Make ’em Laugh
So a while back I was asked to write a piece for Independent Media site Crikey. The brief was to write something about stand-up comedy, no matter how odd, and I chose to write about the darker and more depressing side of being a comedian. Not a lot of people realise that comedy isn’t a full time gig for 99.9% of comedians. For most of us, it’s the passion project we do around numerous ego destroying and menial jobs. Here is what I wrote, I would say “enjoy” but… yeah… you might not do that.
Wake up weary. Roll over and check the time. Early, so impossibly early. I’ve had around four hours sleep all up. Not bad actually. I defy the laws of physics by lifting my tired frame out of bed. My entire being is hungry to succumb to gravity, to be horizontal, unthinking and still. I find the thick black glasses that are somehow my trademark and open my cupboard in the dark, groping for holy socks and holier underpants. My cat gallops nimbly past my shuffling feet. He knows the ritual, sitting expectantly next to his bowl. A single appreciative meow as I dole out his dried food. The fishy biscuits tinkle neatly into the ceramic and he buries his face in his morning meal.
The light flicks on in the bathroom, and I pretend to be oblivious to the waiting piles of laundry. I shed my baggy cotton pajama pants. They crumple on the floor where they’ll sit until I slide them back on much later tonight. Two twists of my hand and the hot water spurts from the generous shower head. I stand outside the bathtub peeing freely into it. Watching the dark amber swirls spiral outwards until they can no longer resist the pull of the drain. The gold liquid circles the black hole, compelled to fall away and become nothing.
A quick glance in the mirror. That face. Should have gotten into stand-up younger. Even with the natural airbrush of my astigmatism, you can still see the exhaustion through the blur. A forceful squint affords a moments clarity. Off white teeth from a decade’s vice. That hairline is beginning to retreat back over my skull. Maybe it won’t matter. You’ll never be on television, you’re not that guy. Do you even want that? Watering down your thoughts into TV eligible punch lines. You love being a bit mean and offensive. Being offended lets people know who they are.
No breakfast, strap on those sensible shoes, and affix the nametag. It says Simon, but is that who is under the uniform? Is this the funny man? You are no one without an audience. Set up the café, turn everything on. Count out the cakes, make sure the money is in the till. Flip the closed sign to open and die another day of routine.
A quiet morning, can’t decide if I prefer them to busy mornings. The busy days fly, but the slower ones give you time to think. Wash dishes and retreat into your head. Try and work out what’s missing from that bit about people drinking alcohol because they’re jealous of people with Down syndrome. Swallow the booze and become a bit simpler, a bit smilier. Drink to retard distracting desires that make men miserable. Pour some more happy spastic down your neck buddy. Should I say that directly to someone in the front row? Either way, don’t open with it.
Home again. Been on my hooves for over eight hours, my knees are glowing with pain and both feet are crammed full of ouch. I need to work on material for tonight’s gig, but I just need to sit for a bit. Sitting turns to sleeping. I lurch upright, startling the cat that ricochets off the coffee table and bounds up the hallway. It’s later than I want. Still, don’t have to be at the gig for a few hours. Wonder who else is on tonight. Check online. I missed a message from the organiser. Apparently someone is so sick they’ve sneezed me into doing a 20 minute spot. A tingle of excitement quelled by the fear of stale material.
Checking my notes, there must be something new. The ideas are here, but they’re all half formed oddities. I can’t believe I’ve spent two hours whittling down the possibilities and all I have is what looks like the shopping list of a schizophrenic.
- Nature’s Moneyshot
- Piss Stained Banksy
- Art is Context
- More Junkies
- Narnia Flaps
No time for dinner, don’t really have the appetite. Made myself too restless for food, just grab your headphones, put on a jacket and get out the door. Perhaps I should dress up, put on a suit. Some comics do the whole suit and tie thing, it could make me a bit more professional. I laugh at myself. This is the business of ideas. You’ll spend the next few hours in some fire hazard comedy dungeon. No one, and I mean no one, will give two shits whether your pocket cloth matches your socks.
There’s a slight wind when I get off the connecting tram, but the night is still. Not calm, just bare. The cold has kept most people off the street and packed shoulder deep into neighboring restaurants and bars. Keep each tired and aching foot plodding towards the bar. No one is out the front smoking yet. Pull open the door and plunge into the warmth.
The usual suspects, faces I’ve grown to know well. Some will shake my hand and launch into conversation and others will respectfully nod before retreating into their inner chaos. You can tell who is on tonight by the lack of eye contact and nervous energy. A few comics are talking about Louis C.K. and all the legends we know we’ll never be.
The audience is different tonight, and it’s busier than I’ve seen in a long while. This isn’t a comedy crowd; they’re too good looking. They’re here for a friend. I check the running order for the one name I don’t know. Good luck dude. I can’t recall the last time friends came to see me. That’s when you know you’re getting serious about stand-up. Lose the friends and lose the pity laughter, the only way to tell if you’re truly funny.
Can’t watch the first bracket, too unsettling. Walk back out to the bar. The faint gurgle of laughter flowing out from behind me is a good sign. Time to clear my head, get all my thoughts together. Find an empty corner, re-read the shopping list of the mad, and politely ignore the other comedians. Nerves are contagious.
Intermission already. Shit. Time playing tricks, I still haven’t rehearsed. The sinking feeling at the core of my body starts to happen. Pacing nervously talking to myself. The only difference between me and the crazy ranting guy on the corner? He has a corner.
Standing at the back of the gig, nervously watching your friend perform. Listening to his words, but not taking anything in. Too far past it now, nothing can penetrate the nerves. Nothing but the stage itself. Stage is a generous description. Area in a pub with no chairs would be more apt. Another one down. Pats on the back for the guy heading down, handshakes for the guy coming out. This is it. No more soldiers to send to the frontline, only you. Shake it out, try to look cavalier.
Your name is yelled, it sounds distant. The out of body experience begins. An astral projection of awkwardness heads to the stage in your place. You wade through an applause meant for you, despite no one knowing who you are. Even you don’t have that answer. Push it all down. No overdue rent. No poverty. No disappointed parents. No self loathing. No future. Just a guy holding a microphone, the calm little eye of his own private hurricane. Warm piss circling a drain.
So what now funny man?
Make ‘em laugh.