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The Grouchy Club Live – What is killing comedy. Why men wash. £1,000 a week.

Ada Campe performed at the Grouchy Club Live tonight

Ada Campe – magical at the Grouchy Club Live

Tonight, I went to the Grouchy Club monthly live meet-up for people in the comedy business and anybody else who is interested. Well, I would do, I chair it with comedy critic Kate Copstick.

Often, comics come along and perform ten minutes of material – tonight it was the extraordinarily charismatic Ada Campe – but mostly it is just a case of the audience chatting about the business.

It can last two or three hours – as long as feels natural – with people arriving and leaving when they want, although arrive late and you’ll probably miss something outrageous.

Matt Price reacts to an approach by Kate Copstick tonight

Matt Price reacted to a comment by Kate Copstick tonight

On this occasion, we kept mostly to the subject of comedy and this brief conversation ensued between Copstick, storytelling comic Matt Price and Comedy Cafe Theatre owner Noel Faulkner.

Noel had arrived late, so Copstick explained to him what had just happened.


COPSTICK
Matt evinced the opinion – which was met with a distinct murmur on the floor here – that ‘new material’ nights are killing comedy.

NOEL
No, they’re not.

MATT
What I meant was that I believe incorrectly billed ones are.

NOEL
I would agree with you 100%. Shit venues are ruining comedy. Bad set-ups. Look, you’re a young guy, you’ve got a date, you think: Oh! I’ll take her to comedy. She’ll be happy. she’ll laugh. That’s why, when you have a lot of couples in the audience, the room is stoic – because the guys are thinking: Well, I can’t laugh at that, because she’ll think that I’m this kind of person if I laugh at that joke, because that joke sounds homophobic, racist or whatever other PC shite.

Bad venues are killing comedy. There are venues that are horribly, badly run with dirty, smelly promoters who wash once a year.

COPSTICK
Comedy now is getting a television audience. It’s not really getting a comedy audience. The comedy audience that used to be there is still there, but it’s not big enough for the massive tsunami of quite shit comics that just keeps coming and coming and coming and coming. So the audiences they’re getting on all these nights are television audiences – I want to see him or her off the telly – They’re not really interested enough or have any feeling enough for comedy to sit and watch real newbies or new material.

NOEL
Most people want to go to work on Monday morning and say: Oh we were at the O2 Arena and saw ‘im off the telly! Oh, it was great! We was this close to the screen, we saw everything!… And they’ve paid £80. I mean, for fuck’s sake. Seriously. What? £60? £80? Jesus Christ! you could do things with that kind of money, besides sit and watch (the equivalent of) a DVD. What’s that I see way down there? Oh, great!

Also, things change. The whole comedy scene is changing. Young people, they wanna go and watch movies outdoors – that’s a great fucking idea. An uncomfortable chair, some shit movie from 20 years ago. I mean, OK if you’re gonna cop a feel off the girl beside you OK but, otherwise, who would have ever thought outdoor movies on rooftops is a great idea?

Guys will go anywhere where the girls are. If it wasn’t for women, we wouldn’t wash. Guaranteed. What would the point be?

The whole thing has changed and we can’t get used to the idea. We came through the era when comedy was like The Beatles – the new rock ’n’ roll. It was taking off; it was great; you opened a club above a room and people were getting paid £300 for a gig.

COPSTICK
Really?

NOEL
From Eugene Cheese. He always did a door split. Comics were making more money 15 years ago than they are now. A mate of mine who was in the mainstream in 1973 was taking home £300 a night. Working men’s clubs. Milo McCabe’s father. He was a mainstream comic. He would stand in the middle of the floor at a working men’s club – a stag do or whatever – and he would do the jokes, take the piss out of the guys – bang, bang, bang, bang, bang – I’d say Let’s have a beer and he’d say No, let’s get out of here. There’s a stripper coming on in a minute and the place is probably going to get busted and I can’t have that happen to me. Because he was doing a little telly at the time.

They would have a stag show, the comic would get up, then a stripper would come – big, big money. The average comic was making £1,000 a week, no problem, in the early 1990s.

COPSTICK
We are now going to hand out tissues to all the working comics in the room. I didn’t do stand-up, but I did comedy cabaret and you’re right: there were go-go dancers on before, then comedy, funny songs and a bit of chat and then a stripper – and that was in Edinburgh!

So… (TO MATT) what you were saying about new comedy nights today…

MATT
This is no offence to anybody, because we’re all part of the same circuit, but I think you sometimes now get nights that are billed, for example, as “eight professional comics trying out new material” – It’s free entry and you go in and you think: Hold on! None of you are pro comics. What are you talking about? You’re all moaning about your day job. First thing they say (off stage) is: Who’s your agent? How do you get an agent? Who do I speak to?

And I think: Why are you doing that? Don’t put that on the poster! Because it’s killing everything long-term.

15 years ago, I went to the Comedy Cafe and saw Geoff Boyz. He is, to me, the consumate pro. He said to me: It takes you ten years to be a professional. That’s before you start to get good at it; and then probably another ten to master it.

Yes, you can make it in three years if your dad works for the BBC. But you’ve still got to deliver the middle-aged men’s material they’re writing for you. This is an art form and people are fucking it up by lying about what they can do. I know people who can’t do 10 minutes who are doing a one-hour show at the Edinburgh Festival – the most prestigious arts festival in the world – and they can’t even stand on stage at a proper comedy club and deliver 10 minutes of jokes to an audience who are there to be entertained.

NOEL
It’s become a social life for some very sad people. They go up to Edinburgh and they do their hour and their hour is not ready. I had somebody ask me: Come and see my show. And I said: There’s no way I’m spending an hour of my fucking life in Edinburgh when I can be watching Chinese acrobats swinging from the ceiling with large breasts. Forget it! You’re not ready for an hour! I was very rude and very blunt and it was just water off a duck’s back. I had to be that blunt with this person, because they really were thick-skinned.

That’s ruining the business. TV has saturated the business. And we need to find a new road for live comedy.


After-show chat at the grouchy Club earlier tonight

Some after-show chat at the live Grouchy Club earlier tonight

In 2016, there will be live Grouchy Club comedy industry meet-ups held in the performance space at the back of Kate Copstick’s Mama Biashara charity shop in Shepherd’s Bush, London, at 6.30pm on the following dates. Anyone can come. Entry is free. Exit is free.

Tuesday 12th January
Tuesday 9th February
Tuesday 8th March
Tuesday 12th April
Tuesday 10th May
Tuesday 14th June
Tuesday 12th July

Details on http://www.grouchyclub.co.uk

After tonight’s show, for some incomprehensible reason, I mentioned to London-based Glasgow comic Martha McBrier that, as I am originally Scots, I tend to pronounce the grocery store chain as the Co-per-aytive rather than the Co-opp-rative. This triggered a 20-second duet between Martha McBrier and Kate Copstick…

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All good comedians are barking mad and, when alone, howl at the moon and eat their own egos.

(This blog appeared on Chortlethe UK comedy industry website)

Yesterday I had lunch with a comedian in her twenties – not inexperienced but not yet fully supporting herself on her comedy performing. She is having an early career crisis. She’s no fool. Very sensible of her.

She thinks maybe she may be wrong giving up pretty-much everything in her private life to pursue her might-never-happen career.

She has little social life outside the one-night-stand Open Spot comedy circuit and (as she is from North West England) she is away from all the people she really knows and loves; she is alone on Planet Transient; she no longer has a boyfriend and she is struggling to make ends meet, working in a day job that bores and frustrates her. She does well, is playing lots of gigs but gets to bed late after her comedy work and has to get up very early to commute to her busy day job which allows no time to think about or arrange anything in her more-important-to-her comedy world.

This is the reality of one of the most glamorous jobs in Britain: being a comedian in your twenties.

“Perhaps I’m just wasting my time,” she said to me over lunch. (Obviously I was paying). “What if I never succeed and don’t get anywhere within sight of success? I’ll have wasted years of my life for no reason. I don’t even like London. I wouldn’t be here if I didn’t have to be. Maybe I should just go back up North, get a job where I can have a life, find someone to marry and settle down and have children and I know I’d be happy watching them grow up.”

I told her, if she did that, life would be less stressful but she would never know if she might have succeeded.

“If you try and fail, at least you will know what the outcome is.” I told her. “If you go home and have a happy life in tranquility with a husband and children – and that’s assuming you can find a good relationship – it will always be gnawing away inside you What would have happened if… You WANT to do comedy. It’s a vocation, an urge inside you…

“More than being a nurse or anything else. If you don’t play it out as far as you can, you will never know for certain what might have happened. On your deathbed, in sixty years, you will still be looking back on your life thinking What might have happened if… If you do not try, you have the certainty of not succeeding. If you do try, you risk failure – but you could succeed. It’s a toss-up between the certainty of failure and the possibility of success.”

If there is a safe option with an almost certain outcome and a riskier option, my advice is always to take the riskier option. Not knowing if you might have succeeded is infinitely worse than having failed. Taking the risk will at least bring closure.

Mind you, this may not be good advice because it is what I have done throughout my life. Once, in a rare job interview (I have usually not gone through application processes), the prospective employer sitting across the desk from me said:

“John, you seem to have an unfocussed CV.”

He took this as a negative factor; I have always taken it as a positive factor.

There is a Charles Dickens book (I can’t remember which – possibly David Copperfield) in which the central character, as a young man, stands outside a building and the narrative goes:

“I looked at the premises which, for the next 50 years, would be my work place.”

Times have changed, of course. But the ‘safe option’ can drive a truly creative person potty with frustration. You’ll end up walking through Tesco shooting random people with an AK-47. Figuratively if not in reality – and don’t be too sure it won’t be in reality. Uncertainty and adrenaline are attractive, provided you can eat and (in rainy Britain) have a roof over your head.

“But when will I know for certain if I have failed and when to give up?” my twenty-something chum asked me.

“Ah,” I said, “I haven’t got the foggiest. I am making this up as I go along.”

There are no right decisions.

When nerds in the mists of time first tried to program a computer which could play chess, they found it was impossible because the computer was unable to make the first move. The number of potential ramifications of the first move were and are virtually limitless. The computer would have sat there calculating potential first moves for longer than Ken Dodd’s career.

You can’t tell the outcome of any move early-on in chess. Nor in showbusiness. Nor in life. The butterfly theory comes into play.

No choice is simply between Path A and Path B because each of those paths then has literally hundreds of potential avenues which may lead off them. And every one of those hundreds of avenues each has itself hundreds of other sidetracks leading off them which may lead to a dead end or to a sparkling idyllic end result. It’s not a single path you choose; it’s a spider’s web spanning the rest of your life.

The way they eventually programmed computers to play chess was to limit the number of moves ahead which the computer took into consideration. In effect, the computer makes the best bet it can on the limited evidence available.

Choosing a ‘safe’ option may lead unexpectedly to awful consequences. Choosing a ‘risky’ option may lead unexpectedly to unforeseen opportunities which then lead on to a sparkling idyllic outcome which you had never thought of aiming for.

Comedy and successful creative careers generally have a terrifyingly high percentage of luck about them; they are about being in the right place at the right time. You can’t know where/when that place/time might be. So keeping as many options as possible open is the wisest move. Being in as many places at as many times as possible is the best option.

“Put yourself about a lot, love” is the best – indeed, only sensible – advice.

A risky proposition with an uncertain outcome may turn out to be a good idea further down the spider’s web of life.

So, if you are a girl in her twenties and I make a dodgy-sounding proposition to you, look on me kindly.

If you are an aspiring comedian, take my experienced opinion into consideration. You are almost certainly not as funny as you and your friends think you are. You will probably screw up your personal life and your mind by attempting to do comedy. And you will make no money out of it.

But I could be wrong.

To quote the often-misunderstood mantra of the great Hollywood scriptwriter William Goldman in his essential-to-read book Adventures in the Screen Trade:

NOBODY KNOWS ANYTHING

He does not mean that people are equally ignorant. He means that no-one, however experienced, can know for certain the outcome of a creative work – or, for that matter, a creative career. Because movies, writing – and, yes, comedy – are creative arts, not a science.

The other factor I think you have to take into consideration is that, if you want to be a successful comedian, your mind is probably screwed-up anyway. One of the dullest of all mainstream quotes is:

YOU DON’T HAVE TO BE MAD TO WORK HERE, BUT IT HELPS

To be a stand-up comedian, madness does not help.

It is essential.

All good comedians are barking mad and, when alone, howl at the moon and eat their own egos.

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Filed under Comedy, Mental illness