Back in high school, I had begun to envision myself as a stand-up-comedian. I was watching the likes of Billy Connelly, Eddie Murphy, Robin Williams, and so many more, and just thought it looked like a lot of fun. Thing is, I was still very much in an awkward phase and the very thought of being evaluated on my humour scared the hair off my skin.
Even after I started doing theatre, and gained some confidence in playing characters, the love/fear fantasy of stand-up continued to thwart itself, like the proverbial snake eating its own tail. I still have a few teeth marks around here somewhere. It is different to theatre where you play a character, vs being yourself trying to be funny. Who would get my humour? Am I really that funny? You know, the type of fear that secretes glue from your feet pinning you in place, then reduces the skin around your eyes and mouth leaving you looking like a startled owl saying “who?”
Quite by accident, I found a smooth pathway to finding my glue-less footing and feeling a little more like “I can do this.” For nearly two years now, I have been hosting Trivia nights for local pubs, and ended up doing a regular gig at a conveniently local tavern. I started off cautiously, but aware that I was basically a source of entertainment for the players. It was a little rough at first as I inadvertently put a few noses out of joint. Noses that were used to the smell of the previous trout, and weren’t too sure what to make of this new fish. I wasn’t too sure what to make of them either…
It took a little while to work into a groove so to speak, and develop a style that I was comfortable with. Curiously, it was a style that previously I wouldn’t have even considered; sassy, confident, and a little offensive. Having been well known for being well spoken, I found that the more cutting and slang I was, the more people seemed to enjoy it. So I obliged bit by bit over time.
On thing that did throw me off for a while was the hecklers. I really did not have a lot of experience with that. In theatre, you rarely if ever have a heckler, yet I always admired actors who could work with the Audience.
John English immediately comes to mind. I went to see a Pirates of Penzance show with him in it, and unfortunately I was late. Having front and centre seats made for an interesting entrance. John stopped the production and from to front of stage, and watched me as I made my way from the back of the auditorium, across the front row, to my seat. Once I was seated, he asked me if they could continue, to which I replied with a quick. “Yes please. Thanks for waiting.” That got a laugh. John did one of his famous ‘double-takes’, gave me a hard look, evoking even more amusement, and I just smiled back up at him. After a second, I waved my hand saying “Carry on.”
He then made sure to cast a few one liners at me for the rest of the night, to which I enthusiastically riposted, much to the glee of those around me. I then had a great chat with the man after the show, and he told me about the numerous other experiences he has had with late comers. I remember him saying with was refreshing to have someone push back instead of getting all embarrassed.
It’s a memory that remains so very strong. I have had a few opportunities to emulate his example, but Trivia nights have been a real experience and experiment. So I started watching comedians again, but not laugh at their jokes, but to see how they handled hecklers. Jimmy Carr became a core role model, who actually makes heckles part of the show.
I admit, that I have pinched and re-written a couple of his to suit my needs, to great effect. It has changed my approach to Trivia nights, to performances, and even to engaging with people on a day-to-day basis. The spread of effect this has had is rather marvellous, and people have even been pointing that I should consider stand-up…
I think 2017 may be the year I brave the solo limelight and unleash the spirited young comedian inside this aging ham.