Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Personal Services

Is it possible for a comedian to be too personal on stage? Can exploring his angst or inner most thoughts alienate an audience? Can she share just a little bit too much with a crowd? I've never really thought so, but it's something I have heard and discussed more than once in the past week.

For quite a long time now, my favourite comedians have been the ones you know much more about once they have left the stage than when they arrived on it. This can manifest itself in many different ways, and not simply a confessional. The one liners that betray a theme of character, the tone of material, or simply a revealing anecdote - these all add up to good comedy in my opinion. Yes, of course laughs are king, but it's much more fulfilling as an audient to receive more than just the equivalent of a drive by. Surely you want to know who shot you?

I think it's all about context too. You can't simply walk on stage and expunge everything in one emotive tirade - you need to saunter up to that kind of material sideways and almost gesture at it with your head, innocently, hoping the audience is looking at what you are drawing their attention too. My last four gigs seem to have explored this theme somewhat.

After I left you last, I had been doing Improv for students. The following night, I was once again at The Hatchet. This is my favourite place to air new material, it feels like my home base. I began with some older stuff, before moving into a lengthy bit about something very personal to me. Perhaps too personal, as I'm reluctant to air it again anytime soon - but it was well received, and it drew from me a performance I wasn't aware I was capable of. And a performance it was, even though I made much of it being "real". While the emotional reserves I drew from were real, I think it produced a convincing facade. I was aware of some sympathetic looks from passing exitors, even though I was feeling pretty good about the gig I had just done. From a laughter perspective, the new bit started very well, and maintained its pace - and I wasn't afraid of the silences - they added to the laughs. I blew it a little towards the end, which fell flat, mostly because I was squatting down and couldn't really be seen. Plus, from a writing perspective, the bit needs more of a narrative, as it doesn't lead to a satisfactory conclusion as it stands. So, until life presents me with an adequate denouement, it will sit on the shelf for a while.

I'll skip to the next pertinent gig now, which happens to be the following week at The Hatchet again. In the afternoon I had written another new piece, which I had no confidence in, and abandoned quick smart once on stage and it was dying. The reason it tanked was me having little or no faith in it - but the other things I tried around it worked nicely, and some familiar banter moments made the gig more worthwhile than it deserved to be.

Next day, I was in Leamington, determined to give the material a second airing, but worried I would bottle it again. I didn't, but I did a properly horrible job. It was competent, and was getting laughs, but I kept blowing lines and drawing attention to the bridging I was doing whilst trying to remember bits. I tried to pull it back with the material about my Gran, which mostly helped raise the levels again, but I unforgiveably forgot an important line. So, we come back to the theme of this post. Afterward, Mr Tom Binns had a chat with me about the set, and about the manner in which I handle Alzheimer's in it. He was mostly praiseworthy, but vocalised the thought that maybe that stuff was a bit too personal. Now, this is where we come to context. I've never had that kind of reaction before. I've had people come up and engage me in chat about The Long Goodbye (not the film), or even about my Dad's illness, but no-one has said it felt too much. And that's because I have always performed those bits after other lengthy material - and usually in a 20, not in a 10 when I have just tanked with some new stuff. So, to bastardise a phrase, context is king. As an aside, bits of the new bit worked very well, and I failed to do the more pertinent and personal concluding parts of it, so I have no idea what state this material is in.

So, I'm in a car on the way to Exeter with three other comedians, and the subject of being too personal comes up again - less than 24 hours later, and unprompted by me. I had nothing to add to the general chat, and listened happily at the thoughts being expressed. The consensus seemed to be that if it's too much, it might seem like a mental episode. Again, context I guess. If you come on so angry you have nowhere else to go, then yes, brain malfunction is a good conclusion. But what if you slowly build to that anger, hint at the underlying frustrations, remain calm - then surely, when you do "blow", the effect is more engaging (and possibly more menacing). Anyway, the gig was pointless. The audience didn't really care, and invested nothing of their own energy into it, so it was hard to summon up my own reserves. I felt like Buffy in the opening number to the musical episode, "Going Through The Motions".

Why not visit my MySpace page and read some more vomit?

Saturday, November 18, 2006

I Donated My Voice To Children In Need

I'm a bit all over the place at the moment, and what with my Dutch travels, my over whelming sense of doom, and it being quite late, I'm not sure what gigs I've actually done recently - so I'll chat about them as they occur to me. It seems quite a while since I did a conventional stand up gig, and the one that springs to mind is a spot I did at Bristol Student Union. It was a night of improv comedy, with a middle section of straight stand up, which I had the pleasure of doing. I always enjoy gigs in that room, and that night was no exception. Weirdly though, I felt I had to work for it, when perhaps I hadn't expected that. I also had an annoying habit of starting an aside thought and having an inability to conclude it. Which didn't bode well I seem to remember, because I was doing some actual Improv the next evening.

Yes, that's right. The Hatchet played host to something a bit different - a section in which the comedian was given their topic by the audience, and asked to chat about it for as long as they deemed fit. My hope for doing this was that it would inspire some material for the set. In the afternoon, in a run through, I had been given the subject of cardigans, and this had lead me to some thoughts on something that I will write up tomorrow and try and work into a bit. In the evening however, I was given the subject Rubber Bands, which didn't really go anywhere, and only harvested laughs towards the end of my time. Everyone else did an excellent job though, and I hope it's something we get to do again.

Then I was in Holland - no gigs happened there. Um. And tonight, yes, I remember, tonight I did my first stint as part of an improv group. We performed at another University Halls in Bristol, all in the aid of Terry Wogan. Students are certainly getting younger and even more annoying. We had no amplification, so I had to rely on my puny little chest cavity and much shouting - the result of which is no voice now. It was fun, and a very different skill than stand up, with its own set of rules - all of which I hope to discover slowly. It's quite hard to judge how well it went, but everyone seemed to be enjoying it, and we mustered some very big laughs, which is all important I guess.

Since I've been home, I've made the mistake of watching myself on DVD from a few weeks back. It wasn't as disconcerting as I expected, but I am now very aware of how much I move around on stage, and I know for sure this is going to be in my head next time I do it - which is not a good thing, because it's going to throw me. I've also been re-watching Comedian, which is one of my favourite documentaries, for obvious reasons, not least becasue Seinfeld is one of my idols. It always inspires me to write and gig more, but then I realise I don't have my own private jet to travel around in.
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