Tag Archives: insecurity

The vulnerability of anarchic comedians Malcolm Hardee and Martin Soan

The young-ish Malcolm Hardee (left) and Martin Soan (right) (Photograph courtesy of Steve Taylor from up north)

Last night, a preview of the Greatest Show on LegsEdinburgh Fringe show at London’s Comedy Cafe was cancelled due to a gas leak.

So, instead, leading Leg Martin Soan talked to me about the oft-called ‘godfather of British alternative comedy’ Malcolm Hardee, about whom I have oft blogged here.

Martin and Malcolm met, in their late teens, shortly after Martin had started The Greatest Show On Legs as an adult Punch & Judy show. The Legs were perhaps most famous for their Naked Balloon Dance on Chris Tarrant’s OTT TV show.

“There was other stuff in Malcolm,” Martin said, “but, because he was a bit lazy and always took the easy options… We did talk about some fairly sophisticated stuff for the Greatest Show On Legs to do and, if only we’d pursued that and had had a university-educated ethic about work, we would have come up with some lovely scenarios, me and Malcolm, as a working partnership, except they would have been upper class rather than middle class or working class.

“With a university education, we’d have known all about writing and we’d have motivated people to do it and we would have been ahead of our fucking time.

“What you don’t write about about Malcolm, what you don’t write about about me is that we were vulnerable. We didn’t possess – I don’t possess – natural self-confidence. Malcolm didn’t. He really didn’t. That was our affinity with each other. We bullshitted; we both tried to get away with it; we were out for a good time. But, basically, we were both vulnerable. And that was very true about Malcolm.

“Though,” I said, “Malcolm exuded confidence to other people.”

“Yeah, he did,” agreed Martin.

“But…?” I asked.

“But…” Martin said and then stopped, lost in thought.

“He was shy, wasn’t he?” I said.

“He was shy, yes,” said Martin. “Not able to express his emotions.”

“Yet everyone who didn’t know him thinks he was this outrageous, extrovert character,” I said.

“As a human being, he had his faults and that’s why we loved him,” said Martin. “He was like, in some sort of way, a Mr Punch character. All the things that were wrong about a person were all the things you loved about them at the same time. That was Malcolm.

“There was an affinity between me and him because we met when we were young and we felt we weren’t worthy. We had this hang-up but, at the same time, it was Wey-heh! Yeah! Go for it!

“And you told me the vulnerability was about education,” I said.

“Yeah,” said Martin. “There was this Wey-heh! Yeah! Go for it! But you couldn’t take that vulnerability out of me and Malcolm. There was a tragic inability for these young, sometimes charismatic working class lads to… we couldn’t quite fucking crack it.

“In a sense, we all did really well, but still there’s that feeling in the back of the mind: We’re no good.”

“But Malcolm wasn’t really working class,” I said. “And I don’t think he had a thing about education, did he? He went to Colfe’s School and he could have done better but,” I laughed, “the way he told it his father buggered-up his chances in the interview. I don’t think Malcolm had a thing about lack of education, did he?”

“He did,” Martin corrected me, “Malcolm did. On the very few times – in the early days, not so much in later days – we levelled with each other, I’d say Don’t bullshit me, Malcolm! He was a huge bullshitter. But he did talk to me about the cynical resentment he had – exactly the same as me. He did resent the Oxbridge comedy ‘passport’ to success though, at the same time, he wanted to get in with them. He wasn’t too good on those inroads, though.

“The first time we went up to the Edinburgh Fringe, Emma Thompson was doing a sell-out show. We did go along and see her and she was in the same venue as us – The Hole In The Ground.

“But he developed other relationships at that Edinburgh Fringe – with Arthur Smith and others – and he moved on. I was slower. I was a lot more introverted than Malcolm in terms of the whole social thing. I probably suffered more than he did from the whole insecurity thing, thinking I’m shit! and the whole thing.”

“Are you OK saying this in a blog?” I asked.

“Yeah,” said Martin, surprised.

“The only semi-bad review Malcolm’s autobiography got,” I said, “was one by Stewart Lee in the Sunday Times which said it wasn’t analytical enough of Malcolm’s character – though Stewart did add that Malcolm wasn’t naturally someone who analysed himself. And he didn’t. When we were writing his autobiography, I occasionally tried to get Malcolm to analyse things he’d done and he wasn’t interested. And I figured it was an autobiography not a biography, so that was part of the nature of the person. He wasn’t analytical in that way and he did find it difficult to express his…”

“Me and Malcolm,” Martin interrupted, “were ‘family’ for a time. We grew up together. We started with that Hole In The Ground show at the Edinburgh Fringe, pushed it on and ended up going all over the world together and.. it was a big adventure.”

“Like brothers,” I said.

“Yeah,” said Martin. “I used to try and talk to Malcolm. Forget all that education stuff, I’d say. Here we are now. Let’s just enjoy ourselves. But I had to bludgeon him into it. Just sit and relax and savour all the memories. That dog when we were doing the naked balloon dance! Do you remember this? Do you remember that? That’s what ‘family’ is all about. It’s about memories and what you do together and fuck what anybody else thinks about it. It’s about what we did together and it was amazing!”

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The Welsh language is just plain silly and is a clear sign of national insecurity

So, tell me, what is the point of having a blog if you can’t write bigoted pieces based on truth, half-truths and misunderstandings?

For the last couple of days, I have been staying on Cardigan Bay in West Wales.

When you walk in the streets and go into shops in Cardigan – or Aberteifi as it is now pointlessly half-re-named – people are sometimes speaking Welsh not English to each other. It was not until I worked in Ireland that I started to think the propagation of the Welsh language is ridiculously pointless.

If a language is dead, let it die. If it is still alive, it will survive without heavy-handed insistence that it must be used.

What is very relevant to this blog is the fact I am Scottish not English. Remember that my mother’s grandmother did not speak English until, in her late teens I think, she came down from the hills. The image of my grandmother coming down from the hills is one a friend of mine finds peculiarly funny but, anyway, my mother’s grandmother originally spoke Scots Gaelic as her native tongue, not English.

I once spent some time in the Outer Hebrides where I admired and was fascinated by how, in shops, people would speak to each other in sentences that meandered almost randomly between English and Gaelic words and phrases. They used whichever words and phrases came more naturally and fitted better. Sometimes the words were Gaelic, sometimes English; all within the same sentence.

I once had an interview for a job with Grampian Television in Aberdeen which basically transmitted to the Highlands while Scottish Television transmitted to the Lowlands. The conversation came round to starting a number of Gaelic-language programmes transmitted on Grampian (part of ITV) and on BBC Scotland. I said I thought it was silly because such a relatively small percentage of Scottish television viewers – by then almost entirely in the Western Isles with a small smattering in the Highlands – actually spoke Gaelic as their natural tongue.

The Grampian TV executive interviewing me was highly miffed.

“Ah! But you’re English!” he said to me.

“I was born in Campbeltown and partly brought up in Aberdeen,” I told him. “Where were you born?”

“London,” he said.

I did not get the job.

Later, I did a lot of freelance work over many years for HTV in Cardiff – or Caerdydd as it is now pointlessly half-re-named. It’s a bit like re-naming Saigon as Ho Chi Minh City when most of the inhabitants continue to call it Saigon.

As far as I remember, when I started working in South Wales, almost all the local signs were in English. I mean the road signs and the general retail shop signs.

At some point, almost imperceptibly, dual language signs started appearing, usually with the Welsh version first.

At around this time, or maybe a little later, there was an extended period where my full-time freelance work alternated between working for HTV in Cardiff and Tara TV in Dublin.

In Dublin, I could see old, rotting, rusting and ignored street signs in Irish Gaelic. All the current signs were in English. This was the period when the ‘Celtic Tiger‘ was on the rise and the Irish Republic had re-discovered its self-confidence.

It is very relevant that I was once sitting in an edit suite at Windmill Lane Studios in Dublin, directing a trailer for an RTE television programme which included an interview in which someone said a couple of sentences in Irish Gaelic.

“What did he say?” I asked the Irish videotape editor sitting with me.

“No idea,” he told me.

We had three other Irish people come into the suite. None of them knew what the Gaelic words meant. They had all had to ‘learn’ Gaelic at school but, just like British schoolkids who do five years of French at school, they could not speak and could barely understand the language because it was bugger-all use to them in everyday life.

It was at this time – alternating my time sometimes one week here/ one week there/ one week here/ one week there between Cardiff and Dublin – that I began to think the Welsh language was just plain silly.

It was silly because it was a mostly dead language being revived and imposed by a clique on a predominantly non-Welsh-speaking population.

One week, I returned to Cardiff from Dublin to find that the local Tesco store had changed all its signs to dual-language Welsh and English signs. Someone (Welsh) told me in near-disbelief that all the signs at the Tesco store in Abergavenny, where she lived, had also been changed.

“I swear to God, no-one bloody speaks Welsh in Abergavenny!” she told me.

By the time I stopped working at HTV, Lloyds Bank was calling itself Banc Lloyds (it has since re-re-branded itself simply as Lloyds TSB) and other shops and businesses were doing the same: making up their own names in Welsh. Mostly, I suspect, they were English companies trying to be politically correct and liberal, much like that English executive at Grampian TV trying to be so ‘right-on’.

Shortly before Tesco started changing its signs to dual-language Welsh & English, I had been on holiday to Cambodia and, in Phnom Penh, there was a street of hovels and shacks which were all English language ‘schools’. At that time, no-one had any money and there was a very real possibility that the homicidally extreme Khmer Rouge might regain power in the next month or two. But, as in almost all other parts of the world, people wanted to learn English because it was and is the ‘international’ language. If you are an outward-looking country with outward-looking thoughts, you learn English.

My understanding is that, after most of Ireland gained independence from Britain in the early 1920s (let us not get into any pedantic details of dates in Ireland: it will all end in many tears and much wailing), the republicans who ran the country wanted to encourage self-confidence and national pride.

So they called the new country Eire instead of Ireland, painted the red pillar boxes green, changed a few of the royal crests on stone buildings to harps and tried to get everyone to speak Gaelic. The country rotted in inward-looking isolation for decades, admittedly not helped by the fact successive UK governments had every reason to dislike American-born Eamon de Valera and his blindly Brit-hating chums.

But, by the time I worked in Dublin in the mid and late 1990s, the Irish Republic had regained its self-confidence and, although civil servants had to know Gaelic, the English language had taken over all everyday usage except in the extreme west of the country. The few Irish language signs in Dublin were faded and/or rusting.

Irish, like Scots Gaelic, was then and is now effectively a dead language naturally spoken by few people. Though long may they speak Gaelic in Ireland and Scotland. I have nothing against the natural rise and fall of any – indeed, all – languages.

But I am told by Welsh friends that, except in the West and sparsely-populated central highlands of Wales, the Welsh language had pretty-much died out by the late 19th century.

It was re-imposed rather than re-grew in Wales in the late 20th century.

My memory is that extreme Welsh nationalists got publicity in English newspapers by setting off some minor explosions and burning down occasional second homes owned by ordinary English people in Wales.

Then some second-rate people who could not get jobs in media, politics and the local civil service had the bright idea of looking to what their USP was – they could speak Welsh – and they pushed for Welsh-language TV programmes, an entire Welsh TV channel and the use of the Welsh language in the local civil service because, that way, they would have a positive advantage in getting jobs.

The Welsh language was, to an extent, partially revived not by natural growth and usage but by xenophobia and the self-interest of a small clique.

Yes, that’s a very personal view of what happened, but not necessarily totally untrue.

English politicians, frightened of alienating the Welsh, went along with it for electoral gain and you now have a country where people have a TV channel –  S4C – which most of them don’t understand and dual-language signs only half of which most understand – the English language half.

While the rest of the world was moving towards internationally-understood English, a group of self-serving xenophobes in Wales (where English was already established) were pushing for the renewed use of a mostly-dead language known only by some in Wales and nowhere else except some obscure area of Patagonia.

Looking inwards in an increasingly international world is not a good idea. An insistence on trying to spread the Welsh language more widely in Wales is not a sign of national identity. It is a sign of national insecurity.

Right or wrong, that’s my viewpoint. Like I said at the start, What is the point of having a blog if you can’t write bigoted pieces based on truth, half-truths and misunderstandings?

Oh – Abergavenny has now been pointlessly half-re-named Y Fenni.

Really! Give me a break, chaps or – as Google Translate claims that would be said in Welsh – yn rhoi i mi egwyl, chaps.

What sort of sensible language doesn’t have a word for “chaps”?

Dim sense.

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Stand-up comedians: are they funny people?

(This article previously appeared in Mensa Magazine)

FUNNY PEOPLE

by John Fleming

You are a stand-up comedian. You get up alone on stage. A spotlight shines on you. If you now perform the greatest show of your life, your future is downhill. If you get badly rejected by the audience, their objective reaction reinforces your own insecurities. You’re in a Lose-Lose situation. Who can be attracted to that? A masochist. That’s what I thought. So I asked Jewish comedian Ivor Dembina who has run many successful comedy clubs over 20 years, has seen comedy talent of all types fail and succeed and who, in his show Sadojudaism, jokes at length about his penchant for sadomasochism.

“Well, stand-up can be painful,” he initially agrees, “but the point about masochism is that it’s a state where pain is pleasurable and I’ve never heard a comic describe the frustrations and humiliations of public failure as something to be enjoyed.”

So why does he do it?

“I’m aware of a a core desire within me to please others which I can trace back to early childhood, being rewarded by my parents with smiles and approval whenever I made them laugh.  In adulthood I’ve acquired a desire to control situations and an irrepressible need to prove I’m right. Stand-up comedy is the best outlet I’ve found for both characteristics.”

Comedian Ricky Grover comes from London’s East End:

“Whether they admit it or not,” Ricky suggests, “most comedians live their life in depression, even feeling suicidal. They feel like they’re shit, feel like they’re not going to be able to do it again. If you don’t laugh you’d cry. That’s your options.

“There was a lot of violence going on in my childhood and sadness and depression and one of the ways to escape from all that was humour. I would make ‘em laugh and sometimes I’d make my stepfather laugh to deflect a confrontational situation. A lot of humour where I came from was quite dark. I wanted to be like my stepfather – an armed robber – because that was the only person I had to look up to. I had him or my little skinny grandad who was really quite verbally spiteful to me. I thought, well, if it’s between the little skinny grandad or the ex-boxer/armed robber, I’ll be the ex-boxer/armed robber and I suppose that’s why I went into… boxing.”

Scottish comedienne Janey Godley was raped by her uncle between the ages of 5 and 13; at 19 she married into a gangster family; at 21 her mother was murdered; for 14 years she ran a pub in Glasgow’s tough East End; and, in a 22-month period, 17 of her friends died from heroin.

“I do sometimes think everything I say’s shite,” she admits, “and I do sometimes think nobody’s ever gonna laugh at it and I get worried.”

So why get up on stage and face total personal rejection?

“Because it’s challenging,” she explains. “Because, with me, every show’s different. I don’t really tell jokes; I tell anecdotes that are unusual in that I talk about child abuse and murder and gangsters and social issues. I get up and do something different every time and it’s a really exciting challenge because I think: I wonder how that’ll work? And, when it really works it makes me really happy. When it completely dies, I think, I’m going to do that another twenty times, cos that was strange. Most of the stuff I do is reality with bits of surrealism. I tell a big true story with funny bits and talking animals in it and sometimes glittery tortoises. It might not affect their lives, but the audience WILL remember it because it’s different.”

So what is the X Factor?

“In my case, delusions about my own self-importance,” says Ivor firmly. “That’s why I decided to become a comic.”

“You’re split between two extremes,” says Ricky. “Really low self-esteem and a massive ego. They’re the two things you need to do stand-up and they come hand-in-hand. Deep down inside, there’s a little voice inside that tells you you’re shit but you want to prove you’re not. Stand-up comedy is the nearest you’ll ever get to being a boxer, because you’re on your own and you’re worried about the one same thing and that is making yourself look a cunt in front of everyone.”

Ivor believes: “Successful comedians tend to be characterised by a slightly ‘don’t care’ attitude. They can be philosophical about failure and speedily get over things like bad gigs and hostile reviews and move on to the next performance without dwelling on setbacks.”

“I have the confidence to get up on stage,” Janey tells me, “because after the life I’ve led – all the madness and the pub and the gangsters and the abuse – there is nothing frightens me any more. So, if I ever stood in a room with 600 people and talked for 15 minutes and nobody laughed, then it’s no worse than having a gun held at your head and I’ve already had that, so it doesn’t really scare me.”

“Boxers ain’t worried about getting hurt,” explains Ricky, “because, when your adrenaline’s flowing there is no real pain. In fact the pain’s quite enjoyable. I used to like soaking up the pain in the ring and smashing it back into them. My favourite comedy gigs are when I’m watching comedian after comedian go under and get heckled and I think, Right, I’m going to conquer this. And I sort of go into battle and then I can turn a gig round and make something happen.”

“I’ve had gigs which were going too well,” says Janey, “and I’ve intentionally ‘lost’ the audience just so I can work hard to get them back again.”

“Yeah, sometimes,” says Ricky, “There can be a really happy great big roar on every word you say and the gig’s almost too easy and you think, I’m going to throw something in here and make this a little bit hard, and I’ll come out and say something that may be offensive to some people and the whole room will go quiet and then you can play with that quietness and see where you go with it and that can be an interesting gig. So it’s a battle going in your head all the time.”

The late great club owner Malcolm Hardee once told me he was unimpressed by jugglers because, if anyone practised for several hours every day over several years, anyone could become good. “Juggling is a skill you can learn,” he insisted. “Stand-up comedy is a talent. However hard you work, you can’t become a great stand-up without underlying talent.”

So is comedy a skill or a talent? Can you learn it?

“All that’s required,” believes Ivor, “is a bit of talent, a modicum of common sense, a thick skin and an ability to learn from your mistakes. Stand-up isn’t nearly as difficult as people imagine. I started by running small comedy clubs and witnessed the efforts of many others whom I thought I could be better than. It was as simple as that.”

“It’s not just one thing,” Janey believes. “Thirty things are important on stage. There’s talent, confidence, timing, connecting with the audience, empathy, humour, the human touch. People have said the most bizarre things to me on stage. A woman once stood up and told me she’d been raped a couple of weeks ago and this was the first night she’d laughed since then. That’s not talent or technique; that’s being able to connect with another human being in a room full of people. But I do it for me, not really for them, because there’s nothing better than standing on stage. I don’t do it because of ego or because of lack of confidence. I do it for the experience of doing it because I love the applause.”

“I suppose,” admits Ricky, “that you’re looking for someone to say This bloke is a comedy genius. But, if someone does say that, there’s this little voice inside your head which disagrees: No you’re not, you’re shit. Then, if someone writes a review and says you’re shit, you think: No I’m not, I’m a comedy genius.”

Rejection is the thing that binds comedians together,” says Ivor, “because they’ve all experienced it at some time or other. What separates those of us who eventually become stand-ups from those who give up is that we are prepared to risk rejection time and time again.”

“You know what I think it is?” says Ricky “What all us comedians have in common? What we want? It’s not about being famous. It’s not about having fortunes. I think it’s just about having a bit of recognition. The thing that drives us all mad is not getting recognition for what we do.”

But, once you have proved you can do it once or ten times or fifty times, why keep doing it? Why constantly risk rejection?

“If you have the best sex of your life,” suggests Janey, “It doesn’t stop you doing it again. You’ll keep on doing it and keep on doing it.”

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I am surrounded by people with newly-born pigs’ arses for faces

At school, my English teacher once talked to our class about the poet W.H. Auden.

“Just look at the lines on his face!” he told us in awe. “All that character! All that experience!”

Sometimes, for a while after that – still in my early teens – I would sit in a tube train on my way home after school and look at my reflection in the window opposite and raise my eyebrows to try to create wrinkles on my forehead… to absolutely no effect at all. I could not insert lasting wrinkles in my forehead.

I was very disappointed.

Of course, back then, I was too young to realise most lines are caused by emotional strain or pain and one single incident of strain or pain doth not a single line cause – it’s pain and strain repeated and repeated in various incidents in your life at different times that cause a single line and multiple lines are the result of… well, you know what I mean.

I was and am a great admirer of the writer Mary Anne Evans aka George Eliot.

That godawful writer Virginia Woolf once said she thought George Eliot’s Middlemarch was “one of the few English novels written for grown-up people.”

In my opinion, it’s the greatest novel ever written in the English language.

So at least Virginia Woolf wrote something sensible on that one occasion.

George Eliot had a brilliant mind and somewhere along the way, I think in Middlemarch, she said something to the effect that suffering was never wasted because it led to sympathy for other people’s suffering. That’s not altogether true, as it can also lead to extreme callousness, of course.

Hitler, Stalin, Saddam Hussein and Colonel Gaddafi had lines on their forehead and they were perhaps just a wee bit unsympathetic to others’ suffering. I’m not sure whether to talk of Colonel Gaddafi in the present tense or the past tense. He’s present at the moment but this blog may soon be over-taken by events.

Anyway… we are talking in generalities here and, as always, I may be talking bollocks.

But I have always been wary of women over a certain age – basically over their mid-twenties – with no lines at all on their forehead, because it means they have had little experience of the shittyness that is life and therefore no understanding of or sympathy with other people’s problems. So they are even more dangerous than other women. (Men, as we know, are all shits without exception, so that distinction does not exist in the male of the species.)

A friend of mine has had lines on her forehead for as long as I have known her. I met her when she was 21; she is now 56. Some time, I guess when she was in her thirties, she told me she wished she hadn’t got them. I told her, perfectly truthfully, that I had always found them attractive because they showed she had a genuine, real, likable character; she wasn’t some mindless bimbo with a face like a newly-born pig’s arse.

Perhaps I could have chosen my words better. She didn’t take this compliment well.

But we are still friends.

Now I have lines on my forehead, my face and around my eyes – I even have old man clefts at the sides of my mouth so sometimes I leak spittle out onto the pillow when I sleep. It is not the most endearing of traits. I can’t get rid of the lines nor the old man clefts. But I don’t want to.

Well, maybe oozing spittle is not really ideal. Maybe I wish I didn’t do that.

But it’s an age thing.

When I was younger, the Carry On actor Sid James seemed to have an incredibly lined face. Now when I see his face on TV or in movies, I see personality engraved in his face, not lines.

To me, schoolchildren, who are all character-filled individuals to each other, now look like Invasion of The Body Snatchers type pod clones. They all look the same to me – like babies with newly-born pig’s arse faces.

A friend of mine (not the one previously mentioned) tells me that, in her teens and early twenties, she used to stick strips of Sellotape onto her forehead overnight to stop wrinkles forming.

“Once, I forgot to take them off,” she told me yesterday. “I was opening the front door before i remembered. I don’t know what people would have thought.”

A couple of days ago, a comedian’s wife told me that, in her teens, she used to sleep with a clothes peg on the bridge of her nose because she thought it was too wide. She too told me: “I cared what people thought about the way I looked.”

There’s not a lot I can do about the way I look and, about ten years ago, I gave up caring what people think of me in general. Not that I much cared what people thought about me before then anyway.

It was not and is not a positive character trait and it never proved to be any help in career advancement.

But scum always rises and the people with no lines on their forehead – the shallow bullshit artists – very often triumph.

The comic Martin Soan – admittedly drunk at the time – told me last week that my blogs sometimes show a cynical streak.

Streak? Streak? I would have said it was a six-lane super-highway.

I am surrounded by people with newly-born pigs’ arses for faces!

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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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