Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Commit Mint Tissues

Blue sky, cloud free,
Summer's day - torturing me.

There. That was a mini poem about how miserable it is to be completely sunburnt while there's a beautiful day outside and you're scared to step into the light in case your sun just decides to abandon ship completely and go and live on someone who doesn't keep frying the crap out of it. My nose is peeling and it now looks like a delicate lace. A gross delicate lace that no one in their right mind would put up in their windows. Unless you had no contents insurance and you needed to put people off burgling you by saying, This house is so gross we use delicate nose skin in the windows.

I tried out 10 minutes of new material at a gig last night - I hate doing new material, I find it very difficult to say anything in the right order and it always feels like taking two steps backwards. When it's just a case of poking a new joke into an established bit it's not too bad, but when you're testing a whole new set piece it's like charting new territory. It's difficult to describe it if you've never done stand-up comedy, but, when you're working with an old set you know all the peaks and troughs. Speaking through it almost becomes muscle memory for you and you can have complete faith in yourself that the majority of it will hit home as long as you perform well.

With new material, something that seemed a really good idea in your mind or notepad, is all of a sudden spilling out of your mouth. It's a bit like getting half way through explaining your weird dream to someone and then realising you're telling them about screwing a monkey with the face of Matilda - it's just not something they're going to want to relate to in public. New material doesn't have rhythms yet and the only way to get them is to keep on speaking it until you've got enough votes for the best bits to know what to keep in and what to leave out.

With me, new material very rarely sticks to what is on the page - it'll always start with the jokes and ideas that I've prepared but then I find myself reeling off down tangents and sometimes it even surprises me. Last night I went from temp work to magic to relationships without any clue where I was going. I discovered that I have a fundamental issue with the way people create magic in fiction which is not something I've ever given more than a milisecond of thought to in the past. I'm going to need to write a strongly worded letter to any author who has previously used the concept of magic in a piece of fiction and tell them that I'm disappointed in their fundamental lack of imagination.

It's weirder when you start talking about something more personal and all of a sudden you've revealed something to the room that you're not even sure is accurate, let alone something you particularly want other people to know. I think I told a bemused room half full of people in Camden that I am terrified of commitment. The only part of this that surprised me was that I said I was scared of it - not that I didn't like it, or that I didn't want it etc etc. I said I was scared of it. And I think I am. I'm beginning to wonder if stand-up does occasionally cross the line from entertainment to therapy for at least the person holding the microphone.

I try and avoid really personal material - I often use real stuff and then butcher it for the laughs - a mercenary clown if you like, but to be able to speak quite openly about things that are powerful is probably my ultimate goal for stand-up. I saw Rufus Hound performing a few months ago and he completely moved the boundaries for me in terms of what is possible for laughter and public speaking. I think it surprised me so much because I didn't expect it from a TV personality - but that's completely the point of his performance I think. He talks about the purpose of the human race and whether we've lived up to expectations of what we could achieve.

Is it still stand-up comedy? Is there room for a new genre when comedy is not just about making you laugh - it's about stirring you and making you think? Is it motivational speaking on steroids? What role do comedians fill when they've moved on from whimsical punch lines and bashing politics they don't understand? There's a lot of snobbery between comedians about material - good jokes vs knob gags. It's almost like just making people laugh got too predictable - now we have to make them laugh while they're thinking.

I don't think it's a bad thing. I think comedy's an evolving beast - I just wish  was evolving as fast as the format.

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