Before I begin one of my speeches, here’s me doing some stand up. The first one is a TV one with prepared material, and the second is me at a comedy club talking about doing a gig at Broadmoor Hospital as I remembered it happening. If you think I am rubbish that is a problem with you, as I am great at it. They are both with my old stage name in case that confuses you.
So, I decided to pack in stand up. The actual decision was ages ago, but it took a long while to get everything in place to do it for real. I’d worked on the comedy circuit as a stand up for around sixteen years, and any comic will tell you that you are surrounded by warning signs. After a time you notice that some acts aren’t really happy. There’s of course no crime in being unhappy, but when you further notice that they are unhappy because they feel like they have missed the boat, or because they are fixating on what others are doing rather than concentrating on their own work, you start developing a feeling of “there but for the grace of God go I”, and promising yourself that will never be you.
On those subjects, I once interviewed Sarah Millican on The Peacock & Gamble Edinburgh Podcast and jokingly took on the mantle of a desperate comedian, who felt they had missed their chance. At one stage I asked her, between sobs, “have I missed the boat?!”, to which she replied “awww pet, do you think there’s only one boat?”. Despite the fact we were dicking about and having a laugh, that properly went in; that was a really important thing to consider. It’s drummed into you, perhaps mainly subliminally, as a comic that you have one shot at getting this right. That’s absolute bollocks. You just have to work out what you’re good at and try different stuff, keep it interesting for yourself. The reason there are folk on the comedy circuit miserably plodding on, dead behind the eyes, is because they’ve done the same thing for however many years. How can that possibly be creatively stimulating on any level? It’s monotonous toil for a wage, and I’m sure none of us ever started with that goal. It’s a harsh truth that being a jobbing comic will often sap the time and energy that you could spend creating something you really would like to do.
So, I started seeing through the deception of a stand-up comedy career, and this ties into the idea of being ‘safe’. I noticed that there was actually no freedom in that job. Comics boast to each other that they have no boss, that they are this free spirited, uncensored community who have the luxury of being able to say whatever they want for the catharsis of the masses. The reality has moved away from that. Any jobbing circuit comedian who thinks they don’t have a boss and can say what they want is deluded. The weekend clubs (larger venues catering to stags and hens and serving food) have no interest whatsoever in stand-up comedy. It is genuinely the bottom priority for the night. Any comic will tell you quite how bad it has to get in a room for an abusive, vocal and disruptive large party to be shown the door, and even with that result it’s very likely that some blame will be put on the act on the stage for not ignoring them, or being too harsh or whatever. There is zero loyalty in these places to the frontline, absolutely none at all, comedians are bottom of the food chain despite the fact that the show simply wouldn’t exist without them. Add to this the fact that some of the chain clubs regularly get themselves into bad debt by not paying acts on time, lying about when payments will be made, and generally operating an illegal business, and you see why it’s deplorable that the comedians, the only indispensable people at any comedy club, are treated with disdain and dismissiveness. So that’s one reason I wasn’t playing ball. The way they treat the comics in their employ (and you ARE in their employ) socialises route one, basic, risk-free, dull comedy, as nobody dare try anything different for fear of losing their bookings.
The second was the behavior of audiences, which I have watched steadily decline in front of my very eyes over the years at certain club gigs. This is in line with how people appear to be behaving generally in the world, but you get to a point where you simply have no interest in risking bringing a smile to these people. The reluctance of clubs to put morons out on their arse has compounded the issue, they do it because they know they will get away with it, that the security staff will do anything for a quiet night, including ignoring audience members who are destroying any semblance of a show in favour of drunken posturing.
Thirdly, a practical point, I started to hate driving. No journey was ever without delay or diversion, you perhaps wouldn’t know if you are tucked up in bed at 1am, but if you’ve been unlucky enough to be on a motorway at that time in recent years it is hell. To surreal levels. Combine nightmare journey with unruly audience and add a pinch of venues being mercenary and demeaning, and you come to the conclusion that it simply isn’t worth it. I came to that conclusion and made up my mind.
Now, some caveats if you please. There are clubs out there that are run by decent, loyal, protective people, who are firmly on the side of the acts, and absolutely deserve support. They tend to be independent clubs, often run by acts, with a regular audience who are a delight to play for. Off the top of my head we have the Red Herring clubs in Lincolnshire (and the Lincoln Comedy Festival), Hilarity Bites in the North East and Kill For A Seat all over the place. There’s many more, not deliberately leaving any out, just typing this as I think it, before Rob Riley or Tony Basnett or someone emails me in a huff. Can’t find a bad word to say about any of these, and it’s clubs of that ilk that prevented me from saying I would never do stand up again. Likewise, my last tour was a delight, just me on my own, going to venues, performing to people who had – mostly – already some familiarity with me. Those are environments where I don’t end up resenting ever leaving the house.
So I worked out that I would do a maximum of five gigs per season, twenty in total for the year, maybe less but not more. Not being a martyr, indeed I don’t think many people have even noticed, it was all about my own well-being and not helping to sell beer for the villains of the comedy circuit. It’s conscience clearing as much as anything and I’ve never been happier since deciding to only do things the way I was happy doing them. I occasionally tweet when I’m doing a gig, occasionally keep it quiet, but if you do see I’m doing a gig then you at least know I have taken all the above information into account, and can rest assured that I will actually want to be there and will do my best, rather than half-arsedly fighting a stag party and getting the acts on as quick as possible so I can get my blood money quickly and get out of there…