I sat in the audience of a gig tonight and watched a comedian. Nothing special; I was literally just fulfilling about 30% of my duties as an audience member. The other 70% I sadly wasn't fulfilling (listening and laughing), the direction of causality here has yet to be determined. Personally, I think I stopped listening because I wasn't laughing but I'm willing to give the guy the benefit of the doubt and assume I couldn't have been laughing because I couldn't hear him.
I was literally just watching him. I was totally spellbound watching him pace back and forwards, stepping from side to side, lifting his feet awkwardly and then putting them down in strange shapes. Turning, twisting the microphone in his hand and then stepping backwards again as he delivered his new material to an eager crowd. He reminded me of a zoo animal in an advert to get you to give 50p a month to a talking dog, or a polar bear in a cage that was too small. I stopped listening completely as I tried to work out whether he was even particularly aware of the way he was moving and pacing. I didn't feel like he was.
It suddenly struck me, that sometimes performing live comedy is such an uncomfortable and "wrong" experience that you are literally trying to fight yourself to continue to do it. It was like, in the struggle to get all the words out in the right order, and calculate their effectiveness, he'd completely lost track of his limbs. I've been known to do this when Safety Dance gets too much for me, but watching it with detachment was very interesting.
Comedy is a barmy game; tonight I tried out some new material that has potential but needs a point, some more punchlines and then a rhythm before it's really going to work itself into a set. I find the idea of this so fascinating; I write my material fairly meticulously, word for word, a few times in my note book. I prepare exactly what I'm going to say and then I make a list of topics to cover, I step onto the stage and, when faced with the audience, instantly start chopping and changing it around and editing on the fly. It's like you get given a tiny insight into what is and what isn't going to work; just right there. Sometimes you can reshuffle a gag; sometimes it's too late and you bomb. But, what I find interesting is that, I at least, cannot seem to do the final editing on paper - it needs to have the "in the moment" mind melt and energy exchange of the audience.
Apologies if all of the above is rambling nonsense - it was interesting when I was thinking about it. Sometimes putting things in to words other people will understand is a lot harder than I think it's going to be... I may need to buy myself a paint brush and/or a harmonica with a laser....