All my favourite comedians are the same ones I have seen bomb the hardest. “Dying on yer hole”, as they say, can be terrifying but it’s also an incredibly valuable and necessary part of stand up.
To truly find your own voice in comedy, you have to cast off your inhibitions, throw caution to the wind and really put yourself out there. Unfortunately, that’s not always going to fly in front of a lot of audiences who are now accustomed to watching slick, polished performances on TV. But appealing to the masses shouldn’t be your end goal. It should be about trying to be as original, honest and unique as possible.
Some acts are so afraid of dying on stage and so obsessed with making the audience laugh by any means possible, that they end up doing comedy that they think people want to see and hear, rather than the type of comedy they actually want to be doing. As a result, they never break out of their comfort zone, never try anything new and therefore never really find their own unique place in the already overcrowded world of stand up comedy. Where would Andy Kauffman or Steve Martin have got by just following the trend?
I have to remind myself about this all the time. I’m certainly not claiming to be any kind of creative genius. But I know that I try and that’s what’s important. You have to dare to be different. Whenever I feel my stand up getting too bland or “same-y”, I think about what I could be doing that hasn’t been done before to mix things up a bit. I threw myself into character comedy as the accordion-playing teenage Goth, Damien Crow. Alongside my HDIGUT cohorts, we continually tried to think of new outrageous characters and ridiculous scenarios for our sketch show. I once did a 5 minute set as an American character called Chuck Bang who could only speak in ‘set ups’ and never reached a punchline (woeful). In each case (especially as Chuck Bang), I’ve experienced a whole range of bemused, surprised and even angry reactions. Have I died on my hole? Many times. Is it pleasant? Not in the slightest. But I’ve also never felt as liberated or free when I was truly trying something I knew I wanted to be doing.
Comics shouldn’t be afraid of dying. They have to embrace the experience and grow from it. It’s the same for audience members too. It can be equally unpleasant to watch someone die on stage. But try and look beyond that. You might just be watching a misunderstood maverick on the verge of something special.
So go see as many shows as possible at this year’s Glasgow Comedy Festival. You never know what you might find.
(N.B There are also comics who just die on stage because they are awful. This can’t be helped.)
Chris Forbes 'Tall Needy Mutant' is on at 'The Hug and Pint' on both the 19th & 24th March. Unfortunately tickets for the 19th have now sold out, but you can still get tickets for the 24th. Tickets are £8 and can be purchased here.