Why on earth would anyone be a stand-up?

Paul Case ruminates

Why would anyone want to do stand-up? Very few people seem to ask this question.

I was only asked it once when I was performing, but thankfully not during my performance, that would make for a particularly brutal heckle.

Rather loftily seeing myself as a socially-conscious comic, I replied that I wanted to highlight problems that I felt were not being addressed on the circuit and, of course, make people laugh while I did it. But this could be a reason to do any comedy art form: writing, acting, theatre, poetry, whathaveyou.

Why did I do stand-up comedy, though? To be honest, I’m not completely sure. I’d never really performed before. I’d sort-of-kind-of got into it by accident, which is pretty much what every stand-up comedian says as a way of avoiding giving a decent answer.

I started helping out promoting stand-up, saw a lot of acts, and thought – hey, that looks like a lot of fun, I make people laugh in conversation etc etc etc.

I did my first gig while pissed at 2am at Edinburgh Festival. I don’t recommend this. However, it does mean I can pointlessly claim that I’ve 'done' Edinburgh which is something a lot of comically inexperienced and malnourished stand-ups like to do to make themselves sound important. But, hey, that’s a different fish of kettles. Back to the main subject...

The first few gigs went badly, but there was a stubbornness there, possibly snuggling up to my massive ego, that made me return again and again for around 70 gigs. Is that why I did it? Just because I was really, really keen to make other people laugh – which, by the way, happened much less than I would’ve wanted to.

I don’t think it’s that simple. There is a definite element of masochism in stand-up comedy, an almost pathological obsession with being rejected combined with an equally obsessive need to be accepted. What the hell else would drive you to do such a thing?

When you start out, the chances are pretty good you’re going to be more unfunny than funny, so the drive to improve despite being constantly rejected is important but one which I, unfortunately, could never really latch on to.

When I say to people I used to be a stand-up, their usual reaction is: 'Wow, that is so cool, I’d never have the balls to do that'. Damn right you wouldn’t, and I didn’t. It was horrendous.

I was usually relaxed when I got to the venue, but as it got closer and closer to my slot, I kept rushing to the toilet more and more often. Jesus, that was the embarrassing part. Everyone else seemed to control their bladder just fine, I was running back and forth every fifteen minutes with increasingly disappointing amounts of urine coming out of my uretha at each visit.

And then there was the pacing that made me look like a goose-stepping Nazi on speed. And my brain shuddering, vibrating, humming, as my set began to leak out of my ears and run out of the exit, while my memory floundered through the tides of energy drink trying to rescue those precious, precious words that were arranged into specific sentences with a specific timing that made them funny. The horror, the horror…

I was talking to a friend recently and she said that I cared too much about my subjects. Maybe true, maybe not. She also told me she just does it for fun, which I find it really hard to understand. You’d do that to yourself for fun? What the hell is wrong with you? Or, maybe, she just doesn’t go through that horrific internal meltdown that happened to my nearly every time. Or maybe she does, and just hides it better. Or maybe everyone just has their reasons, which is a pretty boring and diplomatic thing to conclude with...

So I’ll end with this: If you think you’d find the above process enjoyable – not just enjoyable but addictive – you probably have a borderline personality disorder and an ill-managed ego meaning that you should, before any therapy, give stand-up comedy a crack. And, without any flippancy, good bloody luck to you. Honestly, you won’t regret it. If, however, you think it sounds like a hellish, pointless, and possibility permanently psychologically damaging thing to do to yourself, stick to making your mates laugh in the pub. Honestly, you won’t regret it.

Published: 25 Feb 2009

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