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  • Writer's pictureDave Darby

Stand-Up Comedy Is Hard But Fun

We’re Not All Jimmy Carr

The world of stand-up comedy can be tough. Clearly, I don’t mean ‘driving in fence-posts’ or ‘deckhand on a trawler in icy conditions’ kind of tough, but tough all the same.

To start with, writing funny stuff can be a challenge in itself. I don’t know how it works with other comedians, but when I get an idea, I’ll jot it down, normally consisting of just few words, something like ‘Eva Braun only having to teabag the one ball’ or ‘Do whales worry about their weight?’ Around these ideas I write a scenario in which the thing that first came into my head becomes a small part of a routine.

On this very blog you can see my first video post was part of a routine I did in Malaga, it got a great laugh and originally started as the phrase ‘giggling moobs in bathroom mirror’ written down on a café napkin, taken home and put into my notebook, transferred later onto my laptop and that is where I work on getting a little snippet of a routine from it.

So, where’s the problem I hear you ask Well, for me, although I’m sure this is not the case for everyone, the problem is that once I’m happy with it and start practicing the routine in my head or even out loud (if no-one’s around), at first, I’m confident with the joke. But after a while no matter how good the material is, it starts to sound distinctly un-funny.

Imagine, if you will, some guy in a pub tells you a joke. You think it’s really funny. But then he returns 10 minutes later and tells you the same joke… not so funny. He then returns 5 minutes later and tells it again. Not funny at all.

In other words, I’ve gone over it so many times in my head that it loses all its humour for me. Over the years I have learned to ignore the doubts and keep my mind firmly fixed on the original feeling when the idea came to me.

Having said that, I still feel a bit of anxiety when I deliver the joke for the very first time. And of course, over the years there have been numerous occasions where it doesn’t work. Then you just have to suck it up and move on to the next bit.

Then there’s the stage fright. I know quite a few people who would make excellent stand-up comedians, far better than myself if I’m honest, but they just can’t bring themselves to perform in front of an audience, not matter how small.

When I first started out back in the late 90’s I was terrified. I had actually written a full comedy script which I was intending to sell but my brother said, “why don’t you do it?”. And I have to admit, as opposed to saying, “Oh no, I couldn’t” I actually said, “Yeah, why not?”

But as the day of my first open mic appearance approached, fear and self-doubt started to creep in and on the actual day, my brother practically dragged me into the venue in Swindon.

When my name was called, I managed to get up onto the stage and start talking. It was a packed venue and a great audience who completely bought into my rather warped comedy world and laughed in all the right places. At the end I got a massive round of applause and I was hooked.

The headliner that night was Marcus Brigstocke, who went on to much bigger and better things, and at the time commented “OK calm down you lot, just because a local open mic act turns out to be bloody funny, let’s move on!”

As it was, I had three children under the age of eight and a proper job to support my family, and therefore did not commit fully to the stand-up life. I did only fairly local gigs. I was the MC for quite some time at that original venue in Swindon and did gigs in Bath, Bristol, Oxford, Salisbury and a few around Swindon but couldn’t really do the London or Edinburgh scene and eventually just let it dwindle away. But I met some brilliant people along the way, like Bill Bailey, Sean Lock, Junior Simpson and Lucy Porter to name a few.

Now, as a 65-year-old semi-retired Photographer/Writer and after a gap of 22 years, I’ve started doing a few gigs again. Mainly open-mic stuff with the odd paid one thrown in. My brief dabble in the comedy world as a younger man only lasted about 4 years, but is fondly remembered and although I’m still very self-critical, I just don’t get nervous now and am practically immune to when gigs don’t go that well. I used to feel personally affronted when a gig didn’t go well, but now, with a bit of life experience behind me, I’ve come to realise just how subjective comedy is.

I had a recent gig in Estapona where I was trying out one or two pieces of new material mixed in with some older, more certain stuff which was quite well received, but experience told me that it just didn’t gel. I could feel the audience, although laughing at the right bits, just weren’t with me. But now, the 65-year-old me just accepts the knock and goes back to the laptop to tweak the routine. The one thing that new comedic talent often misunderstands is dying. It often knocks confidence and is sometimes responsible for some people giving up on their comedy dream way too early. But it’s the deaths and joke fails that eventually leave us with a decent usable routine.

So, it’s true I’m no Jimmy Carr, but I’m sure, if you asked him, he would readily admit to trying out his material in small venues and occasionally dying on his arse, just like the rest of us.

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