‘I went to have my tea leaves read by a fortune teller and she told me I was going to go on a long journey to Egypt.
Turns out I’d just used pyramid tea bags.’
Comedy gold I’m sure you’ll agree Ladies and Gentlemen.
So it’s been a bit of a slow start to the year on the old comedy front. Just the one gig at the beginning of the month and then one booked in at the end. Partly this is down to a general post-xmas lethargy but also partly because I’d planned to try and spend most of January writing some new material in preparation for the avalanche of offers I would undoubtedly receive in 2017.
There are lots of different techniques for writing new material. My personal way is to think of something funny, write it down and then recite it at a later date. I’m sure there are other methods but that’s just mine.
For the first 5 or 6 gigs all I did was tell jokes. I’m not pretending they were any good (you’ve probably guessed) but they were definitely jokes – it was either a pun or some kind of simple one/two sentence cheesy joke. There was no connection or narrative stringing it together.
The material would go down OK – there would be as many groans as laughs but people were complimentary and I might have kept going down that route. I find writing jokes in that style reasonably easy to do – the jokes already exist in the ore so to speak – you’ve just got to spend long enough mining to get them out. I’d literally sit there with a list of homonyms or idioms and just work through them.
It wasn’t the kind of comedy I generally liked to watch though and personally performing it felt slightly hacky (not to denigrate that style of comedy by any means – done well a comedian churning through jokes and one liners without any pretence or artifice can be a joyous thing).
I wanted to move to a more storytelling style but it took me a while to figure out the angle I needed to approach it from. Obviously I still wanted to make people laugh so there was (and still is) a certain tension between wanting to make my material more like a conversation yet include enough funny stuff without being overtly jokey/hacky.
It reminded me of Umberto Ecos definition of post-modernism (I apologise in advance for how pretentious this bit sounds). The concept is that a man loves a woman and wants to tell her ‘I love you madly’ but he knows this will sound tacky because his partner is a sophisticated women and it’s the kind of thing Barbara Cartland would say. In Umberto Eco’s example he gets round it by saying ‘As Barbara Cartland would say ‘I Love You Madly’’.
So by overtly referencing Barbara Cartland, he gets to have his cake and eat it to an extent – he gets to tell his partner he loves her madly but in a way that allows both of them to knowingly acknowledge the tackiness of the statement.
Now replace ‘I love you madly’ with ‘Tell a Joke’, ‘Woman’ with ‘Audience’ and ‘Barbara Cartland’ with ‘Jimmy Tarbock’ and hopefully the above makes sense.
Or possibly not.
It took me a while to find a similar solution. Eventually I wrote a set that hinged on my inability to connect with younger audiences and this arose from a pretty genuine feeling that none of the references I had were relevant to the audiences I was performing to. Once I’d set that up then it allowed me to still tell jokes but in a way that felt more comfortable to me.
I’m not pretending this is a ground breaking or a new angle by any means – if anything these days it’s probably more hacky and clichéd to do something like that than just stand up and tell jokes. I’m only writing it down to illustrate the challenge everyone faces – which is of finding a way to perform that feels comfortable.
Anyway next week I’ll be showing you how to use Jean Baudrillard’s theories of post structuralism to write knob gags.
Paul Entwistle @pfentwistle