Friday, 21 March 2014

Advice for Aspiring Stand-ups

I'm not a comedian, but I've seen a lot of stand-ups over the years and interviewed hundreds of others, ever keen to see what makes them tick and what makes a good comedy routine great. 

Of course chatting to the likes of Ricky Gervais, Russell Howard and Sean Lock gets you so far. Some comics nail a universal truth that touch a chord with the masses while a favourite stand-up like Stewart Lee has mastered the repeat-until-funny schtick.
Then there are those too-cool-for-school acts who think winging it is enough to get by. 
Some gifted comedians may be able to sustain laughs for a few minutes before the wheels come off. Others never even get off the comedy slip road and onto the M-fun. 

Such is the case with the worst alleged comedy act I ever saw. 

In a foul mood from the minute he was picked up from a random British train station, he tried and failed to seduce his married guide by being inappropriate, a little too touchy feely and generally vile. The fact he  nearly helped crash the car was unforgiveable. 

By the time his gig started, it felt like car crash theatre. 

“I haven't prepared anything”, he warned the audience, perhaps expecting them to forgive and embrace him for his honesty. 
On a rainy night at £10 a head that's not what you want to hear. 

“I've been doing this a long time...” he tried to reassure us, his auto pilot mouth making comedic promises his bankrupt gag account couldn't honour. 

Alas, as he tried to engage the audience with banter, the promise of laughs soon evaporated like a thimble-full of water in the Sahara. 

That sinking feeling grew as he started talking politics, and suddenly it felt like a bad episode of Question Time... directed by Ingmar Bergman... screened at a wake... in the third week of January... with flu... after root canal surgery.  

The interval seemed a lifetime away as our alleged comic clicked into name-drop mode. He recalled an apparently wild evening with a celeb chef and actor/director mate. 
The audience yearned for laughs, but were cruelly denied. Like a treasure hunt for a broken compass, we huddled masses came to the collective conclusion our waiting, like the hunt, was equally pointless. 

Our host’s TV appearances had dried up in recent years after one high profile show dropped him like a scalding potato. His car-based, pre-gig inappropriateness a sad, disturbing reminder of how he'd scuppered a regular gig seen by millions. 

Give a microphone to the dullest bloke in your local pub after 10 pints and it could have generated more laughs. 

“I'm fascinated to see who comes back for the second half,” he remarked. 

His body was in the room, his mind was spending the night’s takings like a Homer Simpson gag. Sans laughs.

Enough was enough, but while the second half was out of the question, I was fascinated by the amount of people who wanted their money back. 

I started to wonder if he'd been using Avatar-style technology all along as he headed off for a break, a cigarette and a chance to marinade in his joyless creative juices. 
So, having analysed great comedians for decades, the universal truth hammered home on that moist evening was the old adage ’Fail to prepare, prepare to fail’, because no matter who your celeb mates are, or your political beliefs, if there's no fuel in your comedy vehicle, don't be too surprised if you're left stranded at the side of the showbiz road. 

Which is what his harassed driver should have done after 30 seconds. 

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