Most of the time I hate doing stand up comedy.
I hate coming up with jokes.
I hate rehearsing jokes until I can remember them.
I hate the deathly silence or mild indifference most of the jokes in question receive.
Most of the shows I do are comedy nights I run out of the room above a bar in town. They give me free drinks and the room upstairs once a month. All I have to do is advertise the night, get enough acts to fill a two hour show, and enough customers to buy drinks.
It’s a pretty good deal, with an incredible level of creative freedom. I can do whatever I like with the show. I’m writing and directing a play for a festival and I keep having to re-write that to avoid offending people and getting around staging limitations.
With stand up it’s just a mic, a warning about adult content and I’m free to do anything within the boundaries of British law.
I never said I hate stand up as an art form, I just hate doing it.
I blame myself. You see what happened at first is I’d get all my performers from the university. It was strictly amateur night and the playing field was level… There wasn’t anyone who had much more experience than I did. I’m very, very low level in terms of ability and experience but it didn’t show for the first couple of shows.
Then I started getting e-mails from guys on the professional circuit. I wanted to put on the best shows possible, so I let them all in.
Unsurprisingly they pushed the standards up with their fancy pants notebooks and stage presence, and made me look even worse than I am.
I hate doing stand up.
I’ve quit comedy more times than I’ve performed it.
* * * * *
One of the greatest moments of my life so far was on St. Patrick’s Day. I’d passed out the previous year after drinking around ten pints of Guinness so I decided it’d be safer to just stick to Jameson. I ditched my friends on the dance floor because I was bored and the band kept playing U2 songs. I ended up drinking with an American exchange student who’s playing God in my play, and a professional magician who performs at my comedy night.
As we were drinking a girl came over to us and asked me if I was the guy from the comedy night. When I told her I was she smiled and told me she ‘really enjoyed going…’
That was nice, but it would have been better if the sentence hadn’t ended ‘… with my boyfriend’ and me getting the barmaid to put another double in my half pint glass that had probably forgotten what being empty felt like.
The point to the story is not that I am an awesome bitchin’ rockstar from Mars. No, the point is that however awesome that felt it’s not the reason I do stand up. It’s a feeling that pales in comparison to spending twenty minutes on stage with forty people watching your every move, listening to your every word, and laughing at every joke.
That’s what gets you addicted. I’m no better than a crack addict really, and I certainly don’t dress any better.
Since I performed that routine my life has been an empty and futile battle to come up with anything anywhere near as good. I’ve told jokes that have got laughs since, but it’s not the same.
At one point during the single greatest twenty minutes of my life a girl right by the front of her stage was literally on the edge of her seat and gasping with each twist of the story I was telling.
Power — total control.
For those twenty minutes the darkened lounge was my kingdom, and I was its God. It’s a strange and heady cocktail of power and constant, instant validation… It only feels like two minutes, and it seems like there is nothing else in the world but you and forty faces.
The whole twenty minutes essentially paves the way for the ten second payoff at the end which is met with laughter and applause whilst I thank everyone for coming.
As the room emptied I collapsed down on the stage floating slowly downwards into a perfect cocktail of solitude, validation, adrenaline and free whiskey… And now I feel like a rockstar…
Most of the time I hate doing stand up comedy, but this is why I don’t stop… Why I can’t stop…
For the same reason sports fans cheer their team season after season however bad they might be performing.
For the same reason some people keep doing drugs, however adverse the physical effects might be.
It’s an addiction… and I don’t want a cure.