Yesterday, ‘new’ musical comic Ariane Sherine sent out to her subscribers the first edition of her weekly e-mail Adventures of a Stand-Up Comic. The comedy industry website Chortle will be running monthly highlights from it.
“So,” I asked Ariane, “Adventures of a Stand-Up Comic will end up as a book?”
“I hope so,” she told me. “It’s so much fun to do a gig and write it up, even if it’s been a bad gig. It’s quite cathartic.”
“Except,” I said, “you will be hated by all the other stand-up comics, because you will grass them up.”
“No,” she laughed. “I’m not going to mention people’s names or dates or places or gig names. Anybody who was at the gig will know what happened, but it’s no different from posting on Facebook saying: Did a gig here and blah-di-blah. I will anonymise it.”
It is a rare thing for someone who has been working as a musical stand-up comic for only three weeks to get a regular piece on the Chortle website. It is also very unusual to get booked for a paid gig after being seen in the first week; and another paid gig after being seen in the second week. But Ariane does have a bit of previous.
She was a stand-up act 13 years ago for around six months. Back then she got into the Laughing Horse New Act Final but quit stand-up before the event to focus on comedy writing for TV shows, including BBC1’s My Family, BBC2’s Two Pints of Lager and a Packet of Crisps and Channel 4’s Countdown.
She has also written regularly for The Guardian, as well as The Sunday Times, the Independent, the Independent on Sunday, NME and Esquire, appeared on BBC1’s Breakfast, BBC London News, ITV1’s The Alan Titchmarsh Show, Radio 2’s The Jeremy Vine Show, Radio 4’s iPM and Sunday, released a 2014 album of songs called Beautiful Filth and duetted with Tim Minchin at London’s Palace Theatre.
It is also very rare for a ‘new’ comic to have recent quotes like “Quite brilliant” (critic Kate Copstick)… “If she’s not a huge success, it’ll be an absolute travesty” (Charlie Brooker)… She could be a female Tom Lehrer.
Which is why she was on the increasingly prestigious Grouchy Club Podcast last week.
Afterwards, I asked Ariane something I had forgotten to ask her on the podcast (a vivid reflection of my limitations):
“Why go back on the comedy circuit after 13 years?”
“Because it’s the truest form of comedy,” she told me. “People can’t fake laughter – not belly laughter. And you get instant feedback on your work. Whereas, if you write for telly, you might only get feedback on your work from the producer and the script editor.
“What you’re saying on stage is: I find this funny. I think this is funny. And then the audience has the most visceral emotional reaction to what you’ve said. They say: Yes, I agree. This is funny. I am laughing. And that’s wonderful. It just makes you feel so… loved.”
“So,” I said, “performing comedy gives validation to insecure people.”
“Yes,” said Ariane. “I would agree with that.”
“Punters,” I said, “think all comedians must be extroverts to get up there on stage, but almost all the comedians I know want to hide in a cave. There’s that dichotomy between wanting to hide away and getting up on stage and exposing yourself to potential rejection. Actors can hide behind a character, but comedians are more exposed.”
“Yes,” said Ariane. “Unless they’re character comedians.”
“In 2009,” I prompted, “ you compiled The Atheist’s Guide to Christmas – with contributions from 42 atheist celebrities, comedians, scientists and writers. And now you see The Adventures of a Stand-Up Comic as a book. You are also simultaneously writing two other books at the moment?”
“What are they about?”
“One is a funny look at trying to lose a load of weight. Another is a book about mental illness – which is a novel.”
“Any particular mental illness?” I asked.
“Isn’t that,” I asked, “an Agatha Christie detective?”
“No,” laughed Ariane. “Obsessive Compulsive Disorder. It’s about the intrusive thoughts that people get which they can’t shake. Pure O is meant to denote only the Obsession part of OCD. So people with Pure O don’t carry out compulsions to the same extent. They don’t take action. They just get very, very upset by the thoughts in their head.”
“Why are you writing a novel about that?” I asked. “Is it autobiographical?”
“Not entirely autobiographical, no. But I’m very familiar with the thought processes.”
“Because I have OCD.”
“I just assume,” I said, “that OCD is arranging all your books and albums in alphabetical order.”
“No, I think that’s an unhelpful portrayal by the media.”
“So what is it?”
“It’s when you have a thought that really scares you and you place too much importance on that thought. So you might think: I’m going to walk down this bridge and throw myself off it. And instead of doing the normal thing and walking down the bridge anyway, you avoid bridges. Or you will only walk down the bridge while holding somebody’s hand. That kind of thing.
“You take action because of this awful thought in your head and, when people are perfectionists and do arrange everything in order, it’s because they think something terrible will happen if they don’t do that. When people clean or wash their hands repeatedly, it’s because they think they’re going to get a terrible disease or contract a terrible virus and die.”
“So why do this as a novel and not something more autobiographical?”
“Because I think it will reach a lot more people as a novel.”
In her first week back on the comedy circuit, Ariane sang about Jeremy Corbyn and Adolf Hitler.
To sign up for Ariane’s weekly email Adventures of a Stand-Up Comic, send a message to firstname.lastname@example.org with ‘subscribe’ in the subject line.