You want to be a comic? You do what?

Smiley face with moustache

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Occasionally, people ask me for advice.

Proof, if proof were needed, that people are not always sensible.

This morning, I got a message from someone I know who has been engaged in various big projects for a while.

He told me:

Now I finally have the time to work on my own comedy material. Do you think this is worth doing? I don’t mind spending money to invest in my career. Do you think this comedy course is worth doing?

He named a particular course. I am dubious about the effectiveness of all comedy courses, especially this one, but suggested another which I had heard good things about.

The late Malcolm Hardee always said he thought mime was a tragic waste of time and juggling was a skill not a talent. I tend to agree with him.

Mime is almost always a tragic waste of time.

And juggling is a skill.

Almost anyone with normal abilities could practise five hours a day every day for five years and become a competent or good juggler.

But someone who practised being a comedian five hours a day every day for five years would not necessarily become a competent or good comedian.

Because performing comedy is not a skill; it is a talent. You do need skill and you can learn that but you also vitally need a certain almost indefinable something to become good at it. Hard work is not enough (though it can help if you have the basic talent).

But, even if you become a good comedian, you may not succeed. My advice this morning was:

The truth is that there are hundreds of perfectly good, competent comedians playing the circuit – all equally good, all equally effective at their job. But standing out amid this throng is another matter.

Find a USP, a Unique Selling Proposition. It will perk up audiences and bookers.

I cannot begin to tell you how much my soul has been sapped by the endless shows I have sat through with a bill of five competent 20-something white men talking about wanking and/or watching pornography.

Even if they were talking about something else and one was a West Indian Swede with a beard and a tattoo on his left elbow, it is just the same thing visually over and over again with an entirely competent performer delivering an entirely competent act while standing at a microphone.

Pacing backwards and forwards can make it worse.

Also, never create an act that involves having to carry a heavy prop or instrument around. A comic tuba player would get booked but would die from exhaustion carrying it to and from gigs. How Jim Tavaré ever succeeded with his double bass without having a heart attack is beyond me.

The reaction to my advice this morning was:

I cannot contain my desire to improvise and do voices so it would always be different. I’m gonna try to suss out where best to make my first tentative and anonymous steps into the world. My not very original idea being to see what works and what doesn’t in a live context. I also wanna see as much live comedy by unknowns such as me to size up the scene. It’s a new world for me but now I can throw myself into it fully.

He is charismatic and talented and has some savings in the bank. I just hope that is enough.

1 Comment

Filed under Comedy

One response to “You want to be a comic? You do what?

  1. Owen Morgan

    Mime is NOT a tragic waste of time, it’s a very important performing art- you only have to see some of Marcel Marceau’s old material to see that, as well as look at some episodes of Mr.Bean to see how funny Rowan Atkinson could make it. It’s one of the oldest performing arts there is.
    As regards what makes a good comedian, I recall Bobby Ball of Cannon & Ball saying that you have to be prepared to take a lot of knocks before you make a success of it. It can be a tough and cruel buisness when you are starting out- you have to be prepared to fail miserably to make the audience laugh, to be heckled, booed, sworn at and even have things thrown at you. But you learn from it- you use the experience to get the gist of what people want and what they don’t, and adjust your act accordingly. If you’re lucky, you’ll gradually gain in popularity. A few lucky people who go on to stardom, such as The Goons, the Monty Python team and Frankie Howerd, got it right first time, but this is most unusual- most wannabe comedians have to develop a thick skin before they even start out.

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