So have another tale, probably less cringe-worthy than being near lynched for mocking an illness that claimed a young life.
I am a public speaker, I have been an educator, and I deliver briefings and instructions daily, in clipped enunciated tones. So naturally, I thought I'd find comedy easy since I like to show off and I like my opinion to be heard...But my first time clutching the mic' was a nightmare. I shall share with you more of my first gig and how I felt.
Firstly, I over-wrote everything in order to ensure I didn't run out of things to say. All my jokes and stories were heavily rehearsed and verbose...I wanted to ensure that I had enough to last me the full 5 minutes. Before the open mic slots began, I was sat in the audience reading my notes and trying to act out my whole performance prior to delivery, in doing so I failed to gain an impression of the room and what was working and/or not working for the professionals.
Called to the stage, I did a clumsy double take and clambered into the spotlight, I failed to realise that the double take had already made people laugh, so didn't run with it...I was simply mortified and feeling very out of place and somehow I felt 'not good enough' to be on-stage.
All my planning and preparation didn't matter a monkeys fuck because the second I stood in front of that crowd, I completely forget everything I was supposed to be saying. Mumbling through the wreckage of the carefully planned routine you had envisaged didn't seem to bring me many laughs. Instead it brought a beetroot face, a large slice of humble pie, and a rapidly pounding heart rate that drowned out my thought processes. I thanked the crowd, said it was my first time and acknowledged that I had just committed the comedy equivalent of ejaculating after 3 thrusts, then left the stage and room in about 20 seconds. The compère was kind, and got me a bigger round of applause than what I believed I deserved.
I tried to remember what had just happened...I thought I had managed a few sympathy chuckles from my bit about using a hair-dryer to dry your balls if you're late for work and fresh out of the shower. But I wasn't really capable of cutting loose and leaping around like that part of the routine needed. Too insecure, too out of place, not in control of my thoughts.
I now know that I had simply overloaded my brain, in an attempt to pander to the great god 'control freak' who lives inside of me. I was trying to remember whole lines of dialogue, about 15 pages worth...To recall 15 pages is an impossibility for most normal people and I am no exception.
But...Afterwards, I was told I had done rather well, I mean who the hell was I to judge how my routine went? I learned an important lesson from the professional comics and that was, listen to the audience and react accordingly. You see, my brain told me I had done really badly, but nobody else saw it that way. Yes I wasn't as slick as the professionals, but by all accounts it really was rather competent and my embarrassed mumblings had been perceived as part of a character act by the crowd.
I was then given a list of simple rules to deliver entertaining stand-up...They work for some professionals, they might for you.
- Gags must be natural and relaxed, delivered in a welcoming tone like matey pub chatter.
- Reading a script in a fluid and ever changing environment is doomed to failure. You're not really acting...Unless you're character acting and acting out.
- It's comedy, remember the key points and riff off of them like you would with a pub story.
- Involve the crowd. Ask them questions, get them to do stupid things, I had a room putting their hands up and down like kids in response to increasingly disturbing scenarios. I was left with one guy who swore he had made love to a swan.
- If something goes wrong, roll with it. The mic stand fell over once when I forgot the mic cable was trailing round it, and dragged it over...Cue 2 minutes of improv' about the place being haunted by camp poltergeists who objected to my button down collar. I've since done this deliberately if I feel the need to inject some physical comedy into the room.
- Hecklers are funny as fuck. They're usually pissed, and they're usually a lot slower than you. Repeat what they say in a mocking or surprised tone to give yourself time to construct a retort and then unleash it. I was stumped by one once, so I launched into a Who Wants to be a Millionaire scenario where I asked the audience which one of my comebacks I should run with. My 5 minutes was soon up, everyone was satisfied and I was show-boating.