I think everyone has, at one point or another, thought that they could do stand up comedy. It’s something that I’ve contemplated doing for ages, so thought I’d give myself a kick up the bum and set about it.
I’m expecting stand up comedy to be a really tough cookie. Even though most people seem to think that I’m a funny guy, being funny while down the pub is one thing, but being funny on a stage, in front of complete strangers is another. Even with experience of performing magic for strangers and making them laugh, this is a whole different game. I have to write 10 minutes of MY OWN funny stuff from scratch and then stand up and perform it!
Anyway, after making the decision, I didn’t want to wait, so I booked myself an open spot at an event in Darwen, which gave me my deadline, and I set about writing…and writing…
I didn’t really look at any “how to write stand up comedy” books or watch loads of comedians when I did this. I know from performing magic that my best moments and creations have come when I’ve been myself and enjoyed the moment, not from mimicking other people, so I just set about writing. I spent ages walking round my house, speaking quite randomly about various topics, hoping to create an adlib or two that would give me some killer punchlines.
After a while, I had enough material, so I set about ordering and editing it until it resembled something vaguely amusing. I don’t know if this was just because it was my first time and I was starting from scratch, but this bit took ages. It was like trying to chip away at marble. Every time I read the material out loud I was making changes. I had constant self doubt about such a line not being funny, or talking myself into believing that the subject wasn’t relevant or relatable to the audience.
In magic, famous magicians often give away the secrets to their favourite tricks in books, DVD’s and lectures; allowing magicians to copy them and perform them in their own work. While it is always frowned upon to copy an act verbatim, learning a tried and tested trick in this manner gives you a great security blanket – regardless of your presentation, you know that the trick is going to be good. In comedy, I have no blanket, I have to create my own material, so I’ve no idea how it’s going to be received.
It could be a long 10 minutes.
About three days before the gig, I had settled on my act. No more editing. It’s my first time on stage; I’ll be grateful if I can just remember everything and take the mic out of the stand. It’s got to be better to present so-so material well than do great material half assed, right? RIGHT???
So, I spent the next days practicing and rehearsing, trying to remember all of the bits and what order they went together without relying on notes or looking like I was fumbling, and I got it pretty good though. I knew performing it in front of a live crowd would be a different matter though, so I kept at it.
You can’t practice too much.
On the day, the gig went fine.People laughed. It was a great crowd and the other acts were really nice and supportive: it was an ideal first gig really. I got the mic out of the stand (you’ve no idea how much of a worry this was for me!), I remembered all my lines and managed to thank the audience before putting the mic back without tripping over anything on my way off the stage!
The full night is reviewed here. I’ve included the review of my act here just because it paints me in a far too awesome light:
“Like Jacob from the bible, sadly I do have my favourites, and John Holt was my Joseph, so let this review be his dream coat. As a promoter, I book acts for many different reasons. I’ll book new acts for smaller rooms, experienced acts trying new stuff for smaller rooms, I’ll book acts that can carshare to help with their travel costs, I’ll book strong headliners for big rooms to perform late on, I’ll book experienced acts to open and close shows where the line up might not look too strong. etc etc etc I could go on, but as a comedy fan, I just sit back and laugh – and no matter what I think as a promoter, whether I’m trying to save money or whether I’ve got a budget to splash the cash, the true testimony to who I like, are the acts that make me personally laugh. John Holt did one better than just make me laugh, in fact he did 30+ better. Everyone loved him. He was outstanding. Lets analyse the word outstanding. It’s something that stood out from the rest. Something that left a lasting impression from the night. John Holt, an experienced corporate magician entering the no man’s land of stand up comedy, oozed talent, likability and comedy finesse. It’s great meeting acts like John who arrive over 2 hours early to be prepared, who are nothing but an absolute delight to converse with before and after, and who perform so well to make my shows look really good. He’s a new act, yes, so don’t expect him to be at the Apollo just yet, but please give this man stage time to develop his act, because one day you can sit next to me at the Apollo when we’re watching him and brag saying you gave him a shot when he first started out. Hard work, talent and good fortune. John ticks the first two boxes, hopefully the universe ticks the third for him when the time is right.”
And no, I didn’t write that.
To be honest, I wasn’t that good. I wish I was, but as a first timer, I was probably ok, and that’s fine. Like I said, stand up is going to be a lot of hard work. It’s like magic; it doesn’t happen overnight, you’ve got some milestones to achieve before you get there.
I have my eyes open though and I’m keen to rack up some stage time and get used to a different performing environment. I@m pretty sure that over the following months I will:
- Die on my arse spectacularly,
- Forget my lines and go blank,
- I will kill and I’ll think I’m some sort of comedy god.
It’s happened to everyone before me and it’ll happen to everyone else too.
Right now, the goal is simple: get plenty of stage time and learn from every show!