Tuesday, January 30, 2007

Why People Do Stand-up Comedy

Why People Do Stand-up Comedy

This week I returned to the comedy stage for the first time since I closed my club, Joe's Comedy Madhouse, in November 2005. It was a weird and beautiful experience.

Tom Hughes and Pete the Meat, who run The Reckless Moment in Leamington Spa, kindly allowed me to do 10 minutes of comical poetry, which came as a shock to the audience but went not too badly. I did about nine poems, including Probably Not, Women, Cook and Drive, Loving You, Barthday and Chav. I also did one inspired by a new word I had learnt at the club the previous week, Fluffer (don't ask), and one dedicated to Pete's meat mania (Meat Elegy).

I don't think the audience quite knew what to make of it. Some of the poems were funnier than others, and I was, as always, very nervous, my leg shaking within my tartan trousers. But they were a kindly audience and I think it added some variety to the evening.

Afterwards, Tom said, 'That was beautiful, Oliver!' which was too kind. The evening itself was a beautiful occasion. The comedians seemed to be unburdening themselves of their angst in a most poetic fashion. A big, grizzly Welshman made his woes seem like song, and a huge, ugly Cornishman told profoundly moving stories about his screwed-up, violent past.

It occurred to me that no one up on that stage was doing it purely out of a desire to entertain an audience. We all had sad-limned issues drifting to the surface; a need to be up there in the spotlight to have people love - or at the very least listen - to us. That's why people do stand-up comedy. I have met very few stand-ups who were not in some way screwed up.

This thought regularly occurred to me during the five years I did stand-up comedy on the London circuit and the eight-and-a-half years I ran Joe's Comedy Madhouse, also in London. But most of the time I was drunk so I didn't dwell on it. Performing stone cold sober is a far more frightening and fascinating experience. But like the rest of the line-up, I still wanted to be there. I wanted the attention!

The good thing about the Reckless Moment is that it is so supportive. Tom and Pete take an almost irenic approach to the club and its performers. They want everything to be beautiful and so it is. Tom, I think, is really a physical comedian waiting to break out while Pete is quick of wit and musical (although not as musical as Prince who also seems to turn up late).

A beautiful thing happened last night. The man-mountain Cornish bloke was edging into some material comparing white people with black people when he spotted a couple of black guys in the audience. One of them seemed to be inching forwards towards the stage, his friend trying to hold him back. The guy got near enough to speak quietly and be heard and, to a hushed silence, spontaneously performed a brilliant piece of rap poetry about how it was cool for the comedian to talk about black people. The applause afterwards was deafening.

So sublime a moment, I wish I could have bottled it.

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Wednesday, 27 October, 2010  

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