it was.
- If a member of the audience wants to punch you onstage, make damn sure there's a camera around for YouTube purposes. If not, run.
- If you carry a bag onstage, you're already starting from further back.
- Everybody has to do Highlights and Jongleurs at some point, just don't eat the food.
- Don't use your stand up routine as a chat up line. I could name those that do, but you'll have already slept with them.
- Don't wear a suit if you don't know how to wear a suit.
- Do not start your set with, "I know what you're thinking, I look like the love-child of..." They aren't and you don't; write a joke instead.
For more info about Ian Moore check out: www.ianmoore.info/ And make sure you read his fantastic blog. Its all about... ah... yeah... its about... ah... Okay I haven’t actually read it myself but I’m pretty sure there’s stuff about Black Sabbath and Deep Purple and Heavy Metal. Probably.
DES McLEAN :
- Obviously don’t do anybody else's material & even if it's coincidence just bin it. Not worth the hassle.
- Don't presume everybody knows a headline story in the paper that you have a topical routine about, sometimes half the people in the room haven’t bought that paper or are too busy on twitter all day.
- Be nice in the dressing room, keep bitching down to a minimum, there are great comics out there who do good stuff on stage, but are a pain in the arse in the green room & that's what puts people off booking them.
- If you are gonna lie about gigging somewhere, don't say it's in The Stand, Store, Jongleurs, you will get found out. The comedy world is tiny, everyone knows where your playing.
- If you die on your hole just admit it and get on with it, don't start blaming the crowd, venue, compere, etc. We all have a bad day at the office and will again so just get over it.
- Don't go on about a bad review, all you do is attract more attention to it. And people couldn't give a fuck if you got a great review either, especially comics.
Des McLean is a Scottish comedian - but don’t hold that against him. Visit his website for more info: www.desmclean.com/ Des doesn't have a blog because he’s not as intelligent as Ian Moore.
- STAGE TIME IS EVERYTHING "Where did Picasso come from? There's no Michelangelo coming from Pittsburgh" (Do some research)
- Most comedians started the same way. They phoned a comedy club, they were given a 5 min slot, they went along, and did it. Some had to wait 2 weeks for their slot, some had to wait 2 months, some had to wait 4 months. But it all came down to phoning a club, turning up on the night, and doing it.
- Repeat this again and again and again... and you will get better.
- If you take a StandUp Comedy Course ALWAYS ask to see a video of the person teaching the course actually performing StandUp comedy. If you find them funny, that’s a good sign. If you don’t find them funny, maybe they’re not the teacher for you.
- (I’ve recently heard about StandUp comedy classes being TAUGHT by people who are NOT and NEVER HAVE BEEN StandUp comedians.)
- Try and work in good clubs with good comedians. It’s like playing a sport - you raise your game playing with a better player.
- Write your material with a sarcastic tone of voice, then read it back in a normal tone.
- (Or ... write it with a sarcastic tone of voice, put on some cheap garish rings, flounce around the room and read it back in a sarcastic tone while pretending you’re me.)
- Lights on the comic - audience in the dark. Never the other way round. If the lights are on the audience they become self conscious and stop laughing.
- Saturday night audiences want their comic dressed up. Monday night audiences want their comic dressed down.
- Sunday night audiences want it *naked*!
- Beware the young comic who brings ‘ironic detachment’ for that person is a pain in the arse in the dressing room and has the soul of Sargent Bilko.
- Taxi drivers know all the bad jokes. (With the exception of Big Mark in Edinburgh)
- Use visual words as opposed to passive words.
- Modulate your voice to underscore a line.
- Never pay to go onstage. Especially in front of a paying audience. It devalues the art-form that is StandUp Comedy in the UK.
- Sometimes you just have to do the gig, go home and pretend it never happened.
- MC’s: Sometimes the comedian doesn’t need the audience whooping and shouting and singing - sometimes the comedian wants a more low-key subtle start. Did you ever think of that? Of course not, you’re an MC.
- Oh come on! It was a fucking joke. Didn’t you realise it was a joke? Of course not, you’re an MC.
- OPEN-SPOTS: It’s bad manners to bring 10 friends to the show, go on in the first half, then leave during the interval taking your 10 friends with you. That’s not cool. That’s not funky. That’s not going to get you more bookings.
- OPEN-SPOTS: Read that one above again. Support your *community*.
- Go see some Magicians and study the art of deception.
- Just because you make an audience laugh, it doesn't mean they'll buy you a drink after the show. No matter how long you hang around the bar looking 'approachable'.
- New Comics - you've got to move to a city or big town where you can get up onstage every night of the week.
- You learn more from a bad gig than you do from a good gig.
- When the promoter/MC tells you "not to use bad language because this audience doesn't like it" - they haven't got a fucking clue what they're talking about.
- New Comics - look at the audience. Let them see your face. Make eye contact with the audience.
- There should never be a BIG GAP between the performer and the audience. If there is, the stage/room is set up wrong!
- A 'comedy hat' sounds funny but, believe me, they NEVER really work onstage.
- Don't tell anyone you're a Stand-up Comedian until that is your sole source of income. Seriously, if you spend 40 hours each week working as an accountant and only 20 minutes each week onstage, you're an accountant!
- Slow down. And then slow down some more. Let the audience hear and appreciate what you're saying. Don't be so keen to rush to the next line.
- Write a new joke on Twitter every day - and watch a new comic tell them onstage the following week.
- Lunchtime comedy gigs are like outdoor comedy gigs = dreadful. Stay away from them. Both as a performer and as an audience member.
- Always, always, A-L-W-A-Y-S refer to musical comics as prop comics. Especially if they are within hearing distance.
- No matter how well you do, the audience always want to tell you about another comedian they really, really like. Usually from a TV show you really, really hate.
- Start with a good joke, have several great jokes in the middle and end with a strong song. Sorry, did I say "song"? I meant "interpretive dance".
- New Male Comics - just because every other act on the bill uses the term "a bit rape-y" or "rape-y eyes" doesn't mean you have to. Obviously you're going to but I'm sure you could do something more unique if you tried. Oh, wait a moment... no, you couldn't.
- Try a new joke three times, if it still doesn't work - throw away the audience.
- New Comics - stay and watch the headline act. Buy her a drink. she'll be hanging around the bar, looking 'approachable'.
- Avoid using words in the set-up that are in the punchline.