The teachers thought I was a hoot; one of them, my Latin teacher, had me permanently removed because I had him in stitches humores on a regular basis.
Last week, the creators of US sitcom, Seinfeld, Larry David and his buddy, Jerry Seinfeld, were named America’s wealthiest comedians — worth $900m and $800m respectively. So, how hard can this stand-up be? I got my chance to find out at a comedy night in Anseo, on Camden Street, in Dublin recently.
Run by comedian and musician, Adam Cullen, In at The Shallow End gives new comedians just two minutes on stage to make people laugh. I was one of seven novices on a Wednesday night.
Like a group of spies at a party, we saw and recognised each other straight away, but none of us could speak to the other, lest we reveal our secret; that being, of course, that we were all shitting ourselves.
Luckily for the people who had paid to see us, the evening was bookended by accomplished comedians. Ronan Grace, Aideen McQueen and the hilariously funny Fred Cooke saved us newbies from ruining everybody’s night, and probably from getting lynched.
In between were the cannon fodder, the novices, the people like me, who think/thought it’s easy to get up on stage and make people laugh. Being on stage is nothing new to me. I’ve sung in bands, I’ve taught and I’ve been a tour guide. My life is full of performance-related occasions and, more often than not, I’ve delivered. ‘So why should this be any different?’ I wondered. My experience will, surely, carry me through.
Oh. How wrong. I was.
My material was my one-year-old boy, whom I love, but who, like most people his age, can provide an ill-prepared comedian with comedy gold.
I started off by asking if anyone was an expectant father. ‘No’ came a drunken response from a suave-looking silhouette in the back corner. Nobody jumped in to help me out, so joke number one was out the door.
One minute and fifty-five seconds left and boy was the spotlight getting hotter.
When I told the audience that my boy, Fionn, was handsome like his Daddy, my arrogance, and flirtatiousness with a pretty girl in the front row, got me a laugh. Back on track — although it later turned out that the girl in question was Adam’s sister — yikes.
An impersonation of my poor, defenceless child getting up in the morning, probably made me look more like a crazy parent than a comic father, but it did use up the clock. As I headed for the last lap, I lamented that Sepultura and Nirvana had been replaced by repeated airings of ‘The Wheels on the Bus’, and when I played the tune from a book of the same name, I saw a few smiles. The suave silhouette down the back muttered something and, although I didn’t hear him, I secretly called him an unprintable name under my breath.
Finally, I produced a large ball, or, in Fionn’s world, a ‘Pa’, which I proceeded to head around the room while slithering on my front. This was to demonstrate how Fionn, who hasn’t yet learnt to crawl (unlike his daddy — that got a laugh, by the way), has already learnt to head the ball. Before I got to my punch line, the hooter — in tonight’s case, a harmonica — went. Just as well, because I really didn’t have a punch line. My final audible words were ‘Thank Christ for that’. That also got a laugh.
It was hit-and-miss, far more of the latter than the former, and it was easily one of the most nerve-wracking things I’ve ever done. Two people said ‘good job’, and while one of them was simply being nice, the other was probably looking for sexual favours. One of the organisers suggested that I shouldn’t have left the stage, another suggested that I shouldn’t have left it in the manner that I did. I felt that going on in the first place might have been the bigger mistake, however.
For Cullen, there is only one bit of advice for budding comedians.
“Make sure that you really have jokes,” he says. “Some comedians that you see on TV have been working at it for years. They might start off with, say, seven minutes of material and they’ll repeat it, and refine it, until they have four minutes and they need to add new material. Even the comedians who are telling stories have jokes; they’re just disguised. They’re hitting a laugh every couple of seconds. It may look like it’s coming naturally, but you can be sure that they’ve worked at it for a long time. Having jokes; that’s your weapon.”
Or, as my Latin teacher would have said: “semper paratus”.
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