Why are so many comics full of smug bitterness and self-righteousness? | Jack Campbell mulls over the stand-up circuit

Why are so many comics full of smug bitterness and self-righteousness?

Jack Campbell mulls over the stand-up circuit

I love doing stand-up. I've had an amazing year, things keep getting better and I want to get to the point where I don't have my day job any more and can just gig. One wonderful observation I heard once was that the job’s so good ‘you eventually forget to quit.’ But there are issues with the circuit, and some of the comedians on it.

First, audiences. Some audiences are awful. Some may have never seen live comedy before, some may have had too much to drink, some may simply not be interested.

A frequent factor is British people's expectations of the money they spend. Recently I got to go to Europe and perform comedy, and had an amazing time. Over there, when they spend €10 on a comedy night, they say ‘well I've spent this money, therefore I will listen and get my money's worth’. Whereas in Britain, it appears to be a case of ‘well I've spent MY money, so I can do whatever I damn well please’.

There are ways to combat this, such as having the night set up properly, everyone facing the right way etc. But sometimes mob mentality wins. Village and small-town gigs are sometimes hard, but more often than not it feels like comedians are treated as intruders rather than funny guests who just want to entertain.

Oh and anyone who heckles then says: ‘I’m helping’… is not helping. At all. I don't write half a set and just spin my chair away and just hope someone in the audience will finish it off for me.

But for all that, audiences are not my main problem. My problem is the comedians themselves.

Doing comedy is fun, but it is also full pretentious, attention-seeking, competitive, non-entertainers. In what other job would the attitude of ‘I'm getting paid anyway so who cares’ be acceptable. This is just as bad as the audience members who have paid and don't care.

Maybe it's because I'm not at that point where my sole income is comedy. Maybe it's because I have such a genuine love for the game and not an overly competitive person that the layer of smug bitterness and self-righteousness hasn't filled up my head. I've seen good comedians become obsessed with the business side of things, so desperate to jump a few rungs of the ladder, that it's caught up with them and they have packed it in.

If you consider yourself an ‘artiste’, don't go playing clubs for the cash and whinge when they don't listen to you or 'don't get it'. Stay as an artist, do your solo shows to your lovely educated audiences. But if you are booked, do your job, entertain people. And if they aren't listening, do everything you can to make them, just plough on through and keep your toys in your pram. The scene is crawling with comics, good and bad, who would happily take your spot.

But on the other side of that coin, don't go into any gig thinking you have some divine right to be heard and admired. Earn it. Again, maybe it's because I'm not competitive, but I never go out thinking I'm better than anyone else in that room. I chat with comedians backstage, have a laugh, then go out on stage and do my thing. In my mind the order of importance goes; the audience, the staff, the tech guys, the promoter, then me. And I've never really had a awful gig.

Stop cutting each other down in the name of banter. Grow up and just enjoy doing this bizarre thing we do. We are already in a very cool club, what more do you want? To prove you're the coolest one in the club? To me, it's about the people who are sat in front of me, not how cool and badass the ones backstage think I am. The audience mostly don’t care about our hilarious in-jokes.

I have been guilty of some of these things, of course. But I'm still learning, altering my behaviour, and will keep on gigging and writing until I remember I can quit.

Jack Campbell is the reigning English Comedian Of The Year and his Chortle profile is here.

Published: 24 Nov 2014

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