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Mr Methane lets off steam and agrees most stand-up comedians are ‘not nice’

The outstanding Mr Methane with some of his fans

The upstanding Mr Methane with some of his fans

In my blog yesterday, I quoted doyenne of UK comedy critics Kate Copstick saying, during a weekend event at Dave’s Leicester Comedy Festival:

“Comedy is not a nice business and it’s not got nice people in it. Really, genuinely nice people don’t go into comedy.”

Mr Methane, the Farter of Alternative Comedy, had something to say about that. And he did, to me, yesterday. This is what he told me:

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Mr Methane is not himself a stand-up performer

Mr Methane is not himself a stand-up comedy performer

I can agree with Kate on that – and all these years I thought I was alone.

There are some very nice people in Entertainment but I have to say being in the company of some comedians when they are not on stage is like sucking shit through a straw, the most unpleasant experience. They possess all the bad Me Me Me and even more ME qualities of the politicians they then go out onstage to slag off – not that I’m defending politicians, you understand.

I remember way back in January 1994 I was just making the tea, the potatoes were boiling, the kitchen windows were steamed up and it was a critical point in the process where you just need to turn them off in time before they go too soft and this guy called Andy Nulman phones.

He says he runs a comedy festival in Montreal called Just for Laughs and can I send him a showreel. I did and thought no more about it, as 97.5 % or thereabouts of most transatlantic enquiries come to nothing. But, to my surprise, this one didn’t and that August I ended up doing two TV shows at the festival – one for Channel 4 in the UK and one for HBO in the US.

What I witnessed was basically a commercial enterprise, a huge corporate machine in full swing.

It wasn’t about the comedy for most people it was about the money – doing a screen test in front of people who could give them a sitcom or a lucrative advertising contract for a product they didn’t even believe in.

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In yesterday’s blog, Kate Copstick also said, attacking audiences who only go to comedy shows featuring performers they have seen on TV:

“I could shit into a bag and, if some high-powered PR person stuck an As Seen on Mock The Week sticker on it, people would come and see it. They genuinely would! This is not good for comedy.”

Mr Methane says:

Gregory the polar  bear from Montreal

Gregory the polar bear – more human than most comedians

“Not being strictly career motivated and having left a large industry with a traditional corporate career structure because abandonment of my core values in exchange for money makes me very ill inside, I didn’t do any networking at Just For Laughs in Montreal but went sightseeing instead… I even bought a real life looking soft toy polar bear called Gregory, who still lives with me to this day. He is actually more memorable and human than most of the festival or its players.

“Hence you see I am still farting around in the shallows of showbusiness, unable to afford a pair of teeth like the ones that adorn the grinning face of John Bishop but I can and have shat in a bag onstage: well not actually a bag, a dustbin. It’s a long story but it got me a lot of respect from the audience at the time – improvisation – Unfortunately, the audience was made up of agricultural students and rugby players with no high-powered PR people present. Consequently it didn’t make Mock The Week.

Mr Methane caught in a rare moment of civilian dress

Mr Methane unusually caught in his civilian dress

“Having said all this I would just like to emphasise that not all comedians are in the ‘not nice’ bracket which me and Kate Copstick allude to – just a healthy majority. Off the top of my head, Australian comedians Steve Hughes and Chris Franklin are the nicest blokes I have ever had the pleasure of knowing. I love them both, not in a gay way but like a Viking.

“There are many more who don’t immediately spring to mind but who will know who they are – If you still need reassurance or clarification, email me. To sum up, I think the biggest tragedy of all is that the good guys can end up falling into this negative Me Me Me world, becoming cynical and suspicious of other acts and their motives.”

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The hardest-working comedian at the Edinburgh Fringe… and Lewis Schaffer

Lewis Schaffer poses next to his own Fringe posters yesterday

“John, I don’t have an ego,” said Lewis Schaffer to me yesterday, as we walked along the Cowgate in Edinburgh. “An ego means an arrogant view of oneself. I don’t have that. Yes, I’m self-centred. I might be loud, I might want to talk about myself all the time, but that doesn’t mean I think I’m the cat’s mieow, as we said in…”

“…the Bronx,” I suggested.

“Brooklyn,” corrected Lewis Schaffer.

Lewis Schaffer has been thrown out of his flat at the Edinburgh Fringe and is sleeping on comedian Dan Willis’ couch for two nights. After that, he is homeless.

“Who threw you out?” I asked.

“My friend Glasgow Jimmy,” Lewis Schaffer replied. “He’s a lovely guy. I like him. He was lovely to me and, all of  sudden, he stopped being lovely to me. I don’t want to say bad things about the guy.”

“Were you being annoying?” I asked.

“I wasn’t, I wasn’t being annoying,” replied Lewis Schaffer. “Why would you think I was being annoying? I think he thought I was taking advantage. I mean, I’m not a generous person.”

“You are,” I remonstrated.

“I’m not, I’m not,” argued Lewis Schaffer. “I don’t have the social graces. I’m not a great person. At some point in my life I have to admit I’m just an OK guy.”

“You buy me cups of tea!” I argued. “And occasional meals.”

“I can’t make this funny,” said Lewis Schaffer. “It’s a tragedy.”

“Comedy is tragedy,” I said. “Just keep buying me tea. All I want is tea for my tongue and anecdotes for my blog. I’m cheap.”

“I can’t be considered cheap,” said Lewis Schaffer, “ because, every year, I spend more money than I have and I…”

Lewis Schaffer grabs Dan ‘the couch’ Willis

It was at this point that we bumped into Dan Willis, the fellow comic on whose couch Lewis Schaffer is sleeping.

“Dan is the hardest working comic at the Fringe,” Lewis enthused, as if he were selling double-glazing. “Every day, six days a week, six shows at four different venues – five solo shows and one show where he MCs. And each one of these shows… Why am I doing the talking?… has it’s own distinct audience and some people go to all six shows. There’s no repetition of any jokes.”

“You must be a millionaire!” I joked to Dan. “I know they’re free entry shows, but the…”

“I’m doing alright,” said Dan. “I break even. It costs a fortune to register them.”

“Ah!” I said, “Of course. Six shows at £400-each to be printed in the Fringe Programme.”

“People come to all of them and I love it,” said Dan. “I’ve done 80-odd shows so far and I’ve got another 66 to do. They’re all different. I don’t repeat a joke all day.”

“He’s not English,” said Lewis Schaffer, “He’s from Newcastle.”

I looked at Dan. He shrugged his shoulders.

“I’m now embarrassed to say I’d not heard of you,” I said indelicately.

“Because I don’t pay for press and PR,” said Dan, “and I never have. I’m based in Melbourne. Just moved there for the last ten months.”

“Why Melbourne?” I asked.

“I fell in love.”

“A very beautiful girl,” said Lewis Schaffer.

“Australian?” I asked.

Dan nodded.

“A very beautiful girl,” said Lewis Schaffer. “He’s not a phoney baloney. I think Dan is the most honest comedian I know.”

I told Dan: “This is what you get for giving him a couch.”

“The trouble,” Dan said, “is I’m a 5’10” white guy who’s 39. And I’m an ex-computer programmer. So there’s no media interest in any of that. They want someone of…”

“…ethnicity?” I suggested.

“or…” said Dan, “well, they want young men at the moment. Young, pretty guys.”

“You mean the media want that,” I said, “not necessarily comedy clubs.”

“I get booked by clubs but, to move up to another level, you’ve gotta move away from the clubs and the clubs are slowly paying less and less and less.”

“Dan’s a sa…,” Lewis Schaffer started, “…No, I wouldn’t call him a saint. He’s not a saint, exactly, but he does the right thing.”

“If he lets you stay for another two weeks he’s definitely headed for sainthood,” I said.

“Dan,” explained Lewis Schaffer. “is very similar to the guy who threw me out of my flat. He’ll get angry and angry and keep it inside and then he’ll throw me out.”

“He’s got one night, maybe two if he’s lucky,” Dan told me.

“How did he ask you for your couch?” I asked Dan.

“I got a text. I have it here,” said Dan, lifting up his mobile. “Here it is. CAN I SLEEP ON YOUR SETTEE? I’VE BEEN KICKED OUT OF MY FLAT.”

“That’s succinct,” I said.

“But it was at 2.30 in the morning I got this text,” said Dan.

“The room I’m in,” said Lewis Schaffer, “My room…”

Your room?” Dan and I queried simultaneously.

“We can talk about that later,” said Lewis Schaffer. “If you had to recommend one of your shows, which show would you recommend?”

Dan Willis – his six Edinburgh Fringe shows

“I think the best show, writing-wise,” said Dan, “is Inspired. That’s the one I spent all year writing. It’s the most ‘written’ show I’ve ever done. The most popular show at the moment is the computer one Control Alt Delete. That’s packed out every day with…”

“Geeks,” I said helpfully.

“Computer nerds,” said Dan.

“You’ve got six shows,” I said. “Are they…”

“Yes,” said Dan. “They’re back catalogue plus a new show. Every year I bring a new show to Edinburgh. I’ve actually got seven or eight shows but I figured six was best for a working day. It’s a 12-hour working day from when I get up to when I finish.”

“He’s amazing,” said Lewis Schaffer. “There’s nothing else like this at the Fringe, but he’s getting no press.”

“But it’s fun,” said Dan, “I’m loving it, the crowds are loving it. Big crowds, big buckets.”

“He does more than break even,” said Lewis Schaffer.

“If you approach the press,” I suggested to Dan, “your angle could be that you are sleeping in Lewis Schaffer’s flat.”

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Why comedians are psychopathic masochists with an overwhelming death wish

(This blog was re-published by the Chortle comedy website in March 2011)

I have seen several comedians get very close to big-time success and then destroy their own own chances.

Sometimes I have seen a comedian, after years of struggling, so close to their big-time breakthrough that they can almost reach out and touch it… they can smell it… they can feel the potential big change coming… and then they throw the chance away. Because, I think, after years of struggle, they know the taste of failure and know they can deal with that acid-like ache in the pit of their stomach… but they are frightened by the unknown challenges and feelings which success may throw at them.

It is fear of the unknown and also, perhaps, an inbuilt urge to fail.

Masochism.

I have a theory that there is very little difference between a stand-up comedian and someone who walks into a supermarket or sits atop a high building and randomly shoots people with an AK-47 assault rifle. Most of the psycho shooters are not homicidal but suicidal; they are not sadists, they are masochists; they know they will die and welcome it because someone else will kill them, someone else will ‘suicide’ them.

Comedians are, perhaps, psychopaths with a strong streak of masochism stirred in.

The motivation of both the psycho shooter and the stand up comic is to have a God-like, deep and lasting effect on the lives of others.

They want the public to be so affected by their actions that ‘ordinary’ people completely lose control over their emotions. They want to so affect ‘ordinary’ people’s minds, to have such a vivid, immediate impact that their name will be remembered for the rest of their contemporaries’ lives.

Choose which one is which. Toss a coin.

In the perfect comedy performance, the audience cannot control their basic bodily emotions – their laughter – the comic is in control. But, equally, if the comedian loses control for even a few seconds, the tables may be turned almost instantly and he or she may ‘die’. In the case of the random shooter, a police marksman may fire a fatal round at him/her. In the case of a comic, not just heckles but beer glasses can get thrown at you. I have seen blood drawn on more than one occasion. But it is the psychological damage which hurts more.

What sort of person decides to randomly shoot people knowing they will eventually and soon be shot themselves? The same sort of person who stands on a stage inviting inevitable (even if unjustified) rejection.

Arguably, psychopathic masochists.

Comedy performers have a need to be in control, yet are totally at the mercy of their audiences’ collective whims. Only the very insecure would risk such total rejection for such total control over others. Standing on stage is a masochist’s delight.

If you succeed, if you play the best gig of your life, you know that future gigs are highly unlikely ever to surpass this triumphant peak; the rest of your life will be less successful. If you fail, if the audience and/or the critics don’t find you or your thoughts funny right now, that reinforces your belief in your own worthlessness. It is a lose-lose situation and who would open themselves up to the risk of such rejection? Most comics I’ve met are a combination of vast ego and vast insecurity and self-doubt.

Masochists with a large ego.

Stand-up comics are not like the rest of us. And that is partly why their acts and their minds can be uniquely entertaining and uniquely insightful. If you put a talented masochistic psychopath on stage and say “Go on! Make me laugh!” you are bound to get a wonderfully unexpected result.

The irony is that audiences think it’s easy, that comedians are happy people offstage and that ‘anybody’ can do it.

Give me a well-balanced, happy person, content with their life, content in themselves and I will give you a person who will never be a good comedian.

Give me a psychologically-damaged mess, a mixture of dictator and masochistic neurotic and I will give you a potentially good comedian – which is why I enjoy being with them so much.

Perhaps I should start worrying about my own psychological make-up…

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