In the past five years, Logan Murray has taught stand-up to more than 700 people. Quite whether the world needs this army of new comedians is another matter – you can probably count on the fingers of one hand the number of clubs able to pay acts a decent fee that have opened in the same time.
Still, as the success of his course, and countless others besides, has proved, there’s a vast well of hopefuls wanting to face the audience armed with nothing more than their wits, however heavily the odds are stacked against them. It’s probably a combination of a lust for fame and the fact there is absolutely no entry requirements – including talent – to start a career as a comic.
Expect the ranks of new recruits to swell even further now Murray’s written this ‘how to’ guide. Now you don’t need six week and a couple of hundred quid to go on a course, his knowledge can be yours for £9.99.
There are already lots of books on the subject, of course, but they are almost exclusively American, and often by acts who haven’t worked since the US circuit’s boom-and-bust of the Eighties. This, on the other hand, gives a knowledgeable overview of how the British circuit works today. Murray’s been around for 20 years, including being in a double act with Jerry Sadowitz, and even though he doesn’t perform that heavily on the circuit any more, he keeps his hand in – and he has the feedback from his hundreds of graduates to help him.
Many of the tips you’d probably pick up from a few visits to comedy clubs – a commitment a surprisingly large amount of hopefuls are unwilling to make – or by extracting the useful comments from the flippant on Chortle’s forums. But to have all the information collected in one place is certainly helpful, and Murray’s advice is never less than sensible.
Another thing that makes this book different is the emphasis on writing and performance exercises. There are several good ideas here for ways to beat writers’ block and get the creative juices flowing, or suggestions to improve your delivery.
Tips include exploring stereotypical characters, making a list of everyday items then seeing the positive and negative in each, improv games, or trying to convey a given emotion in your body language. There’s no substitute for being on stage, though, and a lot of exercises demand a workshop with other people.
After the ground rules, Murray gives tips on creating material, stagecraft and handling heckers, preparing for your first gig – and even going to the Edinburgh Fringe.
His tips really should be seen as a very early starting point, a long way from the set that finally emerges, based on the individual’s exaggerated personality, experience and opinions. The worry, which anecdotal evidence seems to support, is that such exercises engender the same sort of approach and thought process in every new act who does the course or reads the book, leading to a dull homogenisation of the comedy scene.
As a self-help book, Teach Yourself Stand-Up Comedy certainly achieves its aims. With advice from several comics and tips on how the business end of comedy works, anyone who reads it will feel empowered, full of confidence that they can take to the stage. Whether they should question if they really ought to be doing so is perhaps outside the author’s remit.
Reviewed by: Steve Bennett