Carl Hutchinson: 'I can't give a heckler detention'
As Carl Hutchinson's tour arrives in Edinburgh and Glasgow we caught up with him about teaching v stand-up, art v science and the importance of The Stand
Just as a film or novel seems to take us to another time or place, what places will Carl Hutchinson: Live! take us to?
I'm sure you can tell I spent a while choosing the title, the show takes you into a year of my life. Nothing remarkable happens, I go on holiday, get thrown out of my best mate's housewarming party, wet the bed due to excessive drinking of alcohol, you know all the usual stuff. I think this show is the most honest I've been onstage – I'd like to believe my personality has been injected into every story and observation.
When you first started standup you did well in several competitions. Was this helpful or was there a downside?
Bit of both really. When you do a new-act national competition in your first couple of months doing comedy, aged 19, it's really hard to not think "Yeah, I've cracked this comedy lark, what's everyone else been doing and why am I so great? Live at the Apollo is right around the corner, yeah? That is, if I'm available." It's hard not to get a bit arrogant – or at least it was for me.
What happens is you get really good at doing five to seven minutes. The competitions do help you get some notoriety and from the exposure the promoters do book you. But guess what? They want you for 15 to 20 mins! "Well I've got a great five-seven minutes so I'll just do that set four times in a row, yeah? Or maybe I can stretch it out." That is where you begin to realise you aren't the hot property you once thought you were. It's all experience however, it's all about what you learn. I wouldn't change any of it looking back.
You spent a little time as a maths teacher before going into comedy full-time. Are there parallels between teaching and standup?
I'd say so, yes. You're stood up talking for a living; a heckler and a pupil shouting out is quite the same. Although, I can't do a "your mother" slam retort to a pupil. I also can't give a heckler detention.
In comedy, if you have a bad gig, you can rest assured that you don't have to see the same audience the next day at 10am.
Is comedy more a science than an art? (Please show your workings)
Oh, that's a good one. I'm inclined to say art initially. The whole process is an art, from having the idea, writing it down, adding/subtracting/rearranging on paper, rehearsing in the shower or walking along by yourself (that's when I must look ridiculous to an on-looker), performing on stage for the first time, adding/subtracting/rearranging on the fly, debrief after the show. After about ten times of doing it on stage you have what I call a blueprint. That's when the real writing takes place, feeding off the audiences' laugh or energy, the bit I end up with at the end usually never resembles what I wrote down on day one. The science aspect would have to be the clinical way a piece of material or a story is edited down or built up based solely on the binary nature of comedy, "Did it get a laugh? Yes or No?"
Who is your comedy mentor?
Anyone who wants to give me feedback, I'll listen to anyone. I often seek out Chris Ramsey or Jason Cook, they're probably the closest people I'd ask for guidance in comedy.
In recent years you've become quite established at The Stand. How important have The Stand venues been to your career?
Oh they've helped me out so much. I honestly can't begin to think how many times I've performed at The Stand Newcastle, Edinburgh and Glasgow. From their open mic nights, to doing a ten minute spot on the weekends, to the opening 15 minutes on a weekend, to the 20 minute spot main support weekend, to 25 minute closing the weekend shows and in the last few years touring with my own show. I've been playing The Stand for ten years now and they've been instrumental in my development as a comedian. It's a great place to perform.
Doing the Edinburgh Festival Fringe with The Stand has helped me out so much, it really is the one place during the festival that makes you believe you really are being looked after. The Stand are unlike any others. When you go to the festival they're costs: room hire, brochure entry, staff (technicians, box office etc) and so on. You need to pay all of that before you actually start making money yourself. Most places either want money up front or take it off your settlement at the end. Worst case scenario, you don't sell any tickets and now you have to foot the bill.
The Stand have a policy of "if you don't make any money, don't worry about the costs". It's amazing, it really helps take the pressure off you and allows you to just enjoy the performances rather than the business side of things.
How do gigs in Edinburgh during the rest of the year differ from gigs at the Fringe?
Less tourists, that's about it. Every show in Edinburgh is always fun, it's a great place for comedy in and out of the festival. I can't wait to come back up!
Carl Hutchinson: Live!, The Stand Comedy Club, 22 Apr (Edinburgh) & 23 Apr (Glasgow), 7.30pm, £12