day 17: imagination and confidence

Comedy is a very simple thing to make, at least on a superficial level. It basically just requires two things: imagination and confidence.

Specifically, we need the imagination necessary to create surprises (every laugh is a response to some kind of surprise); and we need to deliver those surprises with absolute, supreme confidence that the normal instinctive reaction to those surprises will be laughter, so that the audience has confidence in us to make them laugh.

If one of those two elements is missing or not quite right, then the comedy fails. If the material is predictable, for example. Or if the material is surprising but not in the right kind of way (often, new comedians go for ‘shock’ humour but they don’t quite judge it right and the response is merely disgust or offence). Or it is the right kind of surprise but the delivery is uncertain – good material sometimes fails if the performer doesn’t hit the lines with the kind of timing and clarity that comes from being absolutely convinced that these things should be laughed at. A misplaced and uncertain-sounding ‘er…’ can make a whole line – a whole act, even – fall flat.

Sunday was just a series of examples of this. The Flashback have long had a deleted scene, in which Fraser performs Beetlejuice as a squeaky-voiced crap magician. They only did it once, and it died a horrible death. So they haven’t done it since.

And yet, it has some of the best lines I think they’ve written. For example, after the first two tricks fail, Beetlejuice calls out,

“For my final magic, I will need – the implement of magical wonder! (pulls out a huge hacksaw)

And I will need – the indemnity form of magical wonder! (pulls out a huge legal indemnity form)

And I will need – a volunteer…with a pen!”

Which has always cracked me up – there is no doubt that it ticks the imagination and surprise boxes, and I’ve been telling them for ages they should bring the scene back. But the previous experience of doing the routine to absolutely nothing means they’ve always refused.

At least until Sunday morning, when Fraser suggested that I do it.

We talked about it throughout the day, but eventually decided that we didn’t quite have the confidence to run with it that night. And I agreed that if the confidence wasn’t there, we couldn’t do it.

For the showcase, though, we had a great lineup. My Mother and soon-to-be Stepfather turned up, and so I opened my compering with my marriage material, and got the crowd quite nicely warmed up for Henry Ginsberg. In private, Henry is a man who (like many comedians) sometimes seems quite shy in person, but who has a natural likeability that outweighs his social confidence. Onstage, though, he comes across as having absolute faith in his material. As a result he often has great gigs and the showcase audience loved him.

But then Timmy came on and did a bit of material that completely bombed – and for which I have to take a fair bit of responsibility because I’d written it with him – about what men would say to women if they could be completely honest about what they wanted. (Admittedly it’s a quite hacky topic but we thought we’d found a new way in.) But perhaps because it was new, and Timmy wasn’t quite sure about it, it didn’t work. The confidence in the joke didn’t seem to be there, which in turn created an awkwardness in the room that even James Acaster couldn’t get big laughs from; it was impossible. It’s not easy to bring a room back from the dead, and we couldn’t do it.

Still, the Flashback show was delivered confidently and was solid. Not great, but solid. Confidence is everything…

Showcase: 7 (some of my best compering yet, but I felt responsible for co-writing the bit that Timmy did)

Flashback: 6

Overall: DRAW