Since 2007, I have organised the increasingly prestigious Malcolm Hardee Comedy Awards at the Edinburgh Fringe. They continue until 2017.
Steve Bennett started the Chortle comedy website in 2000.
In 2010, he looked back at The 50 Most Memorable Gigs of The Decade and, at Number 6, put the Malcolm Hardee Tribute Show staged at Up The Creek comedy club in February 2005.
“The funeral of this alternative comedy legend was probably one of the gigs of the decade, but this wake in the venue he founded must run it a close second. A suitably raucous celebration rich with reminiscences, gags – and, of course full-frontal male nudity, the line-up included Arthur Smith, Jools Holland, Jimmy Carr and Chris Lynam, with his traditional firework up the backside.”
So I was little surprised when, last week, I got an email from Steve Bennett headed Elegibility For Malcolm Hardee Award, saying:
“I am doing my first solo hour as part of the Laughing Horse Free Festival this year. I was just wondering about the eligibility criteria for your awards. Do I need to apply anywhere or do you just come to my show and decide from there?”
I was even more surprised when I Skyped him yesterday in Bordeaux and he told me about the night he lost his virginity.
Obviously, the Steve Bennett of whom I write is the Irish comedian who shares his name and not the esteemed Chortle website supremo.
Still, losing your virginity is always interesting.
This other Steve Bennett – the Irish one – currently teaches English to kids in a primary school in Bordeaux. He has been a comedian since 2008, but he has only “treated it seriously” since 2011, when he finished four years of studying French and Psychology at college in Galway.
This August, he will be performing his one-man show In Bits at the Finnegan’s Wake venue during the Edinburgh Fringe..
“I do a lot of musical comedy with a ukelele or a guitar,” he told me yesterday. “This year, it’s been ukelele mostly because I couldn’t bring my guitar to France, so I bought a ukelele here – it was cheaper and smaller.
“My Edinburgh show’s about the ‘breakup hangover’ – what happens post-breakup and comparing that to the drinking hangover, being Irish. One song’s about your ex finding you on Facebook all the time. The stalking thing that happens. So it’s written from her point of view – kind of crazy zany, which suits the ukelele because it kinda has a NING NING NING NING sound to it. The…”
“Erm…” I interrupted. “You said ‘the stalking thing that happens’ as if stalking is an everyday result of a relationship breaking up.”
“The stalking thing on Facebook,” explained Steve. “It’s done more by girls, I’m told, than by gentlemen. I don’t really do it too much, but it’s where you can go on Facebook when you’re Friends with your ex and take a look and see what they’re doing with their lives. That’s the thing the exes do now: they keep tabs on you.”
“You said I don’t really do it too much,” I said. “This implies that…”
“Oh, I’ve definitely taken a look see,” admitted Steve. “Who’s that guy? Is he your boyfriend?”
“Does the ex-girlfriend know you’re doing this show about the breakup of your relationship with her?”
“Yeah, she’s aware of it. She’s not aware of all the intense details and I think I’d be happier if she didn’t see it. But she told me she’d be happy with it so long as it wasn’t baring all the details of our relationship. I’m fine with that too: I don’t want to get too personal about stuff. It’s more about general things and exaggerated things. A lot of it’s true, but not all of it’s true: the same way with most comedy.”
“When did you realise there was another Steve Bennett?” I asked.
“Quite early,” replied Steve Bennett. “I started doing the Róisín Dubh club in Galway. The guy who runs the club introduced me to another more experienced comedian who went: Oh! You’re that asshole! It turned out Steve Bennett had given him a bad review at some point.
“Chortle actually ran a short piece about me and included a very early YouTube video of some of my stuff that I’m not very happy with. It’s from a talent show back in 2009. I won that, but it’s not really indicative of my stuff these days. I do a lot more high energy comedy these days.
“Back then I was a very subdued man standing at a microphone telling jokes. Now I’m a lot more getting into the crowd, having fun and the songs are snappy and fast, some done in characters like the Facebook one written from my ex’s point of view.”
“But you seem quite sane,” I said. “Why do you want to be a comedian? All comedians are mad.”
“I don’t know,” Steve replied. “I’m probably trying to find some deep-seated emotional depression.”
“But,” I said, “You are too happy to be a comedian, surely?”
“I probably just like the attention. When I was about ten years old, a kid at school said to me You should be a comedian, because you’re funny and I just went Yeeaahhh! That only came back to me after I started doing the comedy. I only fell into it because… well, the first time I picked up a microphone at an Open Mic night was the night I lost my virginity. So that’s why I…”
“Say that again?”
“The first night I did a comedy Open Mic, I lost my virginity.”
There was a long pregnant pause.
“So that’s probably why I’m still doing it.”
“Perhaps you are hoping to lose it again,” I suggested.
“That’s maybe it,” said Steve. “I’m still trying to find what I was looking for.”
“But you’re going to be stuck in France for the foreseeable future,” I prompted.
“Oh no, I’m done here at the end of next month. So I’ll be back in Ireland from May 3rd and I’m booking comedy stuff now over the summer and then in August it’s Edinburgh.”
“And after that?”
“I don’t know. I think I’m going to pick up the odd job here and there, maybe tutoring people in French.”
“But you’d like to be a permanent, full-time millionaire comedian?”
“That would be the ultimate goal, wouldn’t it? But I’ve always liked the idea of having a day job to give me material. If I was only a comedian, I don’t know what I‘d talk about. I know there’s life and day-to-day stuff, but I’d like to have that other job I do at the same time. Which works, because there’s no money in comedy at my level.”
“At the moment, I’m running an internet thing. I campaigned on Facebook amongst my friends and fans to try and get as many words and descriptions of hangovers as possible. Sick as a parrot. Those kind of things. One of them became my show title – In Bits – and I took loads of suggestions and, when I was in Paris one weekend, I said the words to camera with loads of Parisian landmarks in the background. And now I’m trying to get people to send me videos of them saying In Bits and I was hoping to put together a promo video of loads of people saying the name of the show.”
“Do you read the Chortle website?” I asked.
“I don’t much. Not at all, no.”
“I don’t know. Is that a good place to keep up-to-date? Is that what I should be doing?”
“You should be reading my blog every day,” I told him.
“Oh,” said Steve Bennett. He seemed surprised.