Tag Archives: stage

The roar of the greasepaint, the smell of the crowd… and the terrified comedian

The stage. The spotlights. And the fear.

Three major things performers get off on.

And, when comedians are inexperienced, the third is so strong, they often forget the first two.

You can spot inexperienced comedians because they step forward, out of the stage lights, so they can see the audience’s faces and the audience becomes more human, less of a faceless beast in the dark.

But the result is that the performer’s face becomes dimmer and less distinct.

So you have a dimly-lit performer standing in front of a well-lit background and the human eye is overwhelmed by the bright background, which makes the performer’s face even dimmer.

The audience can’t see the performer’s eyes and facial expressions clearly. The effect and impact of what the performer says is lessened.

What the performer has done through fear in an attempt to have more impact has had the opposite effect.

Even worse – and I saw it happen twice recently – some performers without careful pre-planning and with their head filled with professionally suicidal fog actually come down off the stage to directly interact with the audience. They think it’s ‘bonding’. In fact, it’s wanking.

You can get away with it after a lot of careful thought, detailed pre-planning and a lot of live performance experience. But not “cos I feel like it”.

It makes the performer feel better – real live interaction with real live people – but it means, off the stage and in semi-darkness, most of the audience can see fuck all of what the performer is doing. The audience might as well be listening to a radio programme in the dark. If the performer has actual genuine eye contact with one punter, it means all other members of the audience are being excluded.

Eyes, Facial expressions. Brightly lit. Details seen clearly. That’s why audiences go to live shows. To see the performer clearly. That’s what communication is about.

Rule One of stand-up comedy… even in a small room…

If you can see the audience’s eyes in the middle of the room, you are standing in the wrong place. Get back into the light.

Rule Two of stand-up comedy… even in a small room…

If you cannot feel the warmth of the light(s) on the front and sides of your face, you are standing in the wrong place. Get back into the light.

Rule Three of stand-up comedy… even in a small room…

If there is a stage and you have come off it to ‘bond’ with the audience, get your mind off your insecurities and think about the audience’s viewpoint not your own. Get back on the fucking stage. Get back into the light.

Don’t think of the audience as a faceless beast in the dark, about to rip your soul asunder at any moment.

Think of your light as a warm womb protecting you. The faceless beast out there in the dark is just a bad dream and you will be backstage drinking lukewarm tea in less than an hour – perhaps less than ten minutes…

Stay in the light.

It’s why you wanted to perform in the first place. To communicate with people. Clearly.

(This blog was also published by the comedy industry website Chortle.)

2 Comments

Filed under Comedy, Psychology, Theatre

At the 2011 Edinburgh Fringe, two comedy debates, two bizarre live events and a two-hour variety show

Forgive me while I amiably meander in almost – but not quite – the same way as preparations for the Edinburgh Fringe meander – well, OK, they meander increasingly manically as the year progresses. Preparations for the annual August adrenaline fest normally start around December or January…

As background for what is coming, remember that, in the wonderful world of showbiz, TV shows always take precedence over live stage shows. One year, not so long ago, well after the Edinburgh Fringe Programme deadline had passed, comedian John Oliver was offered a regular spot on The Daily Show with Jon Stewart in the US so, quite rightly, he decamped Stateside. He had been due to appear at the Edinburgh Fringe in his show with Andy Zaltzman in the August and was billed in the printed Programme to appear but Andy successfully carried it off as a solo show. So it all turned out well.

Pity the poor Edinburgh Fringe staff at this time of year, though – indeed, pity them at any time of year.

The Fringe this year does not start until the first week in August, but the deadline for entry into the Fringe Programme was nine days ago and yesterday afternoon at 5.00pm was the final deadline for making changes to any of the entries. The Programme is published in June.

As we are talking of Fringe performers here, chaos must have reigned all over the UK yesterday. I got phone calls from two comedians changing their show titles and wording and asking me what I thought. One of those calls was from American comedian Lewis Schaffer who, last year, managed to incorrectly bill his 7.00pm show in the Programme as a 17.00 show. What can you expect from a nation that calls mathematics “math” instead of “maths”?

Lewis reckons that it is Europe’s fault for confusingly listing 5 o’clock as 17 o’clock.

Last year, however, he miraculously managed to get a second timeslot at 7.00pm for part of his Fringe run to compensate and did two shows a day and then, when he lost the venue for the extra slot, he waited outside the venue at the appropriate time, picked up people who thought he was performing inside and dragged them off like some latter-day Pied Piper for a performance outside in another street.

Lewis is a New York Jew and he did those performance in a street opposite the main Edinburgh Mosque. I think he claimed to me at the time that this location was coincidental (and it was never referred to in his show) but I have never been too sure, as he is that rare thing: an American with a hyper-active sense of irony.

Anyway, this year it was me who had to change one show I’m putting on.

The Malcolm Hardee Awards for Comedy have been around since 2005 and, in varying ways, there have been stage shows since then in London or Edinburgh.

This year, there is going to be a two-hour Awards show – well, maybe ten minutes of actually awarding Awards in the middle of a two-hour comedy variety show – at the Edinburgh Fringe on Friday 26th August.

Until yesterday, it was going to be preceded by four nights of comedy debates – chaired by me on the Monday/Tuesday and by Kate Copstick, doyenne of Fringe comedy critics, on the Wednesday/Thursday.

At the last minute, though, a TV show to which Kate was already committed switched its recording days so she now has to be in London on the Wednesday/Thursday (and possibly also the Tuesday). She can’t do her two Malcolm Hardee Debate shows and can’t switch her two dates with mine.

So, at the last minute yesterday, I changed the Wednesday/Thursday show and its venue (don’t ask about the venue change – private grief).

Now, in the final full week of the Fringe, 22nd-26th August 2011, there will be Malcolm Hardee debates on the Monday/Tuesday evenings at The Hive, a bizarre event which I have always wanted to stage on the Wednesday/Thursday evenings in the Grassmarket and a two-hour Malcolm Hardee Comedy Awards show on Friday night at The Counting House.

Alright, it means bugger all to you and I didn’t say what the bizarre event is.

But to me, this blog posting counts as a promotional pre-launch. You insert in people’s brains the vague idea that something is happening in the future, then say nothing about it for a while and then plug it increasingly nearer the time.

You have been warned.

More will follow.

Eventually.

Unless it all changes.

We are talking, here, after all, about the Edinburgh Fringe.

Kate Copstick should be appearing in the Malcolm Hardee Debate on Monday 22nd August. But who knows?

Any profits from the debates and from the two-hour Malcolm Hardee Awards show on Friday 26th August will certainly go to her Mama Biashara charity.

Leave a comment

Filed under Comedy, Scotland, Television, Theatre