I like big rants and I cannot lie

Something happened tonight.

I was onstage at Scurvy Wednesdays and something happened, and I don’t know who else in the room noticed it but there was a moment, just a moment, when I thought I might just have found a voice.

It all happened like this: I realised a few days ago that there is something funny in the idea of a comedian who had a real love of silly jokes but recognized the silliness of the jokes, referenced it, explained it. Tim Vine does it incredibly well, though that’s not the point of his act. To an extent, it IS the point of Stewart Lee‘s act but in many ways he’s almost too clever to put that on the surface of the text because he wants the audience to laugh at his actual material as well…

Anyway, when I was at the Comedy Cafe last Wednesday, my silly jokes were, for the first time, not getting the laughs they had been getting the previous night. I had this idea of pretending to get angry, ironically taking it on the audience for the stupidness of the material. And I did a little bit along the lines of, “I’ve been doing stand-up for three years and until now I was doing hard-hitting topical comedy,” and they laughed. And afterwards, Joel Dommett – an act I really rate – said, “you’re really funny when you get angry.”

And I remembered, then, about a really interesting gig I did a few years ago, at the Bedford in Balham. While I was onstage, someone laughed at an odd time. A girl with her boyfriend. And I asked them what they’d laughed at, and they said, the way a beer mat had stuck to the bottom of the glass. And I good-naturedly and mock-hysterically abandoned my material and got angry, went off on a rant about how that was the most damning heckle ever because they were implying that a sticky beer mat was funnier than the comedian, and perhaps we should all just play with beer mats, and then I thought ‘fuck it’, and I ran with it and got a beer mat up on stage and put it behind the microphone and went, ‘is THIS what you want? IS IT? IS IT?’ And the audience laughed.

I don’t think everyone felt entirely comfortable that night, but it got very good laughs from most of the room, and I finished my set to a generally very good response. Afterwards, a very good and wise comedian called James Cann – who then went up and did a flawless set of brilliant prepared material – said to me, ‘you picked on someone who was laughing. That’s dangerous.’ It was a night where audience judges decided the best act of the night by marking them out of ten; I got a few 9/10s, but the couple I’d picked on, even though they told me afterwards they thought it was brilliant, had ‘ironically’ given me a 1/10. James had got solid 8/10s from pretty much all the judges, so – perhaps deservedly – got the highest average score and won the night. (He does mostly improv now. I like to think that’s because he got tired of doing the same consistently great stuff every night…)

Anyway, I had learned that night that not everyone likes an angry comedian, and I didn’t do it again for a while. But I had really enjoyed doing it.

So after Joel had reminded me about this, I thought to myself: I wonder what would happen if the act was a comedian who not only recognises the silliness of his silly jokes but is actually really angry at himself for doing them. Is there potentially something funny in that pathetic self-and-audience-loathing of a comic who thinks he’s somehow better than his material, even though really he isn’t? I suggested this idea to Loz over a lunchtime beer last week, and he seemed to think it was worth a try.

And it occurred to me that actually, there is an extent to which I can honestly identify with that idea; I did spend an incredibly long time at University studying philosophy for the end product to be nothing more than a serious of puns based around the phrase ‘I like big butts and I cannot lie’.

So when I was deciding what to do tonight, and I realised that hardly anyone there had seen this ‘big butts’ bit, I thought, I’ll do it but then I’ll play this anger at my own silliness up. I’ll go onstage and I’ll get really angry. And I’ll rant and shout and I’ll be pathetic and self-loathing.

And that’s what I did. At the start of the set there were not so many laughs for the actual joke. But then, the more shouty and pathetic I got, the bigger the laughs got, and there was one point when I almost lost my flow because I had to wait for at least one particularly big laugh to fade. And for a very brief moment, I genuinely lost myself in what I was doing, got lost in the moment, in trying to channel the raw emotion, of how painful and frustrating stand-up can be, of how much I want to be good at it…that so rarely happens…

Then, after about 5 or 6 minutes, the tide of the rant had peaked and dipped, and the room was left in a state of slightly awkward tension. What was needed then was to have written a really good punchline to break that tension and make it all okay.

I didn’t have that punchline. Instead, I tried to do a new bit about pie charts. It didn’t really work and the set fell flat towards the end. Which was probably a bit of a let-down (the bit about pie charts is quite good, but it wasn’t the place for it).

But I will find that punchline, and I will destroy rooms with it…

And besides, I felt pretty satisfied when I left the stage. I felt like I was getting close to something, that there was a glimpse of an act, a voice, there. 

At no point do I think that everybody in the room really enjoyed it. I know Tony didn’t. The phrase he used after the show was ‘car crash’, which hurt a bit because he’s such a good act and I value his opinion a lot. But I do know that I tried something new, that there was a section in the middle where I was getting good laughs from a fair chunk of the audience, plus Loz seemed to really enjoy it (at least before I did the pie charts), and the other acts smiled and shook my hand in a way that they don’t do when I actually do badly. (I know what that’s like, I’ve done it enough times now.) 

So perhaps it’s not to everyone’s taste, and I have no doubt at all that there will be nights where this new idea goes horribly, horribly wrong.

But I do think I may have found a kernel of an act to believe in and work at; and that is more than I’ve ever had since I started doing this whole ridiculous stand-up thing. More importantly, it’s a reason to look forward to the next gig.


1 Comment

  1. […] then there was Wednesday, when on the advice of Loz and Joel Dommett (see previous blog), I went ballistic at Scurvy Wednesdays and came offstage feeling like I might have just stumbled […]

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