The World of Stand-Up

Think you're funny? <strong>Ariadne Cass-Maran</strong> suggests a few tips for wannabe comics.

Feature by Ariadne Cass-Maran | 18 Aug 2009
  • Microphone

Our first experience of comedy generally comes from television, old comedy recordings, or stand-up DVDs. Most of us have been exposed to Ardal O’Hanlon through incessant Father Ted reruns, Frankie Boyle through Mock the Week and Bill Bailey through, well, everything. There is nothing funnier, or more exciting, however, than seeing comedy live. As a medium, it doesn’t always do well on telly, since it can sometimes be constricted by censorship and dodgy editing. Comedy, like theatre, belongs on the stage, preferably one in the middle of a comedy club or pub where you can drink, and where the person making you laugh is in your immediate proximity. It’s supposed to be a visceral experience. One of the huge disadvantages of big name comedy is that it takes place in massive theatres, which can have quite a distancing effect for the comedian as well as the audience. It's also expensive.

As a student, your best plan is to leave your comedy heroes on television and go out to find local, live comedy, which is cheaper, dirtier, drunker and frankly better. Comedy is very rarely given the same status as other art forms such as theatre, music, installation or sculpture. Even tutors in drama and literature can be dismissive of it, which is a great shame because it is one of the most immediately reactive forms of entertainment. Social and humanitarian observations can be and often are produced on the same day that the news breaks, making comedy a valuable tool for feeling the pulse of society (particularly since society can be especially measured by what it laughs at). Yes, it can be lowbrow, and yes, breaking news such as Michael Jackson’s death is often followed by competitions amongst comedians as to who can make the most brilliantly distasteful joke. But it is undeniable that comedy does not take as long to produce as some other art forms, which means that it lacks that lumbering, just-behind-the-moment quality they can sometime have. In short, comedy is immediate and exciting and the men and women who produce it are impassioned about what they do. Live stand up venues are all over Scotland, check out the links at the bottom of this article and The Skinny site for listings and recommendations.

Want to give it a go?

If you would like to try it yourself, this is how it works. First, remember that comedy, like all art, is an expensive process, not a money-making one. It’ll take months to start being offered any kind of money and years to make a profit . Step one is to watch a lot of live comedy (this does not mean watching your Eddie Izzard and Bill Hicks DVDs over and over again in your bedroom). Don’t try and write material or start performing without seeing a shitload of stuff first, that’s just arrogant.

Once you have a handle on the industry, start working on a five minute set. This is the standard amount of time a new comedian will be asked for. There are lots of clubs offering five minute open spots to all takers, with various lengths of waiting lists. For up-to-the-minute details and brilliant places to try out your material, in a supportive environment, get yourself onto www.scottishcomedyforum.com. This is also a great place to connect with the Scottish comedy community, which is vast and wise and willing to impart advice for newbies – so long as you enter with a humble attitude and a willingness to learn. The months and months of your time as an open spot is akin to an apprenticeship. Be prepared for the fact that this is a long process which takes a lot of time and a lot of travelling. Even if you live in the central belt, make sure you stray away from your home turf; north to Aberdeen and beyond and south into England. Try lining up gigs in your home town during the holidays.

Lastly, be prepared for the possibility that you will suck the first time you try it. If you do, try again. And keep going to gigs and learning about what works from the audience’s reaction, and keep rewriting until you have five minutes of solid, funny material. Take advantage of the camaraderie and kindness of your fellow comedians. Conversely, if you storm your first gig, don’t take that as a sign that you’re wonderful and should be instantly paid and worshipped. Both failure and success are completely illusory at this stage. It will take time, practice and a hell of a lot of hard work to figure out your potential. After further time, more practice and yet more hard work you might find that by the time you graduate your degree, you’ll graduate your comedy apprenticeship, too, and learn about when, why and how much you should be paid. In the meantime you’ll get to participate in one of the most brilliant and contemporary art forms there is.

The Stand Comedy Club in Edinburgh and Glasgow host a weekly beginners night called Red Raw.  See www.thestand.co.uk for more information.