on the problem of not being quite mad enough

Tonight, out of the blue and on my way home from a gig – a really fun one, in fact – I had a bit of a brainwave.

It’s not original, of course, but it’s this: that stand-up comedy is not for people without some serious emotional issues. Really well adjusted people – however funny they naturally are – really wouldn’t do it. Even relatively sane people like me, although we can get solid laughs, can never be that great.

In actual fact, many great comedians aren’t that funny as people. Some are quiet and withdrawn; some are really tiresome because, in Steve Martin’s words, they are ‘never off’, their brains having become machines of gags/banter/whimsy and they become exhausting to be around; and many, like the people I spent this evening with, are polite and intelligent and lovely. But we are no funnier than the average person.

The difference is that I don’t think any of us are without some kind of serious emotional flaw. The problem is, after six years of stand-up, I don’t think I’ve ever yet been quite emotionally flawed enough, for long enough, to ever get really good.

I mean, considering what it takes to actually get that good. Because you can’t just rock up and be consistently funny. You have to write material, rehearse it, go out to gigs (often terrible ones), night after night after night, and every time ask yourself, ‘why didn’t they laugh as much at that bit as I wanted them to…?’ And analyse it and do it differently the next night, over and over again…

That takes an incredible amount of drive – a kind of drive I have had, sporadically, for a few months at a time before getting exhausted. But that isn’t enough. You need a drive that commits your entire being to it. And that drive doesn’t come from nowhere.

Basically, you have to really really care whether people like you or not. I mean, really CARE. If you have some talent, of course, you can rock up, mess around a bit, do some old material and call it consistent, or competent, or whatever. But it’s not storming. If you have a decent level of confidence in yourself and your own value as a person, you can be okay. But never really good.

To be that good takes a horrible, nagging, worm-like insecurity that eats you from the inside out. But it drives you to be funny.

And I worry, secretly but often, that every time I turn up to a gig underprepared and do respectably but not stormingly, it’s because I just… well, I just don’t worry enough about whether the audience will like me or not.

Perhaps this is, in itself, my flaw.

So I carry on, competently gigging, semi-regularly, until I’m fucked up enough to really need to get good…

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