Learning to be a comic: “Maybe there are more mad men than mad women.”

Trish Bertram at the London Olympics

Trish Bertram – stadium announcer at the London Olympics

I probably first met Trish Bertram in the 1980s when she was freelancing around the UK as a voice-over on TV trailers and as an announcer.

More recently, she was the live stadium announcer for the London Olympics, the Baku European Games and the Asian Games in Doha, Qatar.

Even more recently – just a couple of weeks ago – she finished an Amused Moose comedy course run by Logan Murray. She took the course not because she wanted to become a comedian but because she was interested in comedy techniques.

“It was a cross-section of people from all walks of life from their 20s to their 60s,” she told me. “We did eight Sundays of 5-hour afternoons. I wanted a challenge. I wanted something that would scare me and I hit on this idea because I’m a big admirer of stand-up comedy because I think it’s very brave.”

“But surely,” I said, “if you die on stage in front of 15 people in the upstairs room in a pub, that’s not as bad as buggering up an announcement in a stadium of 100,000 people and a TV audience of several million.”

“Well,” said Trish, “Whenever I do voice-over work – and I’ve worked for you – I’m sitting in a studio, I never see or smell the audience, I read a script – I don’t have to learn it – and, with the Olympics, I conned myself that I was in a television studio and, when I looked through the window, I was just looking at a TV screen.

“With stand-up comedy, you are completely naked and exposed, you have to remember what you’re going to say AND you’ve got to make people laugh. That is terrifying and I wanted to see what that felt like. If 15 people in the room in a pub hate you, you have nowhere to go.”

“And you have never been an actress, live on stage,” I said.

Trish Bertram on stage at the Amused Moose showcase

Trish on stage at the comedy course showcase

“No. I was a stage manager at the National Theatre, Royal Court, Young Vic. I blagged my way into telly from nowhere. So live performing was a big new thing for me.”

“At the end of Logan Murray’s course,” I said, “you performed in a showcase…”

“It was the weirdest feeling,” said Trish. “I have no memory of having done it. I felt like I was having an out-of-body experience. In my head, I can see myself doing it, but I can’t remember what it felt like.

“My biggest fear beforehand was, amazingly, not standing on the stage – and it was not talking into the microphone, because I do that all the time. My biggest fear was my memory, because I’m not used to learning material. I was terrified I was going to forget it. I had just seen Stewart Lee perform. How does he remember his act? How does Janey Godley remember her act? How do they all remember an hour of material?

“Logan Murray told me: If you try and learn this like a Shakespearean soliloquy, you will come unstuck. I was trying to learn my five minutes word-for-word. But the audience doesn’t know what they don’t hear. And, when it works, people don’t realise it’s a script. They think the comic is just chatting to them.”

“I’ve got bored,” I told Trish, “of comedy bills that are just four or five competent male comics doing much the same material as each other and, if they’re new, talking about wanking. It used to be that women comics were just as bad – they all talked about periods and how awful men are. But now women have a tendency to be more interesting than men because their material is more varied.”


Shared angst builds confidence?

“On the course,” said Trish, “the women were much more open about admitting to each other they were struggling with it, whereas all the boys were very stoic and that’s a male thing in general: Don’t admit your weakness.

“The boys looked like the confident ones at first but towards the end the women – I think because they’d all shared their angst with each other – were actually more super-confident on stage than some of the boys.”

“There is that cliché,” I said, “that men are interested in things and women are interested in people. I think there’s a bit of truth in that. And, if it’s true, women are going to be inherently more interesting doing comedy because ‘things’ are not really funny. People are funny – or people and their interaction with ‘things’.

“Women are more interested in psychology and emotions. Comedy plays with the emotions and, for that reason, maybe the most interesting comedy is about tragedy and, because women are more interested in emotions and men don’t so much show or express emotions, women have more interesting material. Maybe women are more attuned to getting comedy out of tragedy and men are not.”

“But men ARE funny,” said Trish. “There was a perception for a long time that women aren’t funny. Maybe because there was no culture of female comedy.”

“Well,” I said, “there is a problem because, on the circuit, you’re basically talking about rooms above or below pubs. Lads’ drinking culture. Not pure comedy clubs. Pubs that have comedy shows within them. I think originally there were fewer women because they weren’t attracted to the milieu. That has changed a bit.”

“What the course has done for me,” Trish said, “is give me renewed respect for every comic I see, whether they’re massively famous or new.”

“You haven’t met them off-stage,” I said. “They’re all barking mad. Maybe there are just more mad men than mad women.”

“People assume,” I continued, going into auto-gabble mode, “that comedians have to be self-confident extroverts to get up on stage, but they’re actually on stage because they are insecure. They want the validation of laughter and clapping and being in control of other people’s emotions.

Trish Bertram abseils down a building in 2000 (don’t ask)

Trish was abseiling down a building in 2000 (She likes risks)

“If your gig is a big, big success, there is the fear that your next one can only be less good. If your gig fails, then you know the audience knows you’re as bad as you think you might be.

“There is no upside at all. It’s all downside. If you are a success, you are about to fail. If you fail, you know that’s because you are not good enough. The only positive psychological ‘hit’ is at the specific point when you get the adrenaline rush if the audience whoop and laugh and love you. Insecure people get addicted to performing comedy.

“It really is like a drug. You feel bad; you take a drug; it gives you a sudden, brief high; then there’s the come-down afterwards. But you keep wanting to re-experience that big adrenaline hit so you keep taking the drug.”

“At the start of the course,” said Trish, “Hils Jago (of Amused Moose) told us: This is not therapy. this is a serious business. But, actually, it was therapy. Every person I got to know a little bit on the course had some therapy shit we were working out. Everyone seemed to be there because of some inner angst or a confidence anxiety thing or whatever. Comedy is a kind of a weird therapy.”

“Except for you?” I asked.

“I don’t know. Was I…? I did freak out.”

“But you didn’t want to be a comedian?” I asked.

“No, I don’t want to be a comedian. I’m too old and I don’t want to be one. But I like comedy and I like laughing and I’m interested in how the world works. I’d quite like to be Hils Jago.”

“So, as you don’t actually want to become a comic, you will never do stand-up again?” I asked.

“I might.”

“Why? Have you got the bug?”

Trish at London Weekend Television

Trish in the continuity suite at London Weekend Television

“I don’t know. I was so stunned that people laughed. I had about seven mates there at the showcase and they all laughed. Now I just want to know if they were being kind. So I might do one more at an open mic night and see if I can make total strangers laugh. I might do one more out of curiosity. Just one more.”

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