Friday, 20 March 2009

The book: A place for your comedy material to live

Interestingly enough, writing stand-up comedy involves actually putting pen to paper or, at least, fingers to keyboard. Typing out your material does have certain advantages in terms of organization and editing but using the pen at some point near it's inception is often pretty much essential to capture the idea while it’s still moving. It’s also a good idea to have your material somewhere nearby when you are working so you can refresh your memory, plan your setlist etc. which is generally better done on paper. It is possible to get by with notes written on scraps of paper that you transfer to a book later on but that transfer is key as scraps get lost and often provide an insufficient writing space. Bottom line: GET A BOOK!

To a certain degree the type of book that you use is a matter of personal preference. I tend to use a book that is a few steps up from the average scratch pad or notebook. Something with a hard durable cover that can stand up well to the abuse dished out by the many environments it will likely travel to. It is my experience that if you have a comedy book that you like by itself as “a book” - it not only gives a little more importance to what you put in it but makes it less likely to be thrown away by someone because it looked like a cheap notebook full of scribble. Tiny notebooks are useful because they are back pocket portable, but they are also harder to write in and easier to lose.

Inside your comedy book is your domain – write however you want to write: doodle, draw pictures, write clearly or scribble, as long as you can read it later and get a clear idea of the idea you originally had. Try to ensure that when you come up with an idea you capture enough of it to put the idea across later – few things are more frustrating than seeing a random word or phrase and having no idea what you were thinking of at the time-

I am not the most organizational person but I try to put my new ideas and material in the front of my book and a list of buzzwords for the contents in the back. Having a couple of setlists in the back isn’t a bad idea either if you’re inclined to use setlists.

One of the reasons to buy a good quality book is that you’ll be keeping them around for a while. Try to take a look back at the old ones once in a while to refresh your memory- ideas can get altered, reduced or forgotten. Sometimes, ideas that initially seemed weak can be spun into something great further down the line, used as throwaways, or connected with material written later down the road. Remember to write down your name and contact information in the front of your book preceded by “If found, please return to” – it can save you a lot of hassle one day.

Even though it is a book for comedy material, that doesn’t mean that everything in it has to be comedy material. Material is formed from all types of ideas, observations and attitudes; they don’t all start as actual comedy so fill your book with all kinds of things. Things you find unusual, interesting, character sketches, events, put them all in and see what they eventually turn into. Even if they never make it into they show you still have a large number of things that are interesting to you by definition.


Sunday, 8 March 2009

Differences between U.K. and North American comedy pt. 1

I have bit off more than I can blog with this particular topic, there is simply too much information to cover so I will avoid going into much depth and to repeat points that I have made in other parts of this blog. So in rapid-fire sucession are some of the differences that I feel exist between stand-up in North America and in the UK. These are, of course, wild simplifications designed to make the salient points as visi-bubble as possi-bubble.

1 – One of us vs. one of them

In the U.K. the crowd seems to like to feel that in some way the comedian is “one of us”, a friend of the people, somehow connected to them. The success of Al Murray is a great example of this, and from the little pub shows to the bigger club shows the UK audience seems to relate to the idea of “mateship”. Comedians with that a friendly, accessible quality proliferate here such as Russell Kane and imports Craig Campbell and Steve Hughes.There are other factors at play of course such as the acceptance of the abstract, and a special space for comedians with a type of “rock star” quality like Russell Banks and happily dancing on the middle ground is Mr. Izzard; a happy and talented hybrid.

North Americans also have an appreciation for friendly accessible characters in stand-up, but overall they prefer those who are somehow, in some way larger than life. They demand someone who is not just “one of us” but “one of them”, “them” referring to performers. The rapid-fire multi-voiced Robin Williams, the manic elasticity of Jim Carrey, the fire and brimstone shriek of Sam Kinison; these are not ordinary people, they are performers!

On a practical level what this translated to is a need for a comedian in the UK to perform for and with their audience, at least until they become famous, and hopefully afterwards as well. In North America a comedian is far more likely to perform “at” a crowd rather than with it. The audience can be just as involved but the relationship that brings about the reaction tends to be one that keeps the comedian as a distinctly separate entity.

2 – A sense of the craft

For whatever reasons, and there are many that could be speculated upon, the UK crowd seems, from my minor sampling, to have a greater inherent knowledge of the actual craft of stand-up than their North American counterparts. North American and particularly American crowds will powerfully respond to “what” someone is; “wow, who is this guy?!, he’s crazy”. A UK crowd is far more likely to be really impressed by a comedians skill set – they love the clever. Whether it is the way the words are assembled or the originality of the idea itself, British crowds are impressed when it is done with skill and show their appreciation enthusiastically. This factor also allows the comedian to be quite experimental as the crowd will often respect the novelty, though not necessarily applaud the results. As with the first point, this means that some comedians will experience easy trans-altlantic transition and others will not.

3 – The road warrior

The North American comedian knows the phrase “road warrior” and uses it often. Not all of them are road warriors, some hold down day jobs in cities so they can hone down their set at night, and hopefully one day be discovered but from the corporate comic who lives in airports to the road comic who will often drive more than 7 hours to get to a gig, North American stand-up is as much about travel time as stage time. I will hazard a guess that this results in less bitterness and burn-out in the UK scene. While I was there, I only met one comedian who had more than 20 years of comedy experience, but if he was any example, then this theory is correct. This is no indictment on the comedians or the way the comedy scene is run in North America, it is simply a symptom of geography. In the UK the distances are so small that it is rare that a gig is more than 3 hours away and without the stress of such intense travel and with the ability to spend more time at home the job must have a slightly different nature.

There ...that's a start. If you have any comments or criticisms of this set of observations please do let me know. More to come soon.

Saturday, 7 March 2009

The post that wasn't too

The speaker blog is now at:

with it's first post "5 reasons why you shouldn't speak like Barack Obama" . I hope to be back with another entry here by the end of the day, Blog willing.

Thursday, 5 March 2009

the post that wasn't

Dearest Blog-folk
My apologies for the lack of a new post, I have been working on numerous other projects including a blog on public speaking skills. The first post on this new blog "5 reasons why you shouldn't speak like Barack Obama" will be up shortly - I will post the details. The next posting on the differences between UK and North American comedy styles will be up shortly. many thx C