I recently made the rather rash decision of agreeing to perform a stand-up comedy set for a Comic Relief night, a decision I have at times regretted and at others considered a stroke of genius.
It wasn’t a decision completely out of the blue; I’ve been writing comedy for the stage for several years now, and since I came to Exeter in September I’ve continued with it, as well as being involved in comedy radio-plays, prose fiction comedy, and even original comic screenplays. So it felt like I’d done as much comedy as I could possibly do without trying my hand at being a proper comedian, and I felt that was a fact I ought to change. I’d been flirting with the idea of doing a set for a while, but never made any effort to get involved, mainly because of fear. It was a bit like asking someone out for the first time – you’ve got nothing to lose, but you’re so terrified of failure that you can’t go through with it (or maybe that was just my experience?).
Well now I’ve taken the leap of faith and committed to it. Don’t get me wrong, I’m still absolutely terrified! Stand-up comedy is going to be the hardest performance I’ve done so far, and possibly the hardest I will ever do in life. Writing the material is a horrendous experience: unlike comedy plays, the jokes have to be rapid-fire, and without the backup of regular scene breaks, other characters to bounce off, or props and costumes. Not only that, but stand-up differs from acting because you are naked on the stage; you have no character to hide behind, and very little room for improvisation. During your set you have to have complete confidence in your own material, and near flawless delivery of the jokes to get their full effect. It’s not good enough to get a polite chuckle; you have to have the audience laughing out loud as regularly and as consistently as possible.
Unfortunately there’s no way to learn other than through practice. You can’t develop your own style of comedy without finding out what’s funny and what isn’t, and you simply can’t do that without a live audience. Of course, I can draw on other comedians I admire and learn to avoid the styles of those I dislike, but my finished product doesn’t really resemble any comedian I know. Which means I’m either going to be completely original, or just absolutely atrocious. Although the start of the set has been well-received when tested on a small audience, no-one has yet heard my “big-hitting-make-or-break” joke which comes near the end. Of course you’ll have to come and watch to hear that one.
At the end of the day though, what could go wrong? Well, I could forget my punch-lines, there might be a depressing number of dead silences, I could get cruelly heckled, my jokes could get no reaction from the audience… the list goes on.
Am I still going to go through with it? Of course I am. I’d be stupid not to.
Confirmed acts include the Rotten Apple Orchestra, two stand-up comedy sets, three singers, two comedy sketches, and a sneak preview of Shotgun Theatre’s upcoming musical. The event is here for more details.
Written for razz by Dan Squire