How to be a stand-up comedian, according to stand-up comedians
Secretly, everyone believes they are funny enough to do stand-up
You've always thought about it, haven't you?
After watching Peter Kay talk about dunking biscuits (the marine hobnob: AGAIN!), or after watching Michael McIntyre talk about whatever the fuck Michael McIntyre talks about during his stand-up shows - I don't know, I don't watch them, do you watch them? Does anyone watch them? - you've probably considered it.
On the basis of absolutely nothing: "Yeah, I reckon I could give this a whirl."
I could stand up in front of complete strangers and tell jokes. I'm sort of, kinda funny. There is nothing stopping me. Other than the crippling nerves and anxiety I get whenever I talk to a single new person, let alone attempting to address a room full of them with a microphone, let alone with an expectation that you are going to be funny and make them laugh repeatedly, then yeah, there is literally nothing stopping me.
Nothing at all.
So, with that in mind, I might actually be doing this. I might actually be appearing at Comedy Central Live, a massive three-day festival that takes place in Southampton this weekend. With a bill including Jimmy Carr, Russell Howard, Katherine Ryan... and me. Gulp.
Anyway, to test the water a little bit, to dip my toes into this searing hot bath of embarrassment, I sent comedians Chris Ramsey, Bobby Mair and Harriet Kemsley some questions, just to see if I am, in fact, cut out for this particular level of public disgrace.
Here's what they had to say: This is how to be a stand-up comedian, according to stand-up comedians.
(Note: Bobby and Harriet are married, which will become clear, but just be aware that Chris isn't a polyamorous third part of their relationship... as far as I'm aware. They just all had responses to my questions so are grouped together. OK. Good. Let's crack on.)
When did you first realise you wanted to be a comedian, or at least, that you were funny enough to be one?
Chris Ramsey - Well... I don’t mean to start off by making you panic about this upcoming gig you have... but you never KNOW you’re funny enough. I still have days when I don’t think I’m funny enough. I still have gigs when I don’t think I’m funny enough. So... good luck!
Bobby Mair - I first realised I wanted to be a comedian when I was 12 and saw a documentary about Whoopi Goldberg’s career. It was the first time I realised stand up comedy was a job and I was hooked.
Harriet Kemsley - It was my parents idea - that is very unusual, no-one in comedy I know has had the same experience, most of their parents had much higher expectations...
What was your first gig like? How did you deal with nerves?
CR - It went remarkably well. Easily beginners luck. The next few were awful to be fair. I just had to be terrified really. There was no option. Just had to remember my material and try not to stare at the floor.
BM - My first gig was in a bar in Toronto. I did seven minutes of terrible jokes and got enough laughs to do it again the next night. I didn’t deal with my nerves, they completely controlled me and I talked very fast!
HK - I dealt with it by drinking quite a few vodka cranberries. It was amazing for me, one of the most exciting nights of my life and absolutely average for the audience.
What’s the key to a good set? Other than jokes. I know jokes are key. I’ve heard they are important.
CR - Delivery I suppose. Everyone is different, but you’ve got to connect with the audience.
BM - Make yourself laugh. That’s all that matters. That’s a lie. Probably being in the moment. I have no clue.
HK - I guess the most important thing is to have fun...JUST TRY AND HAVE FUN GODAMNIT!
What should I do, if, heaven forbid, I go up on stage to tell some jokes and absolutely nobody laughs or finds me funny? Do I make a run for it?
CR - If I was you. Every time a joke doesn’t get a laugh, I’d scream “THIS IS MY FIRST EVER GIG, FUCK YOU PEOPLE”... see how that goes.
BM - I usually get laughs off of commenting on how badly I’m doing. It’s a skill developed from a lot of bombing.
HK - Nah just make fun of it. And then get back up there and do it again. Or run. It’s really up to you!
What’s the best joke you’ve ever written?
CR - Oh, God knows.
BM - I don’t know what my best joke ever is but my favourite quick joke in my set right now is ‘I bought a porn magazine called Barely Legal Russia but when I opened it up it was just pictures of men holding hands.’
Who is your favourite comedian out there at the moment?
CR - I’m a big fan of Bill Burr at the moment.
BM - My favourite comedian right now is Maria Bamford. She somehow does impressions, tells very personal stories and has great jokes all at once.
HK - Maria Bamford also. I guess this is why we’re married.
What do you think you’d be doing now if you weren’t a comedian?
CR - Less interviews.
HK - Me and Bobby would be growing old together in a mental hospital.
BM - What she said.
Should I panic about what to wear? I’m panicking about what to wear.
CR - No. But YOU have to feel good in what you wear. Whether that be comfortable or if you want to look ‘cool’ or stylish... but to be honest, the audience won’t give a shit. As long as your balls aren’t hanging out of your fly, you’ll be good.
BM - Just don’t wear anything that distracts from what you’re doing on stage.
HK - I guess don't wear anything you are uncomfortable in? Also don't wear shorts as you’ll be upstaged by your knees.
Finally, do you treat stand up as an art (like composing a haiku, or clay pottery making) or just as a job (like plumbing, or clay pottery making if it’s your job to make clay pots)?
CR - Depends on the gig really. Stand up can feel like you’re composing a symphony on the fly, in the moment. Plucking inspiration and genius from thin air... or like you’re doing night shift in a care home, washing an old mans balls. Just trying to get through it and think of the money.
BM - Both really. The art is being on stage and crafting a joke that the audience will laugh at and the job is sitting on trains for hours every week and sending emails and rejected 9/10 times I try to do anything.
HK - Stand up is definitely better than clay pottery making. But I have never tried plumbing...
Plumbing is just fucking lego, innit? Water lego.
So there you have it. Was I hoping for more concrete advice (particularly my attempt to actually steal all three of their best jokes)? Yes. Yes I was, as it happens. Still. I'm in too deep now.
You can still get tickets for Comedy Central Live should you be interested in seeing yours truly stink out the place or one of the many actual, talented, funny people perform. They're available here for the 5th, 6th, and 7th of October, or the full weekend.
In the meantime, rest safe in the knowledge that a) Upon leaving Secondary School I was awarded the honour of 'Bantersaurus Rex' aka 'Funniest Person in the class' - it was an all-boys Grammar school, so it was very much like being crowned most likeable member of the Conservative Party in 2018.
And b) The worse this goes, and it will go terribly, rest assured, the funnier the article about it afterwards will be.
Swings and roundabouts and all that. See you on the other side.