So why did I start stand-up?

by Chris Spann

Since I decided back to take the plunge into stand-up, back in August, people have been asking me ‘what made you do that?’, and I've not been able to give them an answer other than: ‘Dunno, like tellin' jokes an'at, dunn-I?’.

And, quite frankly, I don't think there's one specific reason why. I'd imagine that if you asked any successful comedian the same question, they wouldn't be able to give you a definitive answer.

For me, at least, there are a myriad of reasons why I will voluntarily climb onto a stage and tell the same embarrassing stories from my childhood to drunken strangers night after night, the first of which is the fact that it's so much fun.

Of course, you don't realise this until the first time you do it, and every time before I go onstage my stomach is turning, but the first time you get a room full of people to laugh at something you've said (and not like in school when you called your teacher 'mum'), it's a hell of an adrenaline rush, and you end up pushing yourself to try to get bigger and bigger laughs out of the crowd, just to get your hit.

I honestly love nothing more than to watch somebody absolutely hooked on comedy perform; it's more like a dependency than a job to them, and I think the moment they lose that addiction is the moment they start to lose their edge. I quit drinking about the same time as I started doing stand up comedy, and truthfully the feeling described above is more addictive than beer, more addictive than any other drug I know.

What else? Well, you could take the fact that around strangers, I'm quite a quiet person. I have this paranoid delusion that if I show people the ‘real’ me before I've got to know them, they're going to think I'm a thundering cretin with pathetic hair. Put me on a stage, however, where basically my job to be a bit of a dick, and it's a different story. I'm probably 100 per cent braver when I'm performing than in the ‘real’ world - consider it a slightly less nerdy equivalent to World of Warcraft; an opportunity to be the person you want to be but haven't got the balls to be in day-to-day life – whether that's a wildly offensive comedian or a Level 30 Elf.

A lot of people say they got into comedy because they were bullied, and that doing it is a kind of therapy: conquering the insecurities that, yes, you might be fat, or ginger, or a bit ugly, but you can stand on a stage and make people cry laughing – and that’s something not many people can do. You've beaten those people that made you feel worthless, because while on stage you are the most important person in the room, the star of the show.

Of course, that does suggest that some might get into comedy to feed their own ego, but people like that tend to quit before too long – because part of being a comedian is the real-time feedback from your audience. If you're shit, they're going to tell you you're shit. Obviously, that's not great for people just in the game to feel important, nor people not willing to admit that sometimes their material or their delivery just wasn't good enough. Same with thin-skinned people: if you can't take a little unconstructive criticism from a pissed up prick, you either need to toughen up, or fuck off.

The more I think about it though, I think truthfully, it just boils down to one thing: some people like to make other people laugh, to spread a bit of joy. And one of the most direct ways to do that is to stand on a stage made out of crates in a dingy pub in a town you hate, and tell some jokes. You don't have to be some adrenaline junkie, hooked on the sound of human laughter, nor a bullying victim baring his soul to get a few laughs and cleanse yourself. Deep down, really, I think all comedians would admit that the reason they do it, is nothing more than the fact that at their core, they like to make people laugh.

So my answer to the original question really is: ‘Dunno, like tellin' jokes an'at, dunn-I?’.

Chris Spann's blog is at

Published: 27 Nov 2009

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